We are creatures with a love for material things, preferably an abundance of them, and clothes are no exception. In them, we look for and see the reflection of our ever-changing identity, which in turn creates the urge for constant adaptations in style choices, for the purpose of refining our self-expression and self-perception (Niinimäki, 2010) With the global financial crisis came an alternation in the minds of consumers – it forced us to think in and act on necessities as opposed to desires. At least to an extent, that is.
The factors that made a difference
In addition to the difficult state of the economy all over the world, the evolution of fashion and us, its consumers, has been affected by several other related events. Environmental challenges have also shaped the mind of the consumer to think about the wellbeing of the planet, and the long-lasting effects or need for instant (purchase) gratification.
Growing unemployment rates, decreasing living standards in many corners of the world, and the unveiling of the myriad of unethical practices across fashion’s supply chains all contributed to the altered mindset of the consumer.
In the name of planetary survival the need for slow fashion has given birth to a rising number of brands that prioritize durability over pure numbers, but consumers have yet to follow suit. Young shoppers in particular are still enticed to make purchase decisions that aren’t aligned with their environmental beliefs, as fast-changing trends remain the key factor in their choices (Joy, Sherry, Venkatesh, Wang & Chan, 2012).
While trends have yet to learn this unyielding attitude that doesn’t change with each season (both literally and figuratively), fashion as a whole industry has made tremendous progress in the right direction.
Ethical production trumps quantity, while lasting items on offer have become the primary focus of many old and new brand names such as PACT apparel or People Tree, who bind fine craftsmanship with sustainability. Add to that the creation of authentic pieces that have character and that are deeply relatable, and you have a winning recipe for fashion success in the 21st-century climate.
Organic and recycled thoughts
As opposed to the “throw away” culture that has reigned supreme for decades on end, we’re now witnessing the growth of recyclable and reusable as the new go-to for long-lasting fashion items. Sustainably harvested fabrics and materials are in the center of production, while skin-safe and durable options such as organic cotton are at the forefront of the industry, as well, and the cross of the two qualities makes for a brilliant asset for quality-oriented consumers. Recycling, on the other hand, has also gained in popularity, and brands are doing their best to encourage their consumers to recycle and repurpose as opposed to reject their garments. Campaigns that invite their loyal customers to give their items back for repair, as the outdoor gear brand Patagonia has the habit to do, are leading the way into a new fashion era of mindful shopping and wearing.
Brand success, however, still depends on more than just their sustainable footsteps, as consumers’ decisions are easily swayed by poor in-store attributes and high prices (Chan & Wong, 2012). Such inconsistencies have the power to increase the dissonance between the consumer's Earth-friendly attitudes and their final shopping choice – the latter may ultimately not reflect the former despite the ethical conundrum.
Fashion is no longer, if it ever was, as simple as “I need a pair of jeans, therefore, I’ll purchase the first one that fits”. But the digital rise has added a new layer of meaning to the consumerism game, and that is the notion of experience. We crave for our shopping endeavors to be deeply personal, crafted by brands to accommodate our needs, and the final product is only a fragment of the sale.
So, instead of mindlessly buying, we’d rather opt for just one item, the one that epitomizes an experience. Convenience, availability, uniqueness and the shopping environment are several influential ingredients in this equation, so thrift stores, second-hand and vintage stores along with the DIY movement have experienced a wave of revival and greater interest. They all fit with the modern consumers’ need for clothing as practical items and a desire for fashion as an expression of their authentic, personal style (Reiley & DeLong, 2011).
In this environment, spurred with movement from both the consumer and the designer end, fashion has the potential to change the future of consumerism on a more profound, emotional basis, and with longevity paired with style at the center of this struggle.