To some, the fashion industry might seem like it's just a circle jerk of pretty clothes on pretty people, but it's a multi-trillion dollar global industry that employs millions of people worldwide and not only helps promote and amplify certain cultural and societal movements (worker rights, anyone?), but also sets the agenda for what we're even talking about in the first place. Sure — fashion is fun to gush about (hello, that's why we exist!), but there's also some heavier topics that get swept under the rug time and time again.
These unpopular issues don't really get talked about because they're complicated, uncomfortable, and, oftentimes, reveal the hypocrisy that exists within the structures we've set up in the industry — but we think it's high-time to start. Please note — these are highly nuanced subjects, and we can't even pretend that we're doing them justice in an eight-page slideshow, but we want to start the conversation out in the open, instead of keeping it just among ourselves. The juicy stuff, ahead.
Written by Isabelle Rancier
Most Fashion Shows Don't Need To Exist
At its core, fashion shows exist to present potential designs to buyers, who'll sell them six months down the line, and publications, which will promote those clothes between now and then. If this process could be accomplished with attending collection walk-throughs, why then are designers spending up to $750,000 to produce a show that lasts for a few minutes? What's more, no one can really even see the clothes in this sort of capacity unless you're sitting in the front row and paying close, close attention (and even then, most who need to get that close of a look for their jobs attend re-sees during the week to actually understand the clothing).
That's not to say that all fashion shows shouldn't exist. There are many designers who create shows that do feel meaningful, do change the ways we see their clothes, and do find a way to craft a runway story that makes the medium feel powerful. But those shows are few and far between.
Most fashion shows and presentations, in their current iteration, are more about the chance to create marketing initiatives, activations, and branding opportunities around fashion companies than about the actual process of creating, distributing, and promoting that season's clothing. While some may argue that live-streaming shows democratizes this process, since people outside of the industry can access the same information as insiders, we say that fashion shows inherently make the industry feel exclusive. From the way seating is done to the way events are held, Fashion Week can feel more like a party than work…and that's not necessarily a good thing.
Leather Slips Through Our Moral Compass
There are plenty of people in fashion who opt for fur- and leather-free options, and the vegan market is actually growing. Yet, the average style-conscious person — say, the editors here at Refinery29 — have a pretty definite opinion on whether they will or won't wear fur. The lines, however, are a little blurrier with leather.
Fur is distinctly codified as being "expensive," and when someone decides to purchase something made of chinchilla or mink, they are usually not looking for a deal. On the other hand, many style-conscious ladies will scoop up leather goods (booties, anyone?) from mainstream retailers like Zara, H&M, and ASOS that aren't just on-trend but actually made of the real deal. When a shoe retails for $150, we can't help but shudder to think of where that leather originated. Cheap leather options run amok, while cheap (real) fur is much more difficult to find.
Final note: One of the authors of this piece has been a vegetarian for 18 years — and still wears leather shoes, thanks to a stubborn choice to prioritize style and durability. This isn't strange or unique, of course, but it just demonstrates that fur is a much more explicit debate than leather.
Shoes Are Way Too Expensive For What They Are
The price of clothing has slowly been rising for years now, but in no piece has this inflation been more evident than with shoes. Shoes, at its most basic, are meant to be able to get us from point A to B and support our weight without busting. Counterintuitively, the most expensive shoes don't even really fulfill those basic functions.
If worn like how we'd like to wear our shoes (frequently, aggressively), the average designer shoe wouldn't even be able to last a year — not to mention how they're messing up our feet and bodies. Call us whiners, but there's something that feels so frivolous about spending a lot of money on something that gets rubbed on grime-stained cement all day long.
What Happens To Fashion Bloggers Once They Get Old?
The fashion bloggers who survive and thrive in 2013 are a good-looking bunch, who use their chic style and comely looks to nail them the exclusives, collaborations, and adoration that make them famous. Yet, we find ourselves asking a very mom-like question: In this youth-obsessed bubble, what happens when our favorite style bloggers start aging? (Our hopeful answer: They transition gracefully into their next chapter.) But, when your skill set requires looking good in pictures, it can be a lot more complicated.
Fashion blogging is a new career, and one that hasn't seen its freshman class completely grow up yet, so all these globe-trotters are certainly figuring it out as they go. Unlike travel, tech, design, or food, however, fashion bloggers and writers tend to be young and energetic. When that fresh fountain of youth runs out, will we just have a whole new generation of "consultants"?
Gifting Has Been Institutionalized
If you ask a truly honest fashion editor what the worst aspect of their jobs is, they'll probably answer that the pay sucks, but the perks — the gifts! — make up for it. The starting salary at Condé Nast may be just $27,500 before overtime, but the average editor at a major publication will receive thousands of dollars worth of product in a year (a guess on our part, but a roundabout amount based on polling fellow editors). What's more, what doesn't end up in his/her closet oftentimes ends up in consignment stores. It's even become an insider secret among thrift shoppers that certain Brooklyn and Manhattan stores will carry designer items before they're even available in boutiques.
The issue is more than just the large amount of waste that goes into gifting products randomly to editors; it's the expectation that the acceptance of the gift is in exchange for positive coverage. In other industries, calling in products for review comes with the expectation that the review could both be positive of negative — consider the tech, automotive, and food industries — and many publications like The New York Times have a strict no-gifting policy that extends from things as small as gratis dinners at restaurants up for review to press trips to far-flung destinations.
However, a dress isn't like an iPhone, concert tickets, or a bottle of booze, because fashion relies so heavily on personal taste and aesthetics rather than performance. Objective product reviews are oftentimes impossible to make and negative ones feel petty to put out. Barring a few categories (like athletic wear, all-weather gear, and shoes), there's little reason to write product reviews at all.
So, why all the gifting? It's a way for PR agencies to establish good relationships with editors and to receive promotion in both explicit (coverage in the publication) and non-explicit ways (hello — street-style outfits). Editors get access to the products that they write about, of which they normally wouldn't be able to afford. Gifting has become an institutionalized and expected part of the industry that almost feels like pay for play.
Full disclosure: The Refinery29 editorial team does receive gifts and we have happily worn things we've received, but we thought it was important to point out this system that feels problematic to us.
Where Are All The Queer Chicks In Fashion?
A handful of some of the most important women in style (Jenna Lyons and Courtney Crangi or Patricia Field, say) identify as lesbian, but in a culture where a great many individuals are gay and there is a pretty even professional gender ratio, queer ladies are hard to come by. While the casual perception is that the fashion industry can be cutthroat and opportunistic (and we aren't denying that), there is a definite feeling of female empowerment. Why then, is it only straight women?
The answer may be particularly complex, and the divide between gay men and women has been discussed at length, but it may boil down to one underlying assumption: Lesbians "don't care" about fashion, and fashion belongs to the "feminine". (Think of the wildly incorrect stereotypes: Gay men are dandies, while gay women are lumberjacks.) Fortunately, thanks to trailblazers like Lyons, a shift in perspective (however hackneyed it might be
) and a movement toward androgyny (not as a "shock-factor" but a way to discuss gender
) gives us hope that all sexualities will begin to find their way in the world of style.
Most Sustainable Clothing Endeavors Are Garbage, Literally
In an ideal world, we should all be working to become sustainable in all levels of fashion — from sourcing materials to producing the clothing to distributing them to stores and recycling them after we're through with them. However, "green" clothing is more a fad now than a philosophy, and few real clothing companies wholly embody sustainable fashion in a way that's both fashionable and responsible (H&M is one of them, and its green initiatives should serve as a guide for other mass brands).
Think of how many retailers you know that've just tacked on an eco-friendly line in addition to their eco-unfriendly products (the excess clothing that's manufactured is creating more waste than if they hadn't produced it in the first place). Or, how many environmentally conscious brands are creating products that are just plain ugly? To really create sustainable fashion, it has to be both sustainable and fashionable...otherwise it's a waste of resources.
Designers Don't Make Clothes That Fit 100 Million Women In America
A quick survey of major retailers, like Saks, Bergdorfs, Barneys, and Nordstrom, does indeed reveal a plus-size section — but those designers tend to be "plus-size" designers, and only a few notables even enter into that size bracket. (In fact, we counted only 16 in total that are carried at the four mega-stores, and we will call out the most familiar faces that gladly size up for larger ladies: ABS, Ralph Lauren, Rachel Pally, McQueen, Tadashi Shoji, Michael Kors, and DKNY.)
This problem, of course, isn't new and generally inspires a "no duh" to anyone who follows plus-size fashion, but here's the thing: Plus-size bloggers are more important than ever. The news jumps on a plus-size story. And, most importantly, there are 100 million plus-size women in America
. But designers are only creating for one type of body and not pushing themselves into the plus-sized box. Which means they aren't doing just a disservice to prospective clientele…but to their bottom line, too.