Open Letter to the Fashion Design Industry

Sometimes I think about fashion...not the designs so much as the industry. Fashion design has changed much over the years, but right now it needs to make some serious changes to survive into the next time frame.

 A Little History
There have always been designers and talented seamstresses, but for the average person fashion design was unapproachable and most fashion was bought 'off the rack' - if you were fortunate enough to be able to afford it - or created at home by moms, aunts and sisters who made the entire family's clothing.

Fashion consisted of a few changes of clothing for most average people to an entire wardrobe for the wealthy. An average person could afford 2 everyday outfits (so one could be cleaned) and a 'Sunday best' outfit for solemn and special occasions. This is not so long ago. The grandparents and great-grandparents of today's middle aged adults lived in this manner.

The 'Pride and Prejudice' style of multiple dresses and changes through a day was available to only a wealthy few and required a lot of work for servants and in some cases the individuals who wore them or a family member. Laundry as we know it was done by hand and required ironing and starching to look good.

However, disposable fashion, which is what most people are now used to, only began within the last 50 years, beginning around the 60s. Even then clothing required ironing and was much more expensive to produce and acquire for the average person.

With the advent of the modern textile industry, and especially the sending of most textile production overseas, the cost of fabric and thus fashion production decreased enough for the average person to be able to afford a large wardrobe that he or she could easily dispose of or change out regularly for new clothing. Now the person of average income - read middle class - could have a large wardrobe to rival the rich of a few generations past - in size - if not in quality.

Fashion production has changed too. A few fashion houses in the 30s to 60s created fashion designs that lead the production of fashion worldwide. There is now greater decentralization of designing with many areas having their own fashion industry apart from the European / American houses of the past.

With the higher level of production - of disposable income to fuel more purchases and more fashion designers and houses come problems. Too many items of clothing are produced, too many are discarded by consumers stimulated to buy to keep the level of production and purchasing up. Now there is incredible waste in the area of fashion. In addition the use of jersey knits and other fragile fibers create versatile and comfortable clothing, but due to inherent weakness in the fabric, they quickly wear out. How many people have thrown away an otherwise good tshirt due to a hole that sprung from a tiny pull? Almost everyone.

1 - We are making more than we need
2 - We are throwing away more than we need to
3 - We are designing for a short life and easy disposal
4 - We are fueling the increase of an industry that needs change, rather than allowing a reboot

What Needs To Change ?

Well, think of it like the book publishing industry that refused to change until Amazon came along and offered e-books. Now they are struggling to stay afloat and keep up with e-publishing. The print industry - magazines and newspapers have been superseded largely by internet versions - fashion blogs and online magazine versions that have supplanted the older technology with a vibrant, more relevant product. The music industry has seen many artists wrest the control of their careers and music from the hands of large producers to smaller, more nimble ways of producing and popularizing music and artists - the likes of YouTube, Taylor Swift and American Idol.

In fashion too, there is a move away from large fashion houses and the way fashion has 'always' been produced. Various celebrity designers who are either musicians, models or celebrity fashionistas  have begun their own successful fashion lines, such as Gwen Stefani.

Home produced fashion created by small designers and popularized by sites like etsy and lines like Alabama Chanin and Magnolia Pearl are growing. Sites like Spoonflower where you can design and print your own fabric help in the effort, along with Kickstarter and other means of reaching the buyer. The current CosPlay and gaming industry make their own fashion, often making it available in small lots in the to a select few and creating profitable niches for apparel designs. Lastly, with the rise of 3D printing and software programs that allow you to design your own fashion and - at some point - have it made according to your style and vision - change is imminent.

Fashion needs to change, or it will soon be overtaken by a host of individuals intent on bypassing an inflexible system in order to realize their own dreams and creative ethos. If this happens without the fashion industry, it will be left high and dry like a fish stranded on shore. But it doesn't have to end that way. Here are some ideas for tomorrow's fashion industries and designers.


1. Respect the end user. Buyers often have a keen sense of style not being addressed by the current offerings of the fashion elite. Find out what is really wanted, rather than recreating the same fashion year after year.

2. Make a way for buyers to be part of creating their own designs. I've learned to have a healthy respect for my buyers.They know what works and what doesn't in their closet.
Make a way for them to get what's in their 'heads'. If they can't find it in the market, 
someone's going to make it for them. That is a golden opportunity.

3. Be real. Don't be elitist (i.e. 'I'm the fashion designer...I'll tell you what looks good')

4. Be open to other forms of production, design and funding for creating fashion. Someone that's 12 on YouTube that has never sewn a single thing may run away with your audience if you don't get on board and find a way to open doors for new faces at the table.

5. Have fun. Fashion isn't fun anymore...or at least not often. (That's a danger sign.) Be open to a wider, more playful approach to fashion.