Top Fashion Cities | Tog Wears


said, “You need to get the designers weighing in
on this issue and using organic cotton and the proper dyes and so on.
If Marc Jacobs did it, we would all be buying these clothes.” Change
is possible, but it has to come from the fashion domain. Aesthetics is
crucial to the appeal of eco-fashion.
As noted above, participants cared greatly about sustainability, but
only as it related to food, recycling, and, in some cases, cosmetics (now
available containing organic ingredients). If consumers recognize the demands
that fast fashion makes on the environment, they seem to block
it from their consciousness (Joergens 2006). Aesthetics trump ethics, at
least for the time being. Niinimaki (2010) notes that, while ethical hard
liners are increasing in number, that number is still low.
Moreover, Niinimake argues, cost is far from the sole barrier to embracing
eco-fashion: style, quality, color, compatibility with one’s current
wardrobe, and an ongoing desire for new clothes—which means
valuing volume over ethical considerations—affect consumer purchase
decisions as well.
When we asked participants about luxury fashion, the three main
themes that emerged were dreams, exclusivity, and beauty/art. Fast
fashion allows dreams of luxury to come true. Style is achievable even
if quality is compromised; if an article of clothing is not really “beautiful”
and “elegant” as is the genuine item, consumers can nonetheless
afford the fast fashion option. For our participants, the idea of owning
exclusive, unique items from a luxury brand is both an aspirational
dream and a desire; yet, even as aspirations motivate them to pursue
their dreams, pragmatism prevails. As Tom, a thirty-something Canadian
fashion store manager, said: “Polo is not only a traditional game
played by the upper classes (e.g. Prince Charles), it also refers to the
social and emotional attitude of people towards exclusive and luxury
products. This is a dream that I cherish...but it is not within my reach
currently. I hope my dreams will come true one day.” The notion of
exclusivity, accessible to only a select few, is also evident. John, a Canadian
salesmanager, noted: “I chose a picture of a woman taking a bath
in Dom Perignon champagne...a symbol of the lifestyle of an extremely
rich social class...I don’t care about the money so much as the freedom
to do what you want and when you desire it.” Implicit in the conception
of exclusivity is that of a signifier of status. Tim, a Hong Kong financial
officer, chose a picture of a Patek Philippe watch. He stated: “People in
Hong Kong want to own at least one watch like this in their lifetime. I
also want to own one of these, which helps increase my status as a man,
Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands 287
and shows to my close male friends that I am also able to buy luxury
products.” Patek Philippe, unlike Rolex, is not worn by a large number
of people in Hong Kong. It is a dream product, while Rolex is seen as
readily accessible. It takes knowledge to select a Patek Philippe watch;
this participant aspires to a look that is very cultivated.
While the dream quality is essential to a luxury product, in some instances,
a long history and heritage further intensify a brand’s strength.
Louis Vuitton, for instance, prides itself on having provided royalty
with luggage. Quality is assured in all aspects of its business (or so is
the claim), since Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy has designed exclusive
objects for the nobility. While Patek Philippe may not have served the
nobility, it does have a rich tradition of creating exclusive and extraordinarily
well-crafted dream products. Creating such products takes time,
which in turn limits availability; highly trained artisans work with carefully
chosen, exclusive materials that are not produced en masse.
The dreamlike quality of luxury products has its origin in elaborate
craft ateliers where generations of artisans have created one-of-a-kind
products. Cathy, a student participant from Hong Kong who selected an
image of Chaumet gold earrings among her choices, observed: “Chaumet
has served royalty since the early eighteenth century. Each piece is
placed in a frame like a piece of fine art, and can be seen through the
shop window. It shows they [the earrings] are unique, special, and have
a rich history. Only people who are in the know will use such fine and
Heritage and quality appeal because they do not conjure up pollution,
dwindling natural resources, and global warming—most of which
are associated with the oil and transportation industries. There is little
exploitation of labor, since most ateliers are attached to big fashion
houses located in major fashion cities, such as Paris and Milan, although
outsourcing to countries such as China and India is raising the
specter of sweatshop operations.
Beauty and Art
The final theme of beauty, elegance, and art is important as well. Tanya,
a Hong Kong participant, commented: “Pearls give us a sense of luxury
because they are elegant, bright, luminous, expensive, and gloriously
beautiful. High fashion brands...make us look elegant.” Catherine (the
Canadian participant referenced earlier), linked luxury brands to art
and said: “I chose the picture of the Mona Lisa to represent the artistic
quality of haute couture. I associate it with the personalization of the
288 Annamma Joy, John F. Sherry, Jr, Alladi Venkatesh, Jeff Wang and Ricky Chan
artist/designer. Some people refer to haute couture as moving art.” It is
clear from the observations of the participants that they dream of exclusivity,
beauty, art, design, and heritage—all of which are associated
with luxury brands. Yet, this ideal seems distant. They love the glamour
and style, but lament the expense. They see that the next best alternative
is to buy fast fashion items. These items approximate the look,
but at a fraction of the cost. Consumers compromise on quality, the
factor central to undermining sustainability. If the items used featured
high-quality material and stitching, they would not fall apart after ten
washes. Yet fast fashion companies highlight a limited product life span as a special attribute. Consumers are trained to continuously purchase
and consume fast fashion replacements. Durability in fast fashion apparel
is the kiss of death.