Metallic, low waist baggy pants and bubble hems – these are some of the styles that dominated New York Fashion Week Spring 2022 which lasted September 8-12, 2021 – and these will be the trends that fast fashion brands like Shein and Zara will replicate. Fashion shows influence the trends of current and upcoming seasons, and while they celebrate the creative visions of designers, it’s hard to ignore their ongoing impact on the environment.
Modern fashion shows take their inspiration from the fashion shows of the early 1900s in Paris, where members of high society saw the latest fashions in informal and private catwalks. In the 1960s, fashion shows aimed to connect with their audiences by embracing more inclusive elements: less exclusive catwalks and ready-to-wear collections available for purchase. Fashion shows, especially those at New York Fashion Week, are immersive experiences that grab public attention through social media.
But while social media makes fashion accessible, it also exacerbates our pre-existing culture of excess. In 2017, about 85% of clothing in the United States ended up in landfills or was burned. Globally, manufacturers produce 13 million tonnes of textile waste, while 95% of this could be recovered. The process that creates this huge amount of waste is quite referred to as fast fashion, which refers to the design and manufacture of large volumes of clothing at rapid rates. Typically, fast fashion companies see runway models and replicate them using low quality materials to meet high demand from the public. They create inexpensive replicas of expensive designs from well-known or luxury brands and evangelize trends to the public, repeating the process when they see economic value in the next micro-trend. Consumers buy coins as they follow trends, wearing them only briefly as coins go out of style quickly. However, the impetus behind fast fashion are the social media influencers creating a seemingly endless New York Fashion Week by promoting fast fashion brands and filming weekly clothing runs.
Replicating trends, rapid production and low prices negatively impact the planet, causing the fashion industry to account for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Fashion Week only elevates this problem as it speaks on behalf of the fashion industry and indirectly controls the overconsumption and mass production behind microtrends. As fashion culture slowly evolves, there is a need to view sustainability through a collective lens that empowers everyone from manufacturers to influencers.
Yet fashion trends reflect the cultural climate and serve as time capsules for moments that will soon be faint memories. They are an exercise in experimentation and creativity, which makes them hard to ignore. If trends elevate your style – and in turn your sense of yourself – then they will reflect who you are and who you want to be. Sometimes that changes, so the answer isn’t minimalism. It’s knowing when to reuse and when to reinvent.