Tuesday, April 3, 2012



SERIESInundated with marketing messages, Americans are tricked into believing products equal happiness.
Editor’s Note: This four-part series from a leading industry insider is authored under the pseudonym “Louise Lagosi” for the individual’s protection. The series addresses our engagement with consumer culture and how marketing and advertising can manipulate us – and society as a whole.

Studies On The Development Of Consumerism
All civilization in a sense exists only in the mind. Gunpowder, textile arts, machinery, laws, telephones are not themselves transmitted from man to man or from generation to generation, at least not permanently. It is the perception, the knowledge and understanding of them, their ideas in the Platonic sense, that are passed along. Everything social can have existence only through mentality.” -Alfred L. Kroeber, The Superorganic

If you took a time machine back to 200 years ago, you would see families living modest lives: busy working at home tending their vegetable patches or livestock, cooking and eating family dinners, making their own soaps, sewing and mending their own clothes, using what they had down to the last scrap, and buying as few products as they possibly could to maintain the comforts of their lives on their modest incomes.
Fast forward to today, where most American households buy everything they own from a store and consume far more than they actually need; nowadays, community refers to our Facebook friends, we home-make almost nothing for own consumption, we have no idea where our food or other products come from and we dispose of barely used products regularly, in order to replace them with something new for the sake of newness. We’ve become a consumer society which currently consumes approximately 1 1/2 times the amount of resources that the planet can produce annually.
What’s driving our culture toward consuming is a recipe based on keeping up with the Joneses, a rise in societal shopaholism and our basic survival skills at work within society. It’s also safe to say that in the name of industrial prosperity, the economies of Western civilization have pushed us to this point.
So perhaps it should be no surprise that in the eyes of capitalism, we’ve become trapped. Industry marketers and advertising experts have been able to turn our own survival skills against us in the name of turning a profit.
Consumer Grooming
Ever catch your mind wandering while looking at a fashion magazine or a sexy billboard, thinking, “I wish I could have that…” These thoughts
 may not in fact be yours, rather a direct product of the marketing industry’s labors to grab your attention. Consumer grooming is the method of applying psychologically embedded imagery, strategically placed where they will be seen by the masses, to influence the purchasing choices of the global population. Our human desires to be loved, respected and admired are played upon through airbrushed images modeling sex, status, wealth, and beauty aspirations. This is not a new thing, it’s been in the works since before the Victorian Period.

A portrait of the Astor family stiffly posing, shows the idyllic life of the extremely rich during the Industrial Revolution. While age perhaps has made this image more elegant to our modern eyes, this would be the Victorian equivalent to today’s Kardashian family Christmas card.

Madeline Levine, modern day psychologist and author of The Price of Privilege, describes in her book the negative effects affluence has on children growing up in wealthy families due to dramatic changes in American culture as “a shift away from values of community, spirituality, and integrity, and toward competition, materialism and disconnection.”
The Psychological Underpinnings Of Advertisements
Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate“. -Victor Lebrow,Economist, 1955
Consumerism has long had intentional underpinnings. In the 1890s, economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen gave sweeping attacks on production for profit, propelling the rise in conspicuous consumerism in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class. He noted a spreading consumer trend that appeared during the Industrial Revolution with the emergence of nouveau riche moguls who were displaying their wealth and social standing prominently through conspicuous consumption of material goods, ultimately evoking envy among their neighbors.
Apparently their neighbors were taking the bait, right along with the growing middle class. Back in 1899, Veblen, scathingly noted a general trend in society that people were willing to give up their quality of living, their health/family/spiritual life balance, in order to appear wealthy through their dress.

For all his studies and reports, whom did his theories aid the most? It was the industrial businessmen who had much to gain from reading his findings even if he carped at the wealth throughout his work. Many of the conclusions he came to showed that given the opportunity, society could easily be encouraged to consume aggressively through different forms of peer pressure. His theories outlined how wasteful habits of over-consumption was spreading, giving industries, like the fashion and beauty product industries, the key to pushing huge amounts of unnecessary products to unconscious consumers.
By the 1920s, economists such as Paul Nystrom theorized that lifestyle changes brought on by the industrial age were inducing a “philosophy of futility” in the masses, which would only increase fashionable consumption. By the 1930s, advertising executives in a budding industry realized that they could capitalize on the social phenomenon of consumerism by encouraging consumers to compete with their neighbors for social status. In 1932, Earnest Elmo Calkins, a leading ad executive noted to colleagues that “consumer engineering must see to it that we use up the kind of goods we now merely use.”

Study after study has been written about our social tendency to conform to a collective wasteful behavior. While these studies do not seem to be reaching most of the population to educate, economists and businessmen have been eager to read them, continually thrilled to learn more about the harnessing potential behind the phenomenon of consumerism.
The Arsenal Of Advertisement Aimed At Consumers
The advertising, media, and marketing industries work to create and place ads in front of the people who are most likely to imitate and be influenced by it. Namely this would be people interested in anything related to societal activities: those who follow culture through magazines, TV, movies, or by surfing the net, live in an urban environment, or who at very least, listen to the radio.
In order to do accomplish their goal, the ad industry has come up with continually innovative methods that encourage the social drive to “keep up with the Joneses.” Celebrities since time immemorial have been brought in, images of excessive materialism carefully placed for target audiences to see and in turn, a consumer response to go shopping. This method of advertising has been highly effective at driving sales and has become one of the most effective forms of marketing excessively used today.

Vintage Elizabeth Taylor selling hair cream with a brand slogan attached, appealed to women that wanted to have hair like the  iconic Taylor. They didn’t mention that the cream is made with toxic chemicals or that you might need a team of hair stylists along with the cream to achieve her coif.
And Michael Jordan probably sold more shoes for Nike than anyone in history, while making millions doing it. Like Louis Vuitton’s Tribute Patchwork Bag, Nike turned Jordan’s namesake shoes into a “limited edition” to drive consumers into fearing that they might not get a pair. This effectively allowed the company to raise the prices of the products incredibly to meet their high demand, adding consumer status and “value” to the shoes. Quite often the Air Jordan shoes would be back-ordered for months or until the next edition was released.

The fashion media even invented their own celebrities. In the 1980s and 90s supermodels were born when the industries realized that they could draw attention to images featuring favorite “iconic” models, unusual in their looks, who had loads of attitude and glamour. Glamazons like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Cambell, Claudia Schiffer, and Linda Evangelista became household names and were easy to recognize in fashion spreads.
Women fell in love with the images of their beautiful “lifestyles” portrayed in fashion magazines and they achieved celebrity status for their pretty faces and extraordinary physiques. Women poured over their favorite fashion magazines: playing name that model, studying their make-up, hair and styling in an effort to emulate their style, beauty, and allure. Completely distracted by the pretty faces adorned with cosmetics and designer products, the under laying message that was embedded in the images easily sunk in. Of course, one would have to buy the products these beauties were modeling in order to emulate them.

Reality TV shows, featuring made-up, pseudo-celebs, have been devised specifically for product placement.
Superficiality, rage, greed, jealousy, envy, and competitiveness are now gratuitously displayed, on shows such as Keeping Up With the KardashiansAmerica’s Top Model, and Jersey Girls. All three shows invite viewers to embrace petty drama into their own lives and suggest that celebrity status might follow, even for people who completely lack talent.
The underlying message in all this media-based imagery is, “If you buy our products, you too will be beautiful and admired,” but the obvious question begging to be asked should be, “What are we hiding?”

Do you have ANISTONIAN ASPIRATIONS? Great post by EcoSalon.com


SERIESInundated with marketing messages, Americans adjust their spending belt.
Editor’s Note: This four-part series from a leading industry insider is authored under the pseudonym “Louise Lagosi” for the individual’s protection. The series addresses our engagement with consumer culture and how marketing and advertising can manipulate us – and society as a whole.
Whether or not you are aware of it, this image of celebrity Jennifer Aniston is embedded with psychological material. Her honey-blond hair and softly-lit, Photoshopped face is childlike and dewy. Her intense attention to the money in her hand while clutching her designer bag loaded with more cash oozes power, sex, wealth, and control. The photograph even uses markers to pinpoint these little features while at the same time promoting the items you might want to buy if you wish to look like this. Celebrity, eternal youth, power, wealth, sex: That’s what this carefully articulated image has to offer up for sale.
But at face value, what is it really giving you?

Now, look at these photographs. What do you see? Realize that any previously presented Anistonian aspirations are absolute nonsense. She’s an attractive woman to be sure, but she’s only human. Even Jennifer Aniston doesn’t live the life that Jennifer Aniston leads in the above glossy magazine image.
Presenting Jennifer looking average or even shabby is playing up the competitive side of our human natures, getting us to compare ourselves to her, picking her apart, and at the same time picking ourselves apart through the comparison. We’re being primed to react defensively to the first image: Go shopping. But, at the end of the day, what does Jennifer Aniston have to do with our personal lives, and why do we find ourselves looking at her and other celebrity personalities with the obsession that we do?
Stuck In An Advertising Ambush
Are we truly tired of the messages that ads and the media are sending us? If you’re falling out of love with your relationship to fashion and shopping in general, join the club. It’s still a small one, but it is rapidly growing as our living spaces and surroundings are cluttered with stuff while our credit cards are maxed out. We need very little and yet we seem to want so much. And everywhere we look we see both evasive and aggressive marketing campaigns which bombard us with advertisements on a daily basis, suggesting that we need to buy more to gain beauty, glamor and fabulosity. In fact, if fashion were a drug, it would be almost impossible to kick the habit; there are pushers on every corner.
President of the Marketing Firm Yankelovich, Jay Walker-Smith, stated in a CBS news article, “It’s a non-stop blitz of advertising messages. Everywhere we turn we’re saturated with advertising messages trying to get our attention. It seems like the goal of most marketers and advertisers nowadays is to cover every blank space with some kind of brand logo or a promotion or an advertisement.”
Research from the late 1950s to the 1970s has shown that the average person 40 to 50 years ago was exposed to somewhere between 78-500 ads a day. Walker Smith points out that today we’re exposed to as many as 5,000.

NYC The Blog reports on the first NYC subway train completely wrapped in advertising
The tipping point is coming. Do-not-call. Adblock. “We have to screen it out because we simply can’t absorb that much information. We can’t process that much data,” Walker-Smith notes, “and no surprise, consumers are reacting negatively to the kind of marketing blitz; the kind of super saturation of advertising that they’re exposed to on a daily basis.”
There’s even an advertising company, cleverly called Wizmark, that’s putting advertisements in urinals. “You can’t look left. You can’t look right. You have to look at the ad and listen to it,” Richard Deutch, CEO of Wizmark brags with tongue firmly set in cheek.
Buying Into Luxury Brand Ads
Over the last 20 years, the fashion industry has employed numerous marketing tactics to drive consumers into a shopping frenzy, making industry giants enormously rich. Investing in “brand strengthening,” companies cultivate consumer loyalty which equates to high numbers in sales, quite often, from returning customers who have bought into the message that the brand’s advertisements are selling.
Take, for example, one of the most competitive luxury brands in the world: Louis Vuitton. In 2010, Louis Vuitton spent some $14 million on advertising during the first quarter. Their ad campaign appeared all over the pages of luxury lifestyle magazines, news publications, and across the internet where affluent shoppers would see them while shopping. Surprisingly, it was not enough to stimulate their consumer demand because in 2011, during the same quarter, they increased their budget to $22 million ( a 57% budget increase). The steep increase in ad spend could hardly be considered a coincidence.

The above ads were just about everywhere you looked in New York City during the spring of 2011. Louis Vuitton employed a small army of campaign advertisements to seduce luxury consumers back after the Great Recession.
In 2010, Consumer Reports revealed a noticeable trend that consumers were changing their habits: Shopping less, saving more, and choosing products that they equate with craftsmanship, practicality, and social values (think TOMS shoes) rather than luxury status “bling”. Bling is out. The reports also revealed that this new trend was not likely to go away anytime soon; it wasn’t merely a reaction to economic pressure, this new consumer was an entirely different beast living by a new set of rules. All of those advertisements were the velvet-gloved iron fist of Louis Vuitton attempting to coax the mass of luxury and aspirational consumers back into their former position of brand submission.

If you took eight LV samples and stuck them in a trash compactor, out would pop this expensive little piece of “limited edition” baggage called the LV Tribute Patchwork Bag. This particular bag might have cost approximately $3000 to make, but was sold exclusively to only 20 customers (worldwide) for $42,000 a pop in select stores.
What’s $36 million in advertising? Chump change to a company like Louis Vuitton that wants to ensure a dominant market position doesn’t erode. (In 2011, LVMH, the company that owns LV, boasted in their company quarterly report net profits of over $2 billion in fashion and leather goods sales alone.)
If you’re selling logo-covered, luxury-status, vinyl-canvas handbags with the words “Louis Vuitton” stamped on them, you can charge consumers a premium. The price tag we see can be anywhere between 250-1400% of the expense of making even a very well-made bag. The more expensive price tags (in the $1000+ range) subsidize the basic vinyl tote bags Louis Vuitton offers in the hundreds, allowing the company to lure the aspirational middle class with “affordable” luxury.
To the luxury fashion consumer, the primary value is not in the the design, the materials, or even the quality of labor that goes into the bag – it’s in the social status that the advertisements and exclusive products offer to customers. And over the past 20 years, while there have been many consumers that have bought right into the dream, there are those conscious customers who have simply walked away. After all, who really needs another logo-plastered tote when there are already so many of them out there?

Ever wonder where your clothes go when you part ways?


Undercover writer Louise Lagosi helps us track our cast-off clothing.
Ever wonder what happens to your clothes when you just have to let them go? Maybe you were kind enough to spare them from ending up in a landfill by donating them to a thrift store for a tax credit; maybe you were even clever enough to “new-life” them into cut offs, a mini-skirt or something else relatively simple to make.
There are many ways to keep our clothes from contributing to landfills and pollution, and according to Dr. Jana Hawley, whose focus is on finding solutions to textile waste in fashion, “Our clothing are 100% recyclable.” So why then, according to SMART, a textile recycling organization that partners with Goodwill and The Salvation Army, do roughly 75% of our discarded clothes get put in the trash and end up in landfills?
Clothing has an enormous, toxic, environmental footprint, one that gets bigger when it is unnecessarily wasted and not given the opportunity to live up to its fullest capacity through multiple lives, multiple owners or textile recycling.
While we may never consider our clothes after we’ve discarded them, our cast-offs go on exciting adventures around the globe. Thrift stores are simply the first of many depositing and sorting grounds. Which part of the world they land in really depends on what shape and quality they are in when they leave your hands.
When your clothes arrive at the thrift store they get sorted, and provided they’re not terribly damaged, they are put on the racks. The premium grade used clothing has several possible fates in the drop-off store, one of which is purchase for resale at international vintage shops.

Vintage store owners around the world have been mining American thrift stores for cheap vintage, only to resell our cast offs back to us at premium vintage prices. Americans in particular get rid of some of the nicest digs in the world. In Paris you’d never find designer vintage on sale anywhere outside a pricey vintage shop. But here in the States, mint condition, vintage Gucci dresses on Salvation Army racks sell for $19.99. It’s no wonder that the world comes here for it’s vintage. At $5-$10 a pair, beat up old Levi’s might collect over $500 by a vintage dealer in Japan. And the hat your grandmother painstakingly hand knit you could easily end up in a Swedish or Dutch vintage boutique.
“We get all of our vintage from the States. The store owners take a 4-6 week long summer vacation in the U.S. visiting the same favorite routes to thrift stores year after year. Within a few weeks, they’ve more or less made the annual store inventory,” says an employee from Zipper, a vintage shop in Amsterdam.
Of course, all of this can be found on thrift store floor racks, where meticulous and discerning shoppers have the opportunity to snatch up the premium second hand at thrift store prices before they reach the vintage dealers provided they are willing to dig through racks. Sometimes, this pursuit can seem more like archaeology than shopping, sifting through cross sections of society’s discarded duds to find the rare diamonds in the rough.
A slightly rarer fate for some of our clothes are landing in the hands of crafters and upcycling designers, like JoAnn Berman, Dominika Naziebly, and Lu Flux, all of whom choose to pull resources from thrift stores and used markets, upcycling finds into new one-off designs. These designers choose to make couture out of our rags.

Lu Flux
Lauren Lawson, Goodwill’s Media Relations Manager, says an item has about a month’s time to prove its worth on the floor before it is removed and redistributed to lower income sales channels; first at the Goodwill’s most affordable stores, where they provide clothing sold by the pound in American low income communities. If still not sold there, the clothing will get passed onto Goodwill’s partners over at SMART, who help divert two billion pounds of clothes from landfills annually through worldwide distribution and textile recycling. In the SMART sorting facilities, the clothes  are sorted into many different categories: tropicals, cold weather, denim, cotton, mixed rags, A grade and B grade.

While a sliver of thrift store leftovers get cut into rags and sold to mechanics, window washers and the likes, the bulk of all of our discarded clothes get shipped to third world countries for resale. These clothes are sorted, bundled and sold by bale or by the shipping container by companies like Transatlantic Mixrags, who export American used clothes in an effort to reduce post consumer landfill mass, to provide affordable clothing to the poor in developing countries’ markets, and all the while making a pretty penny selling our trash.
The international customers take a gamble on what they are getting however. Unable to see the product until their package has landed and is paid for, they must accept whatever they get. The product is then distributed in street markets across the countrysides of impoverished nations and will be consumed and absorbed by people looking for any clothing they can afford.

Which would explain this how this t-shirt landed on this Sierra Leonean.
This can cause quite the controversy. Some believe that exporting westerner’s discarded clothes to poorer developing nations is the same as exporting our consumer culture. The point has been wrestled with over and over by human rights activists and fair-trade advocates alike; hand made, traditional indigenous dress is being replaced by cheap western rags as capitalism spreads across the globe like a rash.

Whether or not we should be passing off our waste products to third world nations is debatable. The devil’s advocates of Capitalism will argue that the poor people in third world nations cannot afford new clothing and want cheap clothing available to them.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and for some in countries like Mexico, Jakarta, Brazil, and Bangladesh, landfills provide a meager income to garbage pickers sifting through trash in search of items that are reusable and recyclable. If old clothes are too ragged to wear, they might make good pillow or mattress stuffing. In countries where resources are scarce, even garbage can be valuable.
Which brings up the second most common use of our discarded clothing: recycled, post-consumer waste products. Forthcoming, green-minded entrepreneurs, like the geniuses behind Bonded Logic, a company which makes insulation out of recycled materials sees the issue of post consumer waste as opportunity.

Bonded Logic’s claim to fashion-reuse fame is Ultra Touch denim insulation. Made of 90% domestically sourced post-consumer, recycled content, it is processed and manufactured entirely in the USA, and diverts approximately 300 tons from landfills monthly.
“We’ve been using recycled paper to make a cellulose insulation for over 35 years, and we wanted to make a batting form of insulation out of some post consumer fiber. When we researched the amount of waste available in the garment and textile industries, and especially with the abundance of waste denim available, it just seemed like the perfect solution,” says Sean Desmond, Bonded Logic’s Marketing Manager.  “If you go back even six years ago, a majority of textile waste was being landfilled. We saw this as a viable, abundant, resource and thought, why not use it?”
Insulation is just one of many recycling options for clothing. Textiles can be processed into car flooring and seat filler, roofing materials, punching bag padding for boxing, mattresses, and of course cleaning rags.
Before the 1900’s, most households generally had to make the most of the clothes they wore from scratch, altering and handing down items between family members as they grew out of them. They had to manage every scrap of waste they created to save their resources and energy and to prevent the garbage from piling up around them.

Since the Industrial Revolution took it’s hold on society, we’ve become so free with our fashion consumption habits we scarcely know what to do with all the waste flowing through the doors of our closets. Christina Salvi of GrowNYC, a group that organizes weekly clothing deposit drop-off spots at the New York City green markets was surprised to see how often people would donate from their closets.
“We weren’t expecting to have people returning every week with clothing deposits, but we have regulars who come with something to donate week after week. We also see visitors who will drop off big loads right after the spring cleaning,”says Salvi.
Since the launch of their clothing recycle program in 2007, GrowNYC has collected over 1 million pounds of clothing. With New York City’s annual post-consumer garment waste estimating at around 193,000 tons per year, New Yorkers have their work cut out for them to find alternative ways to divert their “trash.”
One thing is for sure, no clothing should be going into a waste basket.

Pulled from Huffington Post, great story!

The iPhone and Consumer Guilt

by Annie Leonard
The traditional first rule of business is to give the customers what they want. Steve Jobs thought differently. "It's not the consumers' job," he said, "to know what they want."
Some people think that's cool -- the cocky self-confidence of a visionary with uncompromising standards. But I can't help but hear it as a reminder that companies target consumers by creating desires we didn't know we had and meeting them with cheap shiny gadgets we didn't know we needed. And when the companies get caught trashing the environment or mistreating their workers, everyone blames the customers -- that's us -- for demanding cheap shiny gadgets.
I've been thinking about this since news of the suicides at the Foxconn factory in China and other revelations about the disturbing details of Apple's supply chain produced a wave of guilt among Americans who can't imagine life without their iPhones, iPads and iPods. (On Thursday, after an Apple-endorsed investigation of factory conditions by the independent Fair Labor Association, Foxconn agreed to end illegal overtime, improve safety and upgrade worker housing.)
Sometimes it seems everything we buy is tarnished by guilt. Whether it's electronics from unsafe factories, clothes from oppressive sweatshops or coffee from the rainforest, we blame ourselves and our fellow consumers for our complicity in an unjust and unsustainable system. In a course I'm taking on impacts of the global economy, a classmate said: "It's our fault. We're driving this system. If we didn't buy the stuff, the manufacturers wouldn't make it."
Consumer as king is the gospel of today's marketplace. In an oft-cited editorial The Economist declared: "Brands do not rule consumers; consumers rule brands." After I wrote my local newspaper decrying all the branded schwag hospitals hand out to new mothers, one angry woman wrote me to object: "We control the manufacturers. It is never them controlling us, and it never has been."
Really? Ask yourself:
• If Apple didn't keep rolling out new, massively-hyped models, how many owners of perfectly functional iPhones would want a new one after a few months?
• Before single-serving plastic bottles, who wanted to carry around a throwaway container of water that, despite no guarantee of being cleaner or safer, costs thousands of times more than what comes out of the tap?
• How many mothers would have thought the best way to protect their kids was with pajamas soaked in neurotoxic flame-retardant chemicals, still on the market 35 years they were first identified as a health risk?
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith argued that companies aren't just giving us what we want; they're also manufacturing "wants that previously did not exist." "Production," he wrote, "only fills a void that itself has created."
Maybe the $130 billion-plus spent on advertising in the United States in 2010 had something to do with it. Last year, Apple alone spent almost $1 billion on advertising to persuade us that the latest version of their devices will transform our lives. They add cool new features, sure, but they also tweak the designs just enough that the hippest users can tell at a glance if you're a loser who's still using last year's model. That's not just planned obsolescence, it's perceived obsolescence.
Another tactic is making us feel we're in charge by offering us lots of choices. Choices, after all, create profitable niche markets. In Consumed, Rutgers political theorist Benjamin Barber says we are "seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but the power is in the determination of what's on the menu. The powerful are those who set the agenda, not those who choose from the alternatives it offers."
I'm not saying we are powerless to make ethical choices with our purchases or that our choices can't influence the marketplace. The problem with believing the best way to make change is by voting with our pocketbooks is that it defines us as consumers, not citizens. It implies that the most important choices are made in the supermarket aisles rather than in the halls of government and corporate towers.
Next time someone says they feel guilty for owning an iPhone, ask if they were the one who decided to maintain a 73% profit margin while underpaying workers on 18-hour-shifts. Did they decide to roll out new models at breakneck speed? To use conflict minerals and toxic chemicals? I didn't think so. The most important ethical choice is not the decision to buy an iPhone, but the decision made on how to make, market and sell it.
Let's stop thinking like consumers and think like citizens. By all means let's shun products from companies whose behavior offends. But let's also realize we can work to change not just the way they act but the way they're allowed to act. Only when every manufacturer of Stuff is required to make it safely and fairly will we know that no matter what we buy, the important choices have already been made. 

A great article on how the fashion industry is working, or rather, isn't...

by  on April 1, 2011 in FASHION

A fashion industry insider reports.
Charles Frederick Worth was one of the world’s first noted fashion designers (See his Court Dress, above). In 1845, a fashion designer was an artist, highly regarded and sought after by the society of the royal court to advise on their wardrobe choices. Worth’s main concern, as a designer, was to design and handmake one of a kind haute couture that would distinguish each of his customers. Associated with class, distinction, style, and influence, people like Worth have been labeled taste-makers for well over a century. Relics aside, today, the role of a fashion designer is far more complicated, competitive, and multifaceted than ever before.
Well known designers, such as 
Stella McCartney, have been known to express a desire to run away from the industry after a season. When she received harsh criticism after her debut collection from the press in 2001, McCartney told NY Magazine, “People think I’m strong, but actually I wanted to crawl away. I thought, I’m going to live in the country with my horse and I’ll get a nine-to-five; I don’t need this.”
However, with hundreds of new designers emerging to show at fashion weeks around the world each season, even negative press is better than the alternative of no press. Minor complaints aside, in the past few years, incidents suggest that there are more serious issues afoot plaguing designers than insults from the press. From John Galliano’s 
drunken Nazi rantings, to Marc Jacob’s repeated drug problems, and the most tragic being Alexander McQueen’s suicide last year, designers seem to be experiencing something beyond the usual industry stress. With all of these melt downs, one has to ask: Might these outbreaks just be symptoms of a larger system failure?
To understand the current circumstances, one must first understand the role of a designer. Today, the designer actually functions as a Creative Director, overseeing many different pieces of the company’s product design, execution, brand imaging and positioning, and much of the marketing and press. Another key part of the role is being accountable to the Financial Officer, also known as the “Money” of the business. Which means a designer really has to understand every step, cost and stage of their business to be able to make well informed decisions on how to steer the business. Below is a diagram to illustrate everything that must be managed and considered in order to produce and sell fashion on a mass market level. The arrows describe the tiers of power throughout the system.

In a cascade system, such as in a fashion house, each part of the system is dependent on the other. Therefore, if one part of the system fails, the entire system collapses. And yet, somehow, up until recently, this system has been quite efficient across the board for most well known fashion houses. This system has been able to maintain because the least powerful and the lowest paid group within the system, the laborers, farmers, and factory workers, make up the largest part of the system’s labor pool, keeping the costs and product prices low. Ironically, these links just happen to be what keeps the whole system going.
The other factor that the fashion system relies heavily upon, but also pays little for, are materials. However, if the costs of labor go up because, for instance, a country like China decides to enforce and increase their 
labor standards (which is currently happening), the standards raise across the board in other countries. Over time, the price of the product must go up as well. If cotton crops fail repeatedly due to climate changes, the cost of materials increase across the board due to shortages, and the price of the product goes up again. If the price offered to customers goes up dramatically, amidst all the cheep and cheerful overstock product flooding the market from last year, customers simply won’t buy it. After all, most people already have enough stuff. The brand will only sell items on sale, which results in job instability of everyone in the cascade system.
The Designer and the “Money” must take the issue seriously and find a solution before the system can continue on a healthy level. However, limited resources and rising labor costs are not an easy problems to solve, especially when you have an extremely competitive market and are running a complex system already set up to work only one way. Unfortunately, there are only a few options within the fashion industry to stay afloat:
The Iron Fist Solution, รก la H&M: Make the customers temporarily happy by making and selling enormous amounts of low price-tag products of cheap quality. In this case, the cost of business operations is covered through the slivers of profit on each item sold, and multiplied by the tens and hundreds of thousands of items that are produced. With this solution, the brand needs to be able to sell directly through their own stores and the designer must have some kind of monopoly over materials and labor to keep the prices of the goods exceptionally low. This technique will destroy the competition, as long as the designer can continue running the business on minimum costs. However in the current environment, this is not a long term solution. The costs of materials and labor will go up as resources continue to run low, which is caused by the mass production of poor quality goods in the first place. At this point, the company is chasing its own tail, and even if  the company using the Iron Fist Strategy can hold out long enough to put the competition out of business, eventually they’ll put themselves out of business if they don’t innovate their process at some point so that they find a solution to materials shortages. The Velvet Glove Solution a.k.a. the Luxury Market Method: Invest in maintaining the appearance and allure of a “luxury brand” while selling a lot (although maybe not as much as an H&M) of lower cost product at “luxury” prices. Examples of this would be the Diors and Chanels of the world. This is the Iron Fist Solution seasoned with a little better quality and taste, and disguised by marketing that allows the brand to make a much higher mark-up on the sale of each item. Therefore, even if the brand is selling less items across the board, they make more for the operations budget on each item. So while we, the customers, equate Chanel with haute couture dresses and iconic tweed jackets, they’re making their money on selling patent leather (a.k.a. vinyl) shoes, handbags and perfume at exorbitant prices. This also destroys the competition, who can’t compete with the marketed “luxury” brand allure and history. While this solution may last for some time, provided consumers don’t get wise to the marketing schemes or lose their taste for “luxury,”  it again does not address the materials and labor cost increase issue, which eventually will cut into the marketing budget and over time might cause detriment to the brand. The Performance Solution: They keep the costs of products proportionate to the costs of materials and labor. This solution invests in manufacturing technology, textile engineering, and science to keep ahead of the curb. This would be the Patagonia’s of the world. In this solution, there is almost no competition, you create your own niche market, and through innovations, you gain customer loyalty. Be the only one to know where to get materials that are made of recycled or renewable resources, thus removing the dependency on natural materials costs and you have created a more sustainable future for your company. The Innovator’s Solution: There are always new designers and businesses springing up with a new way to do things. Whether it’s tackling marketing, design, or materials in new ways, this group of oddball fashion designers and indie-houses are thinking outside the box to drive consumer culture and the market out of the old ways. With the current media and market focusing on all things “green” and “socially responsible,” this new crop of innovative businesses are popping up to fill the hole in the market through the use of unthinkable techniques, collaborations, and technologies. Examples of these designers might be BioCouture, who creates leather jackets from tea film, Christopher Raeburn, who’s been known to use left over parachute material from the military to make windbreakers, or perhaps, Bright Young Things, whose marketing tactics appear to aim to convince people to buy less. While this growing “innovator” circle has not fully matured into well known designers in the mainstream, perhaps the mass market is not an innovative place to be if a designer is trying to plan for a future with fewer resources and fairly paid labor. However, these designers might just be the ones who ultimately find long term solutions to the current fashion crisis.
With all that is going on in the world’s environment, markets, and economies, it is easy to despair. From the standpoint of a designer, who oversees enough of the business to understand how things work (or how things don’t work), it’s like watching the ship going down in slow motion.

From their mast heads, some of the biggest designers of our times seem to be doing just that. Perhaps they’re just on their way to becoming relics themselves, without enough knowledge to change the way that their industry works altogether. Well, not all of them.

Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld is living in his ivory tower which he’s built so high that he might be the only one left with his head just above the water in the end. Recently he was quoted by Vogue as saying, “I have a lot more sympathy for people who have to take the train to work every day. What a load of nonsense.”
Sympathy, eh? “Designers are artisans who are extremely privileged to have a poetic profession. They are not artists. We have to stop saying that they are,”  Lagerfeld adds.
He makes the job look easy. Meanwhile those designers who feel all of the responsibilities behind the job, have panic attacks or worse. But let us remember back in 1975, in the thick of building his career to the empire he now owns, he mentioned to The Observer Magazine his philosophy on his own work practices, “I am a sort of vampire, taking the blood of other people.” With this work ethic he has gone very far, leading some of the most powerful and influential fashion houses in the industry, producing billions of dollars worth of product, and making people on all corners of the planet thirst for a wide range of products on an unprecedented level. Perhaps he actually is the bug that bites.  But then again, according to him, he doesn’t even take himself seriously. It’s a wonder that the rest of the world considers him a fashion guru.
Editor’s Note: Due to sensitive circumstances, the author has asked us to use a pseudonym. We have honored the request in this case.