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Fast fashion’s identity crisis

Fast fashion has created an identity crisis; we’re trying so hard to keep up with trends that we’ve forgotten who we are and what really matters. Exploring the dynamics of supply and demand, brands and consumers, Vidya Giridharan shares her story of conscious fashion.

The white dress

When I was in my teens, I saw a white dress worn by an actress in a movie and decided I must must must have that dress. After a lot of searching, walking around many market places, I finally found a dress that was very similar and without thinking, I bought it.

I was so captivated by the idea of the dress that I did not even consider it was actually a bridal dress. I didn’t think about where and how often I would expect to wear it. I just wanted that dress and nothing else mattered.

It somehow seemed to symbolise popularity. To me, having that dress meant I was hip, trendy and cool, giving me a sense of belonging, even if only for a moment. It gave me the chance to say, “Hey do you know that dress which was worn by that actress in that movie? Guess what? I bought one exactly like it!”

How many times did I wear that dress? Once, maybe twice! Maybe I can cut myself a little slack for having made a stupid teenage decision. But now, as an adult, am I — or in fact, are we — making better decisions when it comes to buying clothes? We only need to take a look at our wardrobes to answer that question.

How we create our identity through fashion

Right from the dawn of the industrial age, fashion brands have created a set of values in order to attract their consumers. Their clothes help us to create an identity with which we can connect.

Society’s social ranking system has been abolished but status symbols represented through draping ourselves in fashion still exists. Whether we choose to represent ourselves with luxury, smartness or effortless chic, our clothing choice showcases who we are or who we want to be.

It’s like we are walking on the invisible red carpet everyday. Even the most conscious consumer wearing the most sustainable brands belongs to a group that represents a particular identity.

Whether we want to fit in, stand out or make a statement, fashion helps us communicate our identities with the outside world through the clothes we wear. The problem is that what we want to convey (as in our identity) is no longer a well thought-out, conscious choice.

It seems that emulating someone we feel we identify with and maybe whose values we feel we resonate with (a celebrity, our next door neighbour, a fashion brand, a football club or a political party) is easier than figuring out who we really are or who we want to be.

So who is to blame for Fashion’s mindless consumerism?

While no one brand or consumer can be held responsible, (hence why SDG 12 mentions both responsible production & consumption) it is also true that one cannot exist without the other.

Brands are fuelling our autopilot consumption habits by offering unlimited fashion choices. Should they take a more responsible approach? Absolutely. But, when it comes to the dynamics of supply and demand, consumers don’t seem to realise the power they have to drive change.

Our irresponsible consumerism is marked by uninformed, impulse purchases and a complete ignorance or disregard for what might be at stake (e.g. the exploitative conditions of global fashion supply chain). This is what needs to change.

We can use our purchasing power to demonstrate more responsible consumption. We can exercise our rights to ask brands how and why they operate the way they do. We can compel them to act and produce fashion more responsibly. In doing so, we will not only be benefitting ourselves but our planet and the future generations that well inhabit it.

Fast fashion has stolen our identity and it’s time we created a new one. We can be powerful, conscious choice-making consumers. We can be people who no longer say “I just wanted that dress and nothing else mattered”.


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