Fashionistas drooling over that Chanel skirt or Givenchy blouse strutting Paris Fashion Week need not hold their breath: within 10 days, Zara will likely have a near-identical copy on their shelves, for one-tenth of the price.
The name of the game is fast fashion and it’s been revolutionizing the way we consume our clothing for the past decade. Large retailers, such as Zara, Forever 21 and H&M, now employ advanced trend forecasters privy to the styles that will be walking down major fashion weeks’ runway, before they walk down the runway. The result? On-trend garments available at a moment’s notice and a fraction of the upscale designer price—but they don’t come without their consequences.
Edmonton fashion blogger Janis Galloway of Dress Me Dearly says the lightning-quick designing, producing and shipping of fast-fashion garments reflects the advanced communication styles of the big brands and the increasing demands of customers.
“Fashion is now so democratized with access to these shows and trends. I don’t have to be at Paris fashion week to see Chanel’s collection,” she says. “By the time I see that Chanel skirt that I want walking down the runway, Zara already has it in production and is probably delivering it to the store by the end of the week.”
In most countries, copyright laws protect textiles, but not garment designs, so original designers are vulnerable to having their work ripped-off and resold.
Forever 21 is notorious for lifting near-identical runway styles. Despite being sued for copyright infringement more than 50 times by designers such as Diane von Furstenberg and Anna Sui, they have never been found guilty.
Galloway adds that the profit margins outweigh the legal fees for the copycat brands.
“If you produce a jacket that looks similar to the Fall 2014 Céline coat, but then you put different pockets on it, it’s already a different item. So therefore they can’t prove that you copied it, even though it looks exactly the same,” Galloway explains.
Nobody’s perfect, though. We’re all products of our environment, Galloway says, and expecting the products when we want, at the price point we want mirrors our culture of disposable-income consumerism.
But she warns frivolous shopping habits come at a high price to the environment, considering the fuel expelled to quickly transport garments from the factory to the store. As well, fast fashion apparel is more likely to fall apart and be disposed of (each Canadian, on average, throws away seven kilograms of clothing and textiles per year), and since many textiles are made with synthetic, petroleum-based fibres, they can take decades to decompose.
“I’m not anti-fast fashion. I think we’re all guilty of purchasing it. We all have it in our closets. Sometimes you just want to go and buy a $7 shirt that you can wear for a season and dispose of it,” Galloway notes. “But it encourages a type of consumerism that isn’t exactly healthy or sustainable.”
Galloway says the solution lies in the local. She suggests shopping from designers within the city not only cuts down on harmful pollution, but often ensures more high-quality garments less likely to fall apart. Edmonton designers still need much more support to start the shift to local styles.
Edmonton’s “fashion problem” spurred Sandra Sing Fernandes to launch Western Canada Fashion Week in 2005. After returning from establishing her own fashion and design company in New York, she realized the city’s fashion scene’s growth was stunted compared to other arts. While theatre had grassroots companies and the Fringe Festival, emerging designers were left with few opportunities to get their start.
Nearing its 20th season this spring, WCFW has jump-started the careers of established Canadian designers such as Sid Neigum and Nicole Campre. Fernandes notes, however, that big brands still loom over local success stories.
“We’ve been talking a lot about how big brands have certainly taken over the world. It’s much harder for young local designers to get their stuff on the racks. Because the buying power often goes to the bigger brands that are well-known and there’s sort of a monopoly going on,” she says.
Corporate competition aside, Fernandes acknowledges WCFW is still a vital event to expose budding designers to producing their own shows. People are now travelling from across the country to showcase their work at Edmonton’s fashion week and she’s noticing smaller brands gaining traction in the city.
“We’re in a really amazing growth period. There’s a lot of talent,” she says.
Galloway is still skeptical that the talk about fashion is adding up to results, and benefits, for designers.
“We’re good at talking about shopping local and supporting local, but I don’t know if the proof is in the pudding yet. But I think we’ll get there,” Galloway says.
“We’re all addicted to the ability to go into a store and buy what we want immediately. I think it takes a huge kind of philosophical shift to wean ourselves off of fast fashion.”
She believes ditching fast fashion doesn’t have to be difficult. Though a common complaint about shopping local is the price tag, she says that the investment usually pays off in the end. Instead of purchasing six coats, for example, buying one quality, classic piece may be even cheaper than buying less-expensive products which will likely fall apart.
Galloway highly recommends checking out Edmonton designer Malorie Urbanovitch’s work. With garments made from high-quality wools and silks, she’s convinced they’re a worthy investment.
“If you just invest in really classic pieces that you can wear for years to come, then the price, in some cases, can be less than buying fast fashion,” Galloway says.
Fernandes sings Urbanovitch’s praises as a WCFW success story. After getting her start at the event, her styles are lauded nationally and available locally at Gravity Pope.
Urbanovitch is, to Fernandes, hopefully one of the first of many to make a name for themselves after starting in Edmonton. It can’t be done, though, without the local consumer making the first move.
“It’s part of our culture and it should be embraced as such instead of being left as something frivolous,” says Fernandes. “We look at our food and wonder where it comes from and what’s in it, and I think it’s time we do the same thing with fashion.”