The clothing industry, as encompassing as it is—production, textiles, high and low fashion—isn’t as transparent as one would imagine. In fact, it revolves around its consistent turnover, appropriation (sometimes outright plagiarism), and often ill-effects on the environment that aren’t advertised.
But in actuality, who does this affect? Certainly not a Western population whose only concern isn’t being caught wearing the same outfit twice on Instagram and other popular social media sites. And this is where the problem lies: fashion relies on the notion of being seen.
To further investigate this concept of being “seen,” I will include a brief description of the subject in relation to this liberal commodity economy we currently exist in.
By Liberal, I’m referring to the endless access we have to goods and services.
Commodity as defined here, is the commodification of “things,” which include art, clothing, and objects.
And finally, the Economy as the flux of exchange in an ongoing dialectic between state and privatized businesses. This maintenance and control of supply and demand—which, for the purposes of the paper—create and sustain the waves of trend that keep erupting at a moment’s notice.
Take for example the brilliant (and superfluous) business model of the skate brand Supreme. Once a local skate brand in New York, it has now grown to occupy an international presence. Part of this can be attributed to its limited release model which causes a frenzy of lineups and “snipers” on the street, in conjunction with buying bots on its online releases as well.
What is this hype? And is this only a contemporary model? Most definitely not—it appears to operate at the high fashion level as well; see fashion houses such as Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, etc. that do limited or custom made pieces. (This does not always necessitate demand though, and here I will propose a more interesting look at what is actually happening through the lens of material culture.)
Arjun Appudurai states that objects have a trajectory—that is, these objects have lives. Inherent in this discussion is the effect of these halo-effect it has on individuals, even societies. This aura can be deconstructed to the fact that its mysteriousness lies in its agency has over the subject; the way in which something that has “mythical” status entrances its audience. But what is mythical but merely the inability of the masses to access and understand it?
There is something eerily paralleling between art and clothing. Prices are not necessarily determined at the beginning but always in relation to similar items in circulation. However—and this is a major caveat—name brands have the ability (or rather the influence) to change the market at the switch of a dime. This kind of power can go unchecked with rampant accumulation of capital by consumers, who justify these prices by purchasing them at ungodly prices—echoing the notion that art can be just as lucrative.
Now, here is where I make a slight departure. Through conscious consumption (ie. buying vintage clothes in which these fashion brands reference) the individual is creating and sustaining a subversive—and for the moment fringe—subculture of those who recycle clothing. Why is this significant? Well, for the most part it does not add to the ongoing waste of production. Yet, what is unseen is the story that these objects obtain through its re-contextualization by the user: the reclaiming of the agency of the subject through the barter economy and more prominently, the purchase and reselling of used clothes.
There is pervasive narrative that fashion recycles itself. The irony in it all is that the cultivated awareness of the consumer becomes attenuated to what is “hot” or “trending”, instead of recognizing the context of the original design of the piece. This is not a commentary on elitism to attach importance to origins and authenticity—it is moreso a playful proposal to elucidate that the consumer can purchase these high end clothes at a fraction of the cost, while reducing their green footprint.
Selling is altogether another activity, one that comes with its risks and rewards. There are various outlets: Etsy, eBay, Instagram, Craigslist, and so on. However, immanent to these methodological approaches is the assignment of value, and the thrill of find a buyer. It is indeed an emotional exchange, in addition to a commodity exchange. Walking into a consignment store like Kind Exchange has an added karmic value. Parts of the proceeds go towards charities; that is, through getting rid of used clothing—which is a cathartic release in itself—one is also helping support individuals in communities.
So why buy and sell used? Simply put, you find way cooler shit at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, you are fucking up the planet less, which means you will find cooler shit cause that’s how vintage powers work.