It’s not about brand | Dr Laila Abdel Aal Alghalban

September 23, 2021
Dr Laila Abdel Aal Alghalban

“Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible,” said Burberry’s chief executive Marco Gobbetti to the BBC. 

The meteoric rise in the global awareness to the current environmental threats has put fashion industry and its lovers under fire. The disastrous environmental print of the industry has fuelled the magnitude of the attacks against fashion overconsumption. Fortunately, fashion swiftly, diligently and admirably responds and adapts to social and environmental pressures. What is really mind blowing is how fashion consumers are changing their consumption habits.  How does this shift happen?

What is it about fashion that hooks people?  Why does quenching people’s thirst for buying new garments never happens? How does the fashion flame keep burning in hearts and looks? Some people believe that  avoiding fashion is a very tough mission. For them, fashion is a passion that drives them joyfully and, sometimes, blindly to stay alert to offers and deals. Fashion’s eternal and glamorous  motto that the industry vehemently and incredibly promotes is : Look better, feel better and act better. Thus,  it is about the concept of image and how people are judged primarily by their appearance first and most, and not their performance. Fashion also has to do with the way people want to construct their identities and social aspirations. Wearing fashionable items has often taken on a social significance; people usually wish to imitate the elite for airs and graces.

Not in tune with fashion

My relationship with fashion has long been an uneasy one. I am not a trendy, stylish person; I never had this passion. On the contrary, you can say that I collected my fashion P45 long ago. Clothing, for me, means covering up, utility and comfort. When a new fashion trend is in vogue, I first uncomfortably watch how people react to it, and question its longevity and utility. I take pride in disobeying fashion and turning a deaf ear to its thundering calls.  It usually takes only few minutes to get ready for an outing. It goes like that; I open the closet, my fingers comb  quickly the plastic and wooden hangers on the rack, pick the garment I wore once or twice before, put it on, get a pair of shoes, usually, the one I used in last outings. This is everything. 

 I do not say that this is good. Sometimes, I feel that there must be something wrong with me. Why am I not like the “normal” people who gallop to catch the fashion race? Then I discovered that I am not alone, and that there is an increasing global tendency to go green in fashion and to adopt a minimalist philosophy based on a lovely principle of  “less is more,” which simply calls for enjoying what we have. Thanks God! I am not alone! 

Fast fashion

Fast fashion, like fast food, marks an age of over consumerism, justified by the myths of perfect image, growth and prosperity. It refers to the high rate of fashion consumption. People stuff their closets with garments they use once or twice  at most and soon after dump them to find space for newly bought items. It seems that it is hard for vulnerable consumers to break that circle. Steered by a feverish desire to make profits, fast fashion brands have impacted a great deal the lives and habits of customers who want to get dressed luxuriously and elegantly at a very affordable price. Brands are racing to introduce an endless stream of new products almost every couple of days. The stock sometimes is not sold out, brands landfill it or burn it instead of sending to charity for maintaining brand exclusivity, value, image and scarcity, very important secrets of their how-to-sell formula.For example, Burberry, a British fashion brand, destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m last year to “protect” the label and its target clients,  and prevent flooding the market with products that may end up being sold at a discount.

A whistleblower

The incident is a glaring example of how fashion firms act irresponsibly towards, clients, workers, and most importantly the environment. Instead of cutting down production, they madly expand, causing environmental outrage. Activists accuse  fashion industry of causing immeasurable harm to natural resources and human labour force. The dark side of fashion comes to the forefront for the first time. Horrible data on the actual spectrum of pollution and over consumption of water and energy go public.  For example, we get to know that the water needed to manufacture a shirt is about 27000 litres, a quantity an individual drinks in three years! The plastic and dyeing  materials dumped in oceans and water streams causing harm to marine life is another disastrous impact. Last but never least, the poor workers in overseas facilities who work in an appallingly  dangerous places remains a big sore in the neck of fashion makers and lovers alike.

Watch the rise of sustainable fashion

A shift from fast fashion, which celebrates luxury at any cost-environmental and social, to sustainable and modest fashion is robustly made. This year, fortunately, a growing number of retailers announce that they stop destroying overstock and decide to recycle it, a great push to changing the mentality of fashion staff to rethink using overstock in a sustainable way, as a real capital, a resource to be maximally utilized rather than a waste to be dumped. Thanks to customers’ increasing environmental awareness, labels also stop using real fur. Trailers start a zero waste scheme, where all material is used or reused. The new version of fashion industry embracing echo friendly policies and procedures and a culture of transparency about supply chain management that empower all parties involved is being created to connect to the changing values and habits of consumers. 

Be part of the change

Finally, let’s think twice before shopping trendy garments. Our role as consumers is a central in steering a lot of industries to act more responsibly. Let us take part in building a more compassionate, rational and modest world.

*Dr Laila Abdel Aal Alghalban, Professor of linguistics at the  Faculty of Arts, Kafrelsheikh University

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