“It was our choice to pick a job that no one actually really needs. The market is full of creative people, even though there is no demand. Engineers always get a job.” That was the response I got after posting my last article about the value of good leadership in the creative industry. Looking at the packed fast fashion stores in Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse and the masses of young (and old and everything in between) women and men walking down the streets, loaded with bags full of clothes, I’m not sure that this statement about the demand for fashion is entirely accurate.
Nevertheless, the response I received got me thinking; thinking about the legitimacy and the purpose of the fashion industry. While I feel like I am but scratching at the surface of a subject that could provide enough content to fill books, and despite my awareness of the lack of theoretical depth of my argument, I want to take the risk of sharing my thoughts with you now.
Just a few days ago someone told me about something called the “rule of firsts”. Basically, this principle can be summarised as follows:
While the person telling me about this was speaking about something completely different, I couldn’t help but try to apply this principle to fashion. The first reference to clothing is found in the bible. Adam and Eve, after having eaten from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden (which they had been told not to eat from), realized their own nakedness, felt shame and went into hiding. As a response to their nakedness they covered themselves with leafs. Later on in the story, God makes clothes out of animal skin for them, the first indication of blood shed to cover human shame.
What an interesting story! So going back to the ‘rule of firsts’, and assuming that this story depicts the first use of clothing, then the subsequent purpose of fashion seems to be to cover human shame. I’m not denying that there are clearly physical reasons for wearing clothes, such as the protection from wind and weather, but it is undeniable that fashion throughout history has been used to communicate value (which I would argue is the opposite of shame). What one wears is an extension of the message that is carried inside (or imposed from the outside). Whether we look at the priests of ancient times or the kings and queens of the Middle Ages or the teenage boys and girls of today, it becomes clear that fashion communicates an individual's status in the social framework of the society of his time. (Of course I’m arguing from a Western world perspective. My argument is therefore incomplete. But for now I will keep it at that).
Interestingly I have always felt that there is a connection between the atrocity of human trafficking and the fashion industry and now I’m beginning to be able to formulate this connection. (Yes, I realize how absurd this statement is, but let me explain...) When a person (usually a woman) is rescued from human slavery and brought into one of the A21 safe houses she often comes with just the clothes on her back. These clothes represent her old life and are immediately replaced to symbolize a direct cut from this old life and the beginning of something new. Clothes can communicate shame or they can communicate value.
That being said, what are you saying with your clothes?