As the recession looms and the consumer-led economic revolution of the last decade finally fizzles out, even the most glamorous and wealthy of fashionistas must be checking their bank statements a little more regularly these days. The fact is that over the last year or so the world’s high street sales figures have shown a marked drop, and they don’t seem to be slowing up either. The gravity of the economic downturn is starting to take hold.
The retailers are nervous, the consumers are cautious, the heavily-funded corporate brands are slashing their prices and their advertising budgets, in a vain attempt to stem the exodus of major shareholders. Amongst the chaos, and currently at the bottom of the heap of the “whose who’s”, are a whole new generation of creative designers stepping up to the mark, and even chomping at the bit for a taste of success.
Ironically a prolonged period of profit and gain can be damaging for any industry, creatively speaking of course. The more money an idea makes, the less inclined a designer is to branch out and experiment with new ones. History shows how important the contribution the artistic community makes towards economic recovery. It could be said that the one commodity that does not lose its value, no matter how low the dollar or high the price of oil, and that it the value of originality.
I spent my youth in the eighties and throughout my late teens and early twenties, I and almost everyone I knew would stretch their measly student budgets by scouring the charity shops for bargains. By mixing and matching styles from different eras, and occasionally, with a few minor alterations, we were ready for another night out. I was “green” before most people had heard of “Global Warming” and I didn’t even realize it. What is described as “eco-friendly” now could just as easily have been described as thrifty back then. Besides, making the most of the resources around you is a necessity for many parts of the world. For those who have plenty, there are lessons to be learned from the Third World, the past, and even the logical leaps that new designers will make in the next few years.
T-shirt designers are a great example of fashion designers who can “buck the trend” and ride the economic beast through the worst of times. T-shirt design is one of the most competitive, if not the most competitive industries in fashion, the reasons are plain and simple for all to see.
Cost. The cost of materials, the cost of labor, the cost of production, design, advertising. It makes it an attractive, and more importantly, an economically viable entry point into the industry for any aspiring fashion designer. For less than a thousand dollars, someone with an eye for a second-hand bargain could easily set up their own studio tomorrow. The point being that anyone who thinks they can design t-shirts, (no matter if they can or not), can, with very little budget, take on the world of fashion.
This may seem a little far-fetched, however you just have to look at the numbers of t-shirts for sale at any of the popular t-shirt printing sites online these days. Millions, yes literally millions of designs on offer to the public. It has to be said that most of them are awful, however society, and more precisely the Internet has worked out the perfect way to choose their new designer gurus of style and taste.
Popularity. Back in the eighties you’d swap tips with friends, read magazines, copy the ensemble you saw someone wearing in the street, hence the name “street fashion”. It’s the same today, however the process has sped up significantly, with the right taste in clothes, an avid fashion shopper, let alone a designer, can become famous in a matter of weeks.
If social networking is manna from the heavens as far as the fashion consumer is concerned, for the high street brands it is slowly turning into a nightmare. The freedom of choice is an exhilarating experience for any consumer, but for the style obsessed it is an essential part of the experience. Major brands have gained their reputation over generations, new and relatively unknown designers will begin to compete within a matter of a few years.
Comparing the fashion and music industries for a moment, both intensively marketed through a groundswell of public opinion, before being recognized by the established and most respected “experts” in the industry. However the last couple of years have sent a shudder down the spine of every corporate music executive across the globe. Why? Because public opinion, without the filter of statistical surveys and glossy marketing campaigns, has begun to run riot. The Arctic Monkeys are one example of a band that “the people” made famous, not the music industry, not the A&R men, not the advertising agencies, and not even the DJ’s of numerous local radio stations around the world. All it took was a few hundred thousand friends.
If people like something, they tell their friends, and they tell theirs and so on. The difference now is that it is immediate, and on a vast scale. A popular fashion blogger may have thousands of friends and colleagues in their network, if they like something, you can bet your bottom dollar that a few hundred will be buying it in the near future. These “style renegades”, surviving outside of the traditional circle of influence, but right inside where it counts when it comes to the forefront of “what’s hot next”, are the nemeses of the fashion magazine publishers. If they can’t employ them they’ll have to discredit them. It is common practice for disreputable companies to spam blogs and forums, attacking their competitors and praising their own products. It will no doubt become common practice for all brands to use subversive tactics to undermine their own commercial enemies. A sign that the creative pot is running dry, and that those at the top of the chain may soon be up for the chop.
Corporations have a hard time changing their image, they are slow and lumbering beasts. The independent designer is sleek and lithe in comparison, they will take more risks, both creatively and economically. They are far more prepared to offer a highly personalized service, because in truth they won’t be able to match major brands on price, for now. With the rising cost of oil, cotton, transportation, electricity, and so many other essential resources for any big business to function, it may not be long before the independent producer (of just about anything) will be able to compete on price to a local market at the very least.
Fashion, design, and the arts in general will always excel within an economic recession. It is human nature to make the most of what you have, when that is all you have, the less comfortable the life the more one must rely on one’s wits to survive. If one has an advantage in their field, an economic lull, a downturn is the best time to risk a little “market inspiration”. Infiltrating a mindset of boredom and apathy is ironically far easier than persuading one of ambition and security. If people think they are successful or want to be, they copy the habits of the rich and successful. When the rich and successful begin to have troubles of their own, its time to take a look in the mirror, and even turn that mirror on the world. No one will escape the recession, however it will be fascinating to see those who survive and even thrive in the fashion market. Stars will be born, they’ll just have to wait for the official welcome, whilst the global corporate brands tend to their wounds and their pride for a while.