Since eons, if not more, fashion and all its varied verticals have stirred and incited a diverse range of sentiments within us – in a way that now, it is not only seen as a discipline that encompasses design, trends and every facet that makes for the ‘cool culture’, but also as an aesthetic of sorts. Said to be art of the highest order, fashion has, indefinitely, inspired – from the way we move ourselves around in spaces, to the manner in which we communicate our ideals to others. It has, in an inexplicable way, crawled its way into our minds and translated itself into the way we live.
However, since quite some time now, the sphere has witnessed a trend, which is almost turbulent, if not entirely so. Ever since the early 2000’s (which incidentally, also was the time that marked the commencement of Lakmé India Fashion Week), the industry boomed further and consumerism as a whole, started to overpower creative and sustainable fashion. Consumerism and consumption play a significant role in what makes fashion and what goes into it; they are but substantial parallels to the fashion industry because they determine the psych, behavior and buying tendencies of consumers, potential or otherwise. While consumerism in healthy amounts can boost the economy, instigate creativity and in some cases, also help reinvent the wheel, it can (more often than not) also be the death of creativity, ingenuity and fundamental artistic expression.
As much as we would like to maintain that fashion is the ideal, quintessential industry we think it to be, but naturally, it is not without any flaw; because the futuristic creations and innovations that are taking ground today, have, most indefinitely, left a trail of several gnarly repercussions that need to be cleared up. The steep hike in the income and buying capabilities of the consumer, coupled with a more than steady inflow of apparels (think labels, lines, collaborations and seasons that increasingly lure and encourage buyers and enthusiasts) has rendered a new dynamic to how both, influencers and consumers perceive fashion and whether is it really healthy?
As the most sought after designer and nifty impresario Vivienne Westwood reflected in one of her own shows, “It’s about quality, not quantity,” it is, perhaps, time to reflect extensively on our fashion and buying preferences while also reconsidering and reinventing the processes of creation.
The reasons behind what we have now come to call ‘mindless consumerism’ can be many. Be it high- street brands or couture and designer ones, there are some reasons that hold a common place for all, like over-production, lack of sustainability, garment waste, overuse of natural resources which in turn, results in environmental degradation. Therefore, the nature of consumerism is inordinately at odds with that of environmentalism and sustainability.
Further, the primary objective of the earlier consumer was wearability and functionality. However, that alone has transcended into various other motives, all in the pursuit of being in the ‘it’ radar or due to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
The proliferation of the mighty, globalised production has also brought many a traditional, skill- based craftsmen down to their knees, which further proves how stealthily consumerism can disrupt the industry, and not necessarily for good. Hence, it is no surprise that the much controversial, consumerist conundrum is now fermenting a new breed of consumers called the ‘alpha consumer’ who not only co-operate with but also subsume consumerism and in turn, hegemonize fashions and fads for seasons and seasons to come.
Manish Malhotra in his interview to Indian Express last year said that the ‘Indian fashion industry lacks direction and that more and more designers should focus on creativity and making fashion accessible to all’, highlighting how producing in quantity and global acclamation alone cannot cut it for the huge pool of diversity and innovative prowess the Indian fashion industry is.
This, coupled with several other reasons plays a catalyst in not just the rise of consumerism in India but also a trail of precarious consequences that it leaves behind. With the throbbing, fast growing young population of the country today, comes an increased exposure to international brands and an even higher propensity to spend on the same. According to a 2017 report on Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), ‘India’s nominal year-on-year expenditure growth of 12 per cent, which is more than double the global anticipated rate of 5 per cent, will lead to India becoming the third largest consumer market by 2025.’
The creation of expansive spaces through malls, hyper markets, super markets and also, the arrival of international giants into similar retail capacities have led to a steep increase in retail selling in India. For example, the Swedish brand Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), Spanish line Zara, and most recently, the entry of French luxury goods company Longchamp into the Indian retail space have substantially proved that they are slowly tapping into the target market and gradually disrupting the Indian fashion space.
The past few years have also witnessed a dramatic increase in the e-commerce sector of the country. Not only websites like KOOVS, TheLabelLife etc. but also, online shopping through the plethora of social media pages on Facebook, Instagram and more, has now resulted in the consumer being more shopping savvy as they can get anything delivered at their doorstep just by the a few clicks. According to IBEF, ‘The number of online fashion shoppers in India is expected to double to 130-135 million by 2020, to be driven by growth of fashion industry in India and growing use of mobile for online shopping.’
Given the competitive economic environment, the burgeoning branded markets and the importance of e-retail and e-commerce growing exponentially, one of the other shortcomings that particularly the Indian fashion industry faces is the tendency to ape the West which results in the loss of the industry’s creative expression, its own, authentic voice.
The widely heard about, yet the most misconceived concept of sustainable fashion also has thse potential to leave room for sizeable debate. Although consumerism and sustainability are two highly contradictory hypotheses (one sells fashion and the other instructs to buy less), there is a need to successfully equate the two channels, while also sustaining the creative bearing of the industry.
Hence, fashion, which was once a decorous spectacle to interpret art, film, culture and history, is now, essentially a cross-pollination between creativity, editorial intellectualities, commercialism and a major chunk of consumerist influences. But, what really seems like the need of the hour is to restore the disrupted equilibrium, and further to keep the avant garde industry from donning an undesirable reputation.