Fashioning a Brighter Future

BRICKS speaks to industry innovators and thought leaders on their visions for the future of the fashion industry in a post-COVID world.

COVER IMAGE Courtesy of Matthew Needham

This article originally appeared in ‘The Let’s Evolve’ issue of BRICKS, available to purchase from our online store.

Given the year we have experienced in some sort of nightmarish group fever dream, It seems only apt that this September’s fashion month was one of the industry’s most unorthodox and discombobulating – there were shows that were live, shows that were live-streamed, shows that were puppet shows and shows that were music videos. Shows in empty warehouses and in empty streets. Shows that got postponed until… sometime later this month? I think?  

Who knows. What’s clear is that the fashion system is in flux and facing a long, overdue moment of change. The global COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the landscape for many creative industries, changing our perceptions of what live events are and our experiences ‘attending’ them, redefining our ideas of consumption and revolutionising our longterm goals and their impact on the planet. As the show season closes, we’re left with a series of almost existential questions  – what does fashion even mean in lockdown? How can fashion play a role in meaningful cultural change? Is this a moment of real change, or simply another passing trend? How can we hold the industry to account? And when we talk about change, what does that actually mean? 

Throughout history, times of great crisis have given rise to times of great creative evolution and the joy of expressing ourselves through clothes – from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, the flu of 1918 and the flappers, World War II and Dior’s New Look, the oil crisis to the 1970s and Saint Laurent’s boho deluxe. There’s no doubt 2020 has suffered several crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic, political cataclysm in a nation of unparalleled global influence and the continued destruction of the Earth’s natural resources. So what’s next for fashion, this time around?  

BRICKS speaks to industry innovators and thought leaders on their visions for the future of the fashion industry in a post-COVID world.  

Designs by Matthew Needham

What has inspired you from the most recent fashion weeks? 

Robyn Lynch, fashion designer, on digital innovation: “I really enjoyed watching all my peers and their creative videos, it really inspired me to see everyone’s creative vision translated into digital.”  

George Serventi, fashion journalist and content creator, on the evolution of live events: “The way designers have found innovative ways to present collections URL: the paper dolls JW Anderson showed from his desk, Jeremy Scott’s marionettes at Moschino (sitting doll versions of Edward Enninful and Anna Wintour on the FROW was quite genius) and GCDS’ off-world video runway feat. virtual sims.” 

Joshua James Small, fashion designer, on individualism: “I think it is noteworthy how smaller independent brands and creative individuals, with an organic client base and following, are performing better under the pressure of constant change. Brands such as Adam Jones and Patrick McDowell, for example, are two among many that have grown out of an organic following and social media transparency. This has allowed their smaller scale outputs to be seen and consumed at a responsible and constant rate. Whereas larger brands, such as Balenciaga, of whom rely on constructed social media moments and IRL influence, have resorted to paid celebrity video messages in order to get their new designs seen. It’s a very democratic shift, but interesting to see how it plays out in the long term.” 

Has your understanding of what fashion is changed over the course of this year? If so/if not, how and why?  

Blandine de Verdelhan and Marie-Lousie Mogensen, fashion designers and founders of Baserange, on addressing inequality: “We all have an effect on one another regardless of distance. How we have mass produced and polluted have a direct impact on people living in those areas but also on us, regardless of the wealth we have gathered. People are also more willing to engage in harder and vulnerable conversations and directly address inequality. It’s very visible our capitalistic system – including the fashion industry – is not healthy for anyone as it is. I think we will see more movements and action will be taken to move away from consumerism and experiment with diffrent value systems.” 

Joshua James Small on expectations: ”I have a greater understanding of how others interact with fashion. It’s fascinating to see how others dress according to an occasion, or lack of. Shifts in cultural attitudes and day-to-day life expectations have altered the way people dress. From observation, I note that people are gravitating to two ends of an extreme spectrum. While some are have downgraded their attire for the benefit of comfort, others have exaggerated their look, in an attempt to enact a sense of hyper-normality. In truth, it’s a matter of the mind, because individuals are striving for relatable normality, in the midst of seismic and prolonged change.” 

Matthew Needham, fashion designer, on communication: “I always saw fashion as something more than making garments – it’s an industry that allows us to talk about real issues. I think the Black Lives Matter protests of this summer and the ongoing movement has highlighted that the industry is very white-led, specifically, while male-led. We need to reevaluate what the industry is about and who its serving, and as young designers we need to reevaluate how we use our platforms.” 

Designs by Joshua James Small

Are trends still relevant when we can barely leave our homes? Do they even exist? 

Iolo Edwards, founder of High Fashion Talk, on virtual presentation: “I think trends, however much of a dirty word it is, will always exist and apply to what people enjoy. We get tired of the old and strive for new constantly; but maybe how we express that has changed. We find new ways to wear old things, old things we haven’t looked at in years, or even turn our attention to decorating our Zoom background rather than our bodies. I’m really interested in how people are now adopting style not only in their clothes but in the way they present themselves virtually.” 

George Serventi on lockdown boredom: “I think there’s more reason than ever for people to get dressed up and turn a look when social events are fewer and farther between and it’s only natural to follow trends. Instagram engagement has been up 40% since April and with the saturation of #WFH fits and fashion product we’ve become so accustomed to on our feeds over the last 6 months, a hankering to participate in trends can only have intensified.” 

Blandine de Verdelhan and Marie-Lousie Mogensen on recycling: “Trends are interesting as a material way of expressing how we move around and the values we have. I do think and hope we will see trends that are more rooted in recycling and not spending, and being creative with what we have.” 

I feel like the industry as it is now isn’t something we necessarily need anymore, but we do need an industry that promotes positive change, that is inclusive and transparent and that has good intentions in mind.

Matthew Needham, fashion designer.

Do we even need clothes anymore, given what we know about their impact on the environment?  

Matthew Needham on change: “I think there’s no doubt that we’ll always need clothes, but the question is do we need fashion? Obviously, with the nature of the pandemic, the whole outlook is definitely going to change, especially with Brexit and manufacturing. Thinking of our future business plans, the way we expand our businesses and the way we communicate is all going to be different. I feel like the industry as it is now isn’t something we necessarily need anymore, but we do need an industry that promotes positive change, that is inclusive and transparent and that has good intention in mind.” 

Joshua James Small on remixing: “I remember reading an interview many years ago from Lotta Volkova, where she explained how the now is ‘all about the remix’. I think this sentiment stands just as true and informative now as then. People will always consume clothing, but the way we do so, will be different, and this will continue to change. Right now, you can see the shifting landscape. Looking to Selfridges new Project Earth campaign and the continual rise charity shops, there appears a more conscious consumer that wishes to purchase into a more circular model.” 

George Serventi on fast fashion and identity: “I think our generation is definitely paying more attention to how and where our clothes were made and it’s become a fashion faux pas to shop on the high street – not because the clothes aren’t high end but because their social and environmental impact is considered worse. Having said that, clothes have become a fundamental part of how we express ourselves in 2020 – how will we tell the hypebeasts from the e-boys if they aren’t wearing Off/White and Ragged Priest respectively?” 

If big companies and brands continue to give younger designers a seat at the table to show ideas and ways of thinking to tackle the elements of over-producing, these problems could start to be resolved.

Robyn Lynch, fashion designer

What would positive change in the industry look like to you?  

Robyn Lynch on industry collaboration: “A positive change in the industry would be if everyone produced less to tackle the vast overproduction that the industry produces every year. If big companies and brands continue to give younger designers a seat at the table to show ideas and ways of thinking to tackle the elements of over-producing, these problems could start to be resolved or an alternative path for what would have been deadstock garments can be found.”  

George Serventi on fashion criticism: “More inclusion, less identity politics, talent over tokenism, no more nepotism, stop deifying designers, and emphasis on the new rather than rehashing the old. I think because fashion is an industry entirely based on opinion, it means certain individuals are deified for their taste, when in fact taste itself is completely subjective. For me, it’s a Catch 22 because I wish everyone would just chill out but also understand that’s impossible. It’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes: if everyone stopped taking this kind of stuff seriously (what length hem-line is ‘in’ and which neck-line is ‘out’) we’d all literally be out of a job because no one would spend thousands of pounds on designer clothes, they’d just shop at Primark (and no one wants to read a Primark catalogue).” 

Iolo Edwards on brands as businesses: “I think my biggest issue with the industry right now is how industrious it is. We talk so much about the intersection of fashion and art, and I’m sure that most of us who come to work in the industry do so for the love of creativity, not margins and ROI’s. With every other issue going on in fashion, if we drill down far enough we do find that it’s the business side that is the root cause. I don’t think we should target any individuals or place blame, we are just working in a broken system that puts all value and priority on profit and it’s grown exponentially without us identifying the issues or doing anything about them. When everyone comes to the realisation that nobody really wins in this system, we can change it, but it takes a large collective of people to make that change – we can’t depend on a fashion saviour.” 

Matthew Needham on lack of support available: “Something I’ve experienced over the course of this pandemic is that the support for young designers has severely decreased while the support for established brands has maintained and even increased during this time. Obviously, the industry is run on profit and making sales and maintaining revenue and employment. At the same time, a generation of designers have been lost, or at the very least jeopardized, and I would like to see a stronger support system in place for young creatives and young designers.” 

When everyone comes to the realisation that nobody really wins in this system, we can change it, but it takes a large collective of people to make that change – we can’t depend on a fashion saviour.

Iolo Edwards, founder of High Fashion Talk

And finally, what would this change mean for you, and an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people around the world?  

Joshua James Small on sustainability: “We need to appropriately address the climate crisis and the colossal impact of the fashion industry on the environment. By slowing production and producing considered pieces, the collective output may be much richer in visual stimuli, while decreasing the impact on the natural world. Brands must utilise responsibly-produced materials while investing in sustainable textile innovation. It is also imperative that companies decrease their carbon footprint from the root of the problem, as well as using carbon neutrality schemes. On the whole, there is a lot that needs to change, and not enough time to change it. However, there is already work being done, and it is vital that it continues in an honest and transparent manner.” 

Iolo Edwards on detaching from capitalism: “I think if we could reach a world where this shift in values is achieved it would still be commercially viable in terms of employment and industry productivity. Everyone would be so much happier in their work. The businesses that would take the hit would be the big conglomerate owned houses, and sure – their profits would trickle down somewhat – but have you seen how much reserves they have? It’s crazy. The money not spent there would be spent with smaller independent brands instead, who would in turn work with many more creatives and talented individuals; and of course, more people getting jobs means more opportunity for diversity.” 

Matthew Needham on community: “We need to be talking about an industry in the future that is inclusive and is not segregated or driven by race, sexuality or gender, but purely a space for creatives to feel part of the community. The industry has been driven for so long on a hierarchy that unfortunately will always exist in some form, but I believe the hierarchy can be utilised in a positive way as a support system and not as a means to divide us.” 

Blandine de Verdelhan and Marie-Lousie Mogensen on investing in our future: “We will try our best to invest in conversations, experiments and the unknown. I don’t think any of us can forecast how this industry could be. But we believe it could be a healthy, creative and an equal space throughout the entire production chain. We have to invest in the conversations and experiments we do not yet know what could be and learn and engage with possibilities and openness rather than what we are used to doing. To us, that means more time will be used for developments and conversations.” 

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