Reclaiming creativity in a fast-paced fashion system by enabling the user

‘Fashion is produced as a belief and an ideology. People wear clothes believing that they are wearing fashion because it is something considered to be desirable.’[1]

The problem of an ever-accelerating pace of the fashion system has already been much debated. As formulated by Ingrid Loschek, our effort strives to adapt human pace to that of computers instead of supporting the ‘slowness’ of human creativity and thereby the creation of the new.[2] According to her, we race towards mass production instead of putting our effort into unique inventions.

‘Antisocial expertise is driven by a competitive zeal which occludes the notion of co-operation, holding up world class excellence as the one goal, and based on a strict sense of hierarchy.’[3]

The competitiveness of fashion, however, leads to an urge to appeal to the masses, which dilutes any new expression of creativity. Our capitalist society produces highly specialized workers and consumers who expect all their needs and wishes to be catered for. In a post-industrial world, individuals should be provided the tools (physical and intellectual) to care for themselves again, as this would lead to understanding and the formation of their own opinions.

Yelavich is convinced that ‘design’s greatest possibility, its primary responsibility, is the reduction of suffering and the maximization of potential.’[4]

Only through the maximization of potential of the individual can creative solutions have the possibility to come up.

Otto von Busch proposes to adopt a ‘hacker perspective on fashion’ by ‘breaking the interpassive logic of consumerism as well as organizing DIY efforts with the aim of self-determination. Ultimately, hacking produces hands-on tools and engagements for self-reflection, challenging the interpassive imperative of consumption.’[5]

He states that it is not enough to change the technical aspects of production (such as machine-embroidery or fabrics from organic fibers) but that it is essential to challenge fashion’s cultural belief system as well. It is about enabling users, about educating them. He poses the question: ‘How does hacking in a systematic manner distribute competence and increase capabilities to act and be free in the world?’[6]

Von Busch’s aim is to reduce conspicuous consumption and the subordination of both manufacturers and consumers it entails and to educate people towards self-reliance as a step towards self-actualization, the highest level in Maslows hierarchy of needs.

‘We usually believe that owning a fashionable garment immediately transfers its characteristics onto us, making us fashionable. But in this transaction, we are not in any sense in control of the capabilities of being fashionable. Instead, we have only dressed in an ephemeral incarnation of the zeitgeist and left all control of production to the brand or designer. Fashion hacking actualizes the skills, control and systemic capabilities of fashion, that is, the ability to engage in fashion.‘[7]

The fashion hacking of the future cannot only be comprised of DIY if it seeks to attain even those with a short attention span who have internalized capitalist consumption patterns or those with limited time and resources. It needs to take on the shape of a ready-to-use toolkit with suggestions for use. This toolkit could bridge the step from consuming a ready-made product towards making what is needed from scratch.

However, once such a system is in place, it would have to be observed if it would truly lead to more individual creativity or if it would only recreate the fashion system already in place. It is yet to be seen if some would become fashion leaders who would be imitated by others, creating a new hierarchy.

‘Imitation from below induces a pressure on social superiors to display their superiority by further sartorial refinement and innovation in order to distinguish themselves from their inferiors who have adopted their earlier styles. A potentially unending cycle of imitation and innovation is set up.’[8]

Kawamura wonders about socially constructed structures and the limits of human agency within them. Can individuals ever act independently or are they always influenced by social conventions? She does not believe in individual creativity but defines it as a criterion defined by the system. Pointing out a lack of creativity and talent is used to justify the exclusion of designers from the system.

In this kind of strict hierarchy and by excluding participants, the fashion system puts itself in a position where it can control consumers’ perceptions of reality. It achieves an authority that remains unchallenged.

‘Fashion ensures the functioning of a system of dominant and subordinate positions within a social order. Fashion is ideological in that it is also part of the process in which particular social groups, in this case elite designers, establish, sustain and reproduce positions of power and relations of dominance and subordination. [...] Fashion and the medium of fashion, that is clothing, offer means to make inequalities of social economic status appear legitimate, and therefore, acceptable.’[9]

If fashion as an economic system does not allow for a revolution, the change needs to occur within that system, as an alternative proposal and not as a counter-movement. The first step would be to reduce and eliminate the hierarchy of the fashion system. The answer does not lie in cheap ‘democratized’ fashion, which people in production are exploited for, nor in localized eco-fashion, which addresses only a small group of consumers. A non-hierarchic fashion system would have to be easy-to-use, readily available and ideally open-source. Truly democratized fashion should involve no exploitation and be accessible to all, not only Western consumers. Its production should therefore happen locally via an open-source network, giving each consumer the means of production or be automated and machine-produced.

This approach could be an attempt to reclaim capitalisms lacking justice and morals. It can only work if consumers abandon the star-system of fashion and aim for co-creation, moving away from the neo- colonial reality of fashion production.

[1] Kawamura, Yuniya. Fashion-ology : An Introduction to Fashion Studies. Oxford: Berg, 2005. Print. 88

[2] Loschek, Ingrid. Wann Ist Mode? : Strukturen, Strategien Und Innovationen. Berlin: Reimer, 2007. Print. 43

[3] Press, Mike. The resourceful social expert – De ning the future craft of design research. in: Joost, Gesche. Design as Research : Positions,arguments, Perspectives. 2016. Print. Board of International Research in Design, BIRD. 23

[4] Yelavich, Susan, Barbara Adams, and Arjun Appadurai. Design as Future-making. 1. Publ. ed. London ; New Delhi ; New York, NY ; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print. 17

[5] von Busch, Otto. Fashion Hacking. in:Yelavich, Susan, Barbara Adams, and Arjun Appadurai. Design as Future-making. 1. Publ. ed. London ; New Delhi ; New York, NY ; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print. 51

[6] von Busch, 56

[7] von Busch, 57

[8] Kawamura, Yuniya. Fashion-ology : An Introduction to Fashion Studies. Oxford: Berg, 2005. Print. 37

[9] Kawamura, 70