The global fashion industry has changed so rapidly over the past few decades it’s hard to predict what’s in store, especially with consumer pools in economically expanding Asian countries such as China bubbling up.
As industry veteran and co-author of Going Global: The Textile and Apparel Industry (2nd edition just published) Myrna B. Garner sees it, ‘when the economy is rising, fashion changes quickly. And that’s been true since the beginning of the 20th century. It affects consumption levels,’ (though not necessarily production, she notes). Garner also sees Asian women in particular ‘becoming more consumer oriented than they’ve been,’ with young people perhaps unsurprisingly leading the way. ‘Some of it’s being influenced by the improved economy, but also they’re looking at a global fashion and not necessarily a local fashion,’ she suggests.
In fact, the future of fashion is one changing in so many ways that Garner told me she wouldn’t be surprised to soon see the elimination of the practice of sewing altogether. ‘Maybe our apparel will change so much it won’t even require sewing anymore,’ she mused when I recently interviewed her, noting that one university she knows of has already been producing clothes without seams, opting to glue them together ‘like spacesuits.’ She also noted that there’s already ‘fused’ athletic gear that’s manufactured in this way.
Goodbye Originality, Hello Conformity?
‘Who knows… maybe clothing will be sprayed on like a fibre, a spider web,’ she said, explaining that it’s ‘not that crazy—a lot of the fleece used today like by Patagonia uses recycled plastic water bottles.’
While such innovation might be something inspiring, or at least good for capturing the imagination, Garner,who is also a former Fulbright Scholar and consultant with the United Nations on developing employment opportunities for women, professes that she’s been rather let down overall by the globalization of fashion she’s seen in recent years.
‘I’ve been very disappointed myself from a very personal standpoint that there’s been a homogenization of fashion throughout the world,’ she explained. ‘Cultural uniqueness and ethnicity is being lost as we move into a global fashion environment.’
She attributes this new fashion world to advances in communication technology and changing economies and recalls a time when clothing was truly unique and reflected the culture and people of the regions it came from: ‘On a trip to Japan years ago, the highlight of my trip was going into a market, this second-hand market for Japanese wedding gowns. And I have a wedding kimono on the wall of my family room that I brought back with me that day.’
Keeping Traditional Style Alive
Garner believes that while modern designers ‘still look for tidbits from all cultures’ to incorporate into their designs, (the idea and concept of an Japanese obi for example), it’s getting increasingly hard to find fashion that’s truly unique to an area. ‘(Fashion) is increasingly market inspired…it’s sad in many ways.’
But, she also pointed out exceptions, such as in Pakistan and India, where in many parts the Islamic influence means traditional wear still dominates. Garner also sees modern Japan as a trend-setting fashion hub, where contemporary designers such as Rei Kawakubo, and her label Comme des Garçons, has offered a unique style, while Issey Miyake has over the years showed the world a ‘very unique and architectural,’ style, with a ‘different splash of colour.’
Apart from unique and inspired fashion such as theirs’ however, ultimately for Garner it’s the looks at patterns of conspicuous consumption that have driven her life and career. It’s what she calls ‘a fascinating study’ that she’s made into her ‘life work.’ When asked why she’s so drawn to the phenomenon, she explains: ‘Because it’s been so diverse, so encompassing, and whether you’re into art or economy or politics, you can find it in the fashion business.’