The dream factory is closing

Saga Loxdal / SFC

Stockholm, Sweden

Stop Romanticising the Current Fashion System

I peaked as a fashion designer on the floor of a shop in Kreuzberg. I was 25 and I had moved to Berlin to study fashion. I soon found a friend in the neighbourhood where I spent my days. She was running a vintage- and fashion boutique, focusing on rave and techno styles. It didn’t take long till we started working together. We sat on the floor, cutting garment pieces from a pile of 1970s fabrics someone had given her. The checkout doubled as a sewing table. We had to move when customers wanted to enter the tiny space. Sometimes, if lucky, they wanted to buy what we had made. Almost no one outside our small Berlin circle knew who we were or what we did, and our online presence was non-existing. Today I don’t make a living from making clothes. I guess I never wanted to participate in the fashion system the way you have to in order to succeed as a designer.

"We should begin by asking ourselves why fashion is the way it is—only after answering that question it’s time to start discussing why and how fashion needs to change."

The fashion system is easiest explained as the cooperation between all the players in different fashion fields—from the designer, the manufacturer, the factory worker, the politician, the marketer, the media and the buyer—to the people wearing the clothes. At the top of the system, you’ll find a few influential fashion leaders. Some of the previously mentioned players were present at the Decentralising Fashion Talk during the first edition of SFC [X]PERIENCE at A house in Stockholm, and some were not. On stage were moderator Ayşe Dudu Tepe, journalist and editor of FASHION [X], Isabella Burley, chief marketing officer at Acne Studios, and Elise by Olsen, founder of the International Library of Fashion Research in Oslo. The audience consisted of fashion creatives whose work circles around adding cultural and social value to material fashion. Organised by the Swedish Fashion Council and with several influential fashion editors in the audience, this talk took place within the central fashion system, even though the intention was to discuss how to change it.

Photo: Albin Heyman

Dudu initiated the conversation by asking both the audience and the invited experts the same questions: ”What is fashion to you?” and ”What does decentralising fashion mean to you?”. A little shy at the beginning, I think that take made all participants feel included. Me too, even though I would have started the conversation a bit differently. I mean, we can ask ourselves what fashion is and how to decentralise fashion and I think we would all come up with different answers, but there is no point in discussing those questions without a common starting point. Instead, we should begin by asking ourselves why fashion is the way it is—only after answering that question it’s time to start discussing why and how fashion needs to change. To me, the answer to the first question is dreams.

The whole fashion system lives off dreams. The kid playing dress up in front of the mirror dreams about a future in the glamorous fashion world. Fashion students are constantly told the success stories of their forerunners. Successful designers express and showcase their dreams to the public through their collections. Consumers dream of being able to buy that couture dress or handbag seen on the catwalk. And here we are, trapped in a pipe dream stopping us from facing the less dreamy sides of the industry. When I say we, I mean us privileged enough to experience the good parts of fashion. If we wanted to, we could close our eyes and keep dreaming. But there are plenty of reasons why we should not, like the environmental crisis and social injustice.

"A fashion success story does not have to equal worldwide recognition, viral trends and huge sales. Success in fashion can be other things too."

Let’s quickly get back to where today’s fashion dreams started. During the second half of the 1800s, the Paris-based Englishman Charles Worth established what many consider the first modern fashion house. Soon he founded the haute couture organisation, known initially as Chambre Syndicale de la Confection et de la Couture pour Dames et Fillettes, in an attempt to protect Paris couturiers from others trying to copy their designs. To become a member you had to follow certain rules, such as being based in Paris and showing a minimum of 35 styles every season. Haute couture and all its rules might not be the only way to experience fashion today, but it’s the foundation of today’s fashion system. It’s a closed, geographically and financially centralised system, a member’s club for a few lucky ones.

As of today, we won’t get rid of the currently ruling fashion system anytime soon. What can be done are changes within it. During the Decentralising Fashion talk, Dudu mentioned that from her perspective (originally cultural and political journalism), fashion already seems very decentralised and all over the place with almost no regulations. I agree that the industry needs more central legislation. It’s probably the only way to force fashion companies to take environmental and social responsibility. I’m not sure that the constellation of people at A house would be able to change the industry (especially since so many parts of the fashion system were not present, like politicians and manufacturers), but there is one thing everyone in fashion can do. Stop feeding the big, unrealistic fashion dreams and egos and stop romanticising the current fashion system.

Photo: Albin Heyman

The Instagram account @1granary, ”a bridge between fashion education and the industry” according to the description, recently posted a meme touching on young fashion designers’ self-fulfilment needs and claim for validation. Creating pieces that no one will ever see, wear or appreciate might be many fashion students' worst nightmare. A former fashion student, I know how hard it is to let go of dreams. But let’s face it, our planet doesn't need more Demna Gvasalias or Alessandro Micheles. A fashion success story does not have to equal worldwide recognition, viral trends and huge sales. Success in fashion can be other things too. Such as just having a great time on the floor of a shop in Kreuzberg.

Fashion [X] is a new cultural platform that examines the fashion industry from a social, political, economic and creative point of view, giving a voice to people representing the new era of fashion and creates space for experiences continuously overlooked.
The platform is developed by the Swedish Fashion Council in partnership with SALLY by EY Doberman.