Fashion & Manufactured Desire

Fashion & Manufactured Desire

Fashion can mirror the best and worst of our world.

The fashion industry has developed over the centuries, in tandem with colonization and capitalism, to result in a strange entanglement of social class and status. Trends shift like the wind and a hungry marketing industry rushes to create demand and desire, while accumulating literal tonnes of waste on this planet. When looking deeper into this ever-expanding industry, we can find much more than meets the eye behind all the glitz and glam: a manufactured hierarchy and the classism. As we dive more into the complex history of the relationship between social class and fashion, it becomes clear that, underneath it all, there is a system that promotes inequality and exclusion rather than acceptance and self-expression.

Fashion: A Mirror of Social Class

Fashion has always been associated with social class. Throughout history, what you wear has been a big indicator of where you stand in society, from the lavish attire of the nobility to the plain uniform of the working class. 

For example, being able to wear the color blue once symbolized a very high status. This was because in colonial era Britain, blue dye was very hard to find and only the elites could access indigo to produce the blue pigment. However, Western Europe was not the right climate for growing indigo. Therefore, the nobility relied on the land, labor, and expertise of their colonies to cultivate and harvest indigo for dyeing. 

As was then and as is today - the elites set the trends, and everyone else scrambles to keep up. Think about the droves and droves of magazines and Instagram accounts whose bread and butter is just following what any celebrity is wearing on a given day. 

Today, high-end brands and a disorienting influencer culture dictate what’s cool, but their pricey styles leave many people out in the cold, unable to afford the sustainable versions of their clothes and surrendering to much cheaper and much more toxic options.

The Illusion of Sustainability

In the age of eco-friendly fashion, it seems like everyone’s talking about saving the planet. But while some can afford to buy ethically made clothes, others are stuck with fast fashion because it’s all they can afford. 

While the quest for climate justice and ethical labor practices drives the shift towards sustainable fashion, the exorbitant prices of eco-friendly fashion make these pieces inaccessible to lower-income individuals. As second-hand shops have now been taken over by wealthier shoppers, the communities that once took advantage of these shops have been pushed to the margins and forced to surrender to the path of fast fashion.

This is why we cannot look for individual solutions to collective problems. Sure, we should examine our individual consumption choices but we will not see a true transformation of the fashion industry until there is a systems-level change around the policies and practices that govern fashion production. 

Fast Fashion, Influencers, and Media

Amidst the clamor for sustainability, a dangerous narrative emerges—one that vilifies low-income groups for perpetuating fast fashion. Yet, it is not single mothers struggling to make ends meet who contribute to the climate breakdown, but rather the influencers and media personalities who glorify excess consumption and promote cheap, disposable clothing brands. Reality shows and social media have quickly become platforms for fast fashion brands to promote themselves, enticing young, impressionable audiences to follow the trend of consumerism.

A Call for Change

As we confront the manufactured hierarchy and classism within the fashion industry, it’s time to shake things and make it fair for everyone. Sustainable fashion shouldn’t just be for the rich; it should be accessible to all. Companies, middle-class shoppers, and advertisers need to take responsibility for their part in the problem and work towards solutions that benefit everyone, while efforts to promote awareness and ethical consumption must prioritize accessibility and affordability for all. Inclusivity should become the priority of sustainable fashion, with a recognition of the intrinsic elitism that surrounds the movement. 

Fashion for All, Not the Few

As we work towards a fashion industry that’s fair and sustainable, let’s remember that clothes are about more than just looking good. They’re a way to express ourselves and connect with others. By making fashion more inclusive, we can create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued, regardless of how much money they have in their pocket. 

So, let us work together to build a fashion landscape that celebrates diversity, embraces inclusivity, and recognizes the dignity and worth of every individual. 

Fashion and style is not just the clothes we wear. The choices we make reflect our values. Next time you purchase a garment, think about the materials and process. Think about how often you will use it and where it will end up after. And most importantly, think about the labor that has gone into making this garment. 

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.