This article has been written by keeping in mind the effects of the tumultuous economic downturn, social changes & technological advances on the fashion. It will scan how periods of austerity have impacted on the fashion industry from a historical perspective; analyze the situation on these sectors nowadays, particularly in relation to fashion. It will also examine the effects of new technologies, social & economic trends on fashion.
Fashion has always been greatly influenced by social standings and accessibility to money. In the 30s, there was a shift to purchasing more inexpensive items for the common people while if you could still afford it you would buy your clothing from abroad. During this time a lot of American designers emerged and with the help of movie stars helped to set trends without having to spend the money. Zippers were less expensive than buttons so they became very popular. As the effects of cinema became more evident, the hemlines altered from mid-calf during day time to full length in the evening. Mens fashions were more relaxed and the v neck sweater and wider pants replaced the 3 piece suit. A hat for a man was a social standing and was a sign of a well-dressed male.
Technology had many advances during the 20th century as well. This included the first glimpses of the TV set, as well as medical improvements.
Technology has proved to be a great drive in the vicissitudes and trends in fashion. Silk was produced years ago which helped in the new dress styles for evening wear that became very popular with time. Cotton increasingly got more popular and was manufactured more because of the great demand for an easy to care for fabric. Gradually people overcame the obstacles of the depression and were still able to see the positives and relay that into their fashion choices. If one looks good one feels good. During austerity period, when the money was scarce, one was able to get cheap fabrics and more women started sewing more themselves to save money as well which enabled them to set trends in their own social circles that were to stay around for decades.
The behavioral content of the core assumptions is too simplified. Who can reasonably deny that individual preferences to some extent depend directly or indirectly on what other individuals around are doing? People do care actually about what others think or say. Let us consider, as the simplest example, fashion, which has obvious implications in many economic sectors, from clothing to leisure and finance.
An antiquity of austerity in fashion
Throughout the Twentieth century the world has endured various periods of economic austerity triggered as a result of war, political upheavals, and market uncertainties. World War One, the Second World War, the Wall Street Crash, the Oil Crisis, Black Monday etc. have all had a negative impact on the lives of millions of people in their respective societies.
There was a move during the 2nd world war to train women in mending classes, so they could use unwanted cloth for making new clothes and learn how to extend the life of their existing clothes by mending.
Many prominent fashion trends develop in response to contemporary global social, political, and economic events. Perhaps the most celebrated reactionary fashion statement followed the austerity of World War Two when Christian Dior showcased the celebrated New Look collection in the post-war era.
In Britain, the 1970s and 1980s brought social upheaval in the form of trade union strikes, rising inflation and unemployment, and these uncertain times also impacted on the futures of fashion .Most significant in retrospect was the sheer determination on the part of the young women who found ways of being economically sufficient. Similar to the earlier development of the New Look, the Punk ideology and ensuing individual approach to dress developed as a response to the social, political, and economic upheaval during this period.
Throughout the Twentieth century, many trends have adopted various cost-effective approaches to dress. There was an explosion in home dress-making due to the growth in user-friendly sewing patterns, readily available, and easy to construct from companies such as Butterick or Vogue. Both the hippy movement and later the grunge movement adopted a penchant for hand-made, charity shop and flea-market fashions, in a move away from corporate excess.
Speculation in the markets culminated in a series of crashes, with the burst of the Harshad Mehta scam in 1990s ,crashing the financial markets and sending the country into a global recession .This insecurity combined with the rise in unemployment has had a radical effect on the general spending habits. Empty premises, closing down sales and an influx of discount retailers are increasingly common place in the market. The difficulty of trading in a recession combined with the ready availability of cheaper fast fashion alternatives from the realms of the mass manufactured high street retailers make trading conditions for independent boutiques additionally difficult.
The credit crunch has undoubtedly impacted consumer habits with a knock-on effect for many retailers. In the words of John Galliano, this is a credit crunch, not a creative crunch (Socha, 2009).
Fashion Graduates in an age of austerity
As Lakme India Fashion Week closes, Indias budding designers must tackle the challenge of finding employment in an economy where most recent fashion graduates are struggling for work and in an industry that is notoriously competitive.
Mumbai & Delhi have the reputation as a cradle of new fashion talent, with National Institute of Fashion Technology boasting an illustrious list of alumni including Ritu Beri, Sabyasachi, Manish Malhotra etc. The fashion institute showcases its graduate talent every year, luring headhunters looking for up-and-coming talent to offer their labels.
A lucky few will be tapped on the shoulder for positions at top brands. But most will have to settle for employment that doesnt advance their dreams beyond internships and jobs on the bottom of the career ladder.
For any new fashion entrepreneur, the internet has proved indispensable to the growth of her/his business .The website facilitates ordering for commercial and private customers alike, showcasing the full collection alongside color variations and prices. Working with a website not only provides a more direct route to the final customer, but also helps to gain exposure and portray a more professional brand. Private consultations with the designer offer a unique shopping experience, and a participatory role in the design process as the consumer becomes a co-designer in the final product.
Social networking, such as Facebook, also play an important role in this type of business model; prospective customers are able to interact with established customers, initiate debates, view collections, follow promotions, and identify up-coming events (Burns, C., 2011).
In a period of economic austerity, this competition becomes all the more apparent as consumers become more prudent. In recent years, the growth of fast fashion has made clothes much cheaper relative to income in comparison to a few decades ago (Black, 2008, p.14). It is therefore unfeasible for the fashion entrepreneur to compete with these price scales and for that reason that their product ranges have the added value worth that merit their higher prices.
Despite the climate of austerity, the growing numbers of craft and fashion events indicate a market for fashion products, although a definite change in consumer attitudes is perceptible.
In addition, a greater level of customer service establishes a strong reputation and ensures that customers will return or recommend the brand to others. Identifying and understanding the needs of the consumer is critical, finding an appropriate sales location, or targeting the right craft fair is essential.
In addition, the ability to quickly embrace new technologies to advance their business allows Fashion businesses to compete in the market place against stiff competition from all sectors of the global fashion and textile industry. More importantly, this new media has become instrumental as a way of moving product to the market place, cutting out the middle man, and providing an easier and more profitable alternative to supplying retailers. Even from a remote location, it is an excellent tool for networking with customers & retailers.
These new consumer trends are apparent in many instances .Consumers are beginning to question the origin of their purchases, and are keen to avoid brands seen to be supporting unethical production in developing countries. Concurrent with this new trend, the designer has the distinct advantage of being able to guarantee the customer a locally fairly produced product, and should utilize this positively as a philosophy on which to move their business forward.
About the Author:
Vasundhara C. Bhagat is the Associate Professor and Centre Coordinator for Bachelor of Fashion Technology at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.