05 Jan 2020 FASHION: A YEAR IN REVIEW
In 2019 there was no way of knowing what 2020 would bring. This past year was full of new challenges, and tragedies that left us unprepared and looking for ways to adapt and cope. Amid such great tragedies, individuals manifested courage, hope and made unexpected sacrifices. Adversity was fought by banding together at our worst and rising to be our best. This past year and all the challenges that came with it, in short, changed how we live and connect. Just like how we’ve changed and adapted our relationships to one another, this evolution can be seen in 2020 fashion where creativity was pushed to new heights, especially with the impact COVID has had on production, trends and events. Just like us, fashion had to evolve to survive the rapid changes that occurred in 2020.
Rolling with the Punches
In response to the events of 2020, the fashion industry had to discover innovative ways to survive its stay-at-home mandate. Professionals across the globe faced the temptation to stay in their pyjamas all day but had to also dress up for virtual work meetings. The industry found this as an opportunity to develop a new ‘stay at home fashion’ that was both inclusive in its casualness yet still creative. They aimed to make people look put together, but still comfortable. The new emphasis on comfortability was something that was never a fashion focal point before 2020. Many fashion brands came out with clothing that was trending for its stylish, yet casual look, including sweatsuits and tie-dye designs. It is in this way that fashion became more accessible and appealing to many. It had undergone a shift from a more formal and costly style to more comfortable and accessible, which aligned with great economic changes and shifts in income.
While there were clear trend changes, this past year also saw a shift in how businesses function. Many businesses had to transition to online stores due to COVID-19 restrictions. Further, some found this change to be beneficial because it allowed for easier and more widespread marketing. In fact, this was so successful for many that many brands chose to transition into an exclusively online store.
Although a fair few businesses were lucky enough to thrive during 2020’s circumstances, it must be noted that for others the new reality was not business-friendly. For example, many small businesses were burdened with the task of trying to keep their businesses alive to fight another day due to the lack of resources and online exposure compared to larger corporations. However, along with this challenge, people across different societies recognized the suffering felt by many small business owners and lent a hand by emphasising the importance of shopping local and making donations.
A Shift in Focus
The suspension from ‘normal life’ as well as the obvious hardships faced by many around the world, including small businesses and its consumers, opened the eyes of many fashion brands to the suffering taking place. With life being put on pause, many luxury fashion brands have looked inward to reflect on the wider impacts of their practices. In this past year, we have seen the emergence of fashion that has blurred the boundaries of gender normativity. While this is not necessarily new, today’s fixation with gender fluidity is more substantial and politically engaged. Luxury brands have realized they must facilitate discussions about the difficulties many faces and what needs to change to cultivate greater inclusivity.
The gender-bending practices seen on the runway reflect greater consideration and sensitivity regarding the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming individuals. This idea is best captured by Wren Sanders, as he wrote for British Vogue, “fashion has always been one of the most useful tools for carving a space for myself to experiment with my identity, I’ve been thrilled to see more brands thinking critically, publicly, and creatively about their relationship to gender.”
The fashion industry this past year has not sought to simply merge the different gender norms to act as though gender does not exist. Rather, it has tried to reorient its audience towards embracing the different ways in which gender does exist. One of the ways the fashion industry promotes greater gender inclusivity is through diversifying model casting and ensuring representation for nonbinary, and transgender individuals. When represented on such large platforms, this provides a symbol of hope and acceptance for populations that often experience marginalization and discrimination due to their identities. However, trans and non-binary-inclusive casting is merely the beginning. The next step in promoting greater-inclusivity, and avoiding tokenization is ensuring that fashion is as inclusive behind the scenes as it is in front of the cameras.
Similarly, larger fashion houses have taken the opportunity to reflect on their inclusivity of people of colour. Fashion houses have started publicly acknowledging the lack of black representation in C-suite positions, leadership and boards of fashion corporations/houses. This is a significant step because it shifts negative actions such as performative inclusivity, and the tokenization of Black individuals into longterm effective reform of hiring practices.
This push for such change can be largely credited to the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as initiatives taken by Black designers and fashion executives. This is demonstrated by prominent figures, such as Reebok’s Pyer Moss and Louis Vuitton’s Virgil Abloh. Efforts in facilitating greater representation for people of colour in positions of power can be seen through Virgil Abloh’s “Post-Modern Scholarship” fund to support Black youth in becoming fashion industry leaders and the Black In Fashion Counsel, founded by Lindsey Wagner, Editor of Teen Vogue and publicist Sandrine Charles, which is focused on the advancement of Black individuals within the world of fashion and beauty.
Dollar voting is not a new concept but has caught the attention of individuals recently in response to unfair production practices. Individuals are exercising their consumer choice by investing their money into brands that they trust. That is, the people are indirectly advocating for change by not supporting businesses that are unsustainable or socially unprogressive. Instead, individuals are reallocating their money to brands that are responding to important issues. Consumers are especially trying to invest money into Black-owned businesses.
Similarly, dollar voting can be seen through the demand for more sustainable practices. In the past, small businesses have promoted more sustainable practices, but in 2020 large fashion houses have also faced the demand for greater sustainability. Especially with the market greatly suffering in 2020 as Canada entered into a recession and with an 8.2 per cent decline in the Canadian economy, consumers sought to wisely invest their money. Responses to the demand for greater sustainability can be seen through Burberry’s donations of leftover fabric to students to decrease waste.
The Future of Creativity and Sustainable Practices in Fashion
Larger fashion houses have admitted that the practices traditional to the fashion industry are not sustainable nor are they realistic. In comparison to today’s standards, the concept of elaborate fashion shows seems obsolete: fashion shows entail six-figure production costs, there are uncontrollable increases in couture as well as pre-collections and cruise collections. Moreover, the industry is producing a greater amount of fashion that is both financially unfeasible as well as overproduced. Changes in fashion shows can be seen through Shanghai’s fashion week being completely digitized.
The desire to change the practices of the fashion industry is best captured by Marc Jacobs’s interview with British Vogue. Jacobs admits that the six-fashion-shows-a-year model is exhausting with the price of creativity draining. In fact, given that the pandemic has disrupted normal practices in production, Jacobs is excited to scale down his production for this allows more time for his team to develop concepts that can restore the uniqueness that has since been missing from the Marc Jacobs fashion repertoire.
When on a tight calendar, Jacobs says that being told to produce is similar to someone having a gun to your head and saying, “dance monkey!” It is in this way that the traditional luxury and creativity of fashion is negatively impacted due to expectations of production. People appreciate the product less when the concern is about the quantity rather than the quality and art behind fashion. Creativity is essential to life and thus the greater demand for fewer products and more creativity will both encourage more sustainable practices and restore the appreciation behind fashion. Jacobs says, “Where would everybody be this quarantine if they didn’t have books to read and movies to watch?…. It’s as essential as anything else. So being creative is essential and it will always live and will always dance if you know what I mean.”
Jacobs holds that after the pandemic, fashion shows will not exist as they did before. Instead, they will more realistically reflect what designers can produce. Fashion will never be the same, but it is hard to determine what form the future of fashion will take. 2020 was a year of great demand for change – politically, socially and economically. Nobody knows that the future of fashion holds, but everyone knows that the world is in a process of transformation as reflected by the conspicuous events of 2020. When fashion is more evolved to what the ‘new normal’ will be after the pandemic, it will bring us closer to the art that we love.
Featured Image Credit: Maya Ginzburg, Creative Assistant