Slowing down fashion: a year-long experiment

I like clothes. Rather a lot. They’re beautiful, versatile, and help you be anyone you want to be. Or at least, that’s what they whisper at you from the mirror of the dressing room as you try them on.

Which is why the conclusion I came to last month, to try not to buy any new clothes for a year, felt like a dramatic one. And certainly left me wondering how many new hobbies I’d need to pick up the slack on all the time I used to spend shopping.

When I told my boyfriend however, he seemed nonplussed. This is the same guy who subsisted in the same pair of black skinny jeans for 3 years before I met him, so I may have been pitching to the wrong audience. While I am well aware that excessive shopping is not a vice that plagues everyone (and I salute you for it), it is a preoccupation of more than a few friends and family; and indeed a large chunk of the Western world.

So why the big gesture? Well, there’s no singular reason and it was not a sudden revelation. There has been a sickly feeling in my stomach whenever I’ve bought clothes for a while now. I know there will be some caveats and rules I’ll need to establish; what about special occasions like my brother’s wedding, or when all my socks inevitably have holes in?

So while I am still working out the details, the need for change is obvious. According to the Economist, global clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014. That can’t have been me doing all the buying. Every year more clothes are being made, and more are being thrown away sooner. Again from the Economist; Zara used to make do with a handful of yearly collections, now they have twenty.

When you compound that with another stat, from McKinsey – that simply producing 1kg of fabric generates on average 23kg of greenhouse gases – the sickly feeling gets a little stronger.

Must looking good really necessitate killing the planet?

I don’t think there’s a single answer to that question, and I don’t want to speak for others. Personally I get frustrated with clothes that are better suited to the dust bin after only a year of wear, and I get angry with myself for so easily falling prey to  promotion after promotion in the sales. But I don’t think liking clothes is wrong.

What about the confidence-boosting, the creativity, the buying power of fashion, which all bring immeasurable positives. Charities like SmartWorks show the difference a good outfit and the right training can do for women out of work. But there has to be a better way to do this. The opportunity is ripe for more brands to tackle clothing production and consumption in a profitable and sustainable way. Following in the footsteps of brands like Patagonia, and encouraging more people to make do with fewer, higher-quality items of clothing is surely the way forward.

This is after all a personal experiment and I’m doing it to learn. I want to understand what really goes into the process of making clothes; the environmental and the human cost. Yesterday was the anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, one of the most shameful days in the history of the fashion industry.  I’d like to better understand the psychology of it too; the reasons why new clothes have been so important to my self-esteem and why my choice of outfit is as important to some as the words I say in a meeting.

12 months from now I think I’ll still like clothes, but maybe I’ll respect them too.

You can dance if you want to, but only if it’s relevant to your campaign message…

Jogg Jeans, Diesel:

I don’t follow much fashion advertising, but this ad is an exception. Here, ladies and gentleman, is an ad made up of a dance sequence. Not just any dance sequence, but a dance based on popularised urban dance, stemming from various types of movement commonly categorised under the umbrella of hip-hop dance. I know. Extraordinary.

diesel

I jest; it’s the most over-used advertising/PR trick in the book for any number of brand categories ranging from cosmetics to technology and fashion products. But here’s the kicker. The dancing is actually relevant to the product! It is advertising Diesel ‘Jogg Jeans’, a range of jeans described on their website as “a cutting edge crossbreed between jeans and activewear…crafted in a unique fabric that weaves together the style of denim with the versatility of jersey.”

From what I’ve seen of the jeans so far, this looks like a genuine product innovation and provides the starting point for a good campaign. The message being, that your movement is not restricted compared to traditional denim. You can jog, run, dance to Azalea Banks in an racy 18+ YouTube video (this is Diesel, naturally there is an x-rated version of the ad); whatever you fancy.

The dance sequence clearly demonstrates the selling point of the product, is engaging to watch and very much fits within the brand identity. It is a model example of how to make an overly popularised and tired idea seem fresh and seamless.

(behind the scenes)

Vs Clinique’s dramatically different +:

We’ve reached the positivity apex of this post, and I think you know as well as I do that it’s about to take a sharp downward turn. If you don’t like criticism from mildly self-righteous young bloggers, then it might be best to stop here.

A professional dance troupe was assembled to promote the release of Clinique’s new dramatically different + moisturising lotion by, apparently, conveying the product qualities through the medium of dance. As the choreographer explains in the behind the scenes promo above, his challenge was to create “a street performance that takes inspiration from Clinique’s new dramatically different + moisturizing lotion.” Oh, ok then. That makes total sense. Excuse me while I just nip to the bathroom and do a rain dance inspired by my favourite toothpaste brand.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Clinique? It’s not an easy life working as a freelance dancer in today’s tough economy and it is very charitable of Clinique to provide an income for these hard-working dancers after all.

In all seriousness, my criticism may be generalised and I acknowledge that it is easy to criticise this type of event, but it is important. If lots of beauty brands hold very similar PR/launch events, how can they expect to differentiate themselves?

The real issue, is what was it about the performance put on by the Clinique dancers that reflected and identified the Clinique brand? I would argue very little. If it could have been any beauty brand putting on that performance, then what was the point?  To make as much noise as possible? What I object to, is the knee-jerk reaction of doing whatever is ‘in’ without any thought to whether it is relevant. Clinique has a strong history and brand identity. It’s formed on the idea that “great skin can be created;” all their products are allergy-tested and fragrance free and custom fit for every skin-type.

All this could have inspired a relevant creative idea behind the campaign, but there simply wasn’t one. Take Nivea’s ‘dare to dip’ campaign earlier this year. I think the campaign was off-target in some ways, but it was at least differentiated. It had an underlying creative strategy and that showed.

It’s great if you have a well-known brand and you’re not fighting to get your name heard amongst the noise, but why stop there? Don’t be lazy; make people remember what it was they loved about your brand in the beginning.

p.s.  kudos to anyone who spots all the puns in the post. Somewhat miserable specimens, but puns nonetheless!