Minor Fashionista: How To Use Fashion To Foster Inclusivity In a Digital Age - An Op-Ed by Kshitija Mruthyunjaya
Anita says that she buys only luxury items. She is 23 years old, employed in a junior role and lives in a shared accommodation in London with her colleagues. She often depends on her parents (who are still repaying her education loan) for rent and other expenses as she channels her salary towards brand conscious items. Due to the rise in pressure to consume without practical utility she said there were times when she had no money to buy food or pay for her medical treatments and had to borrow money for the same.
In a book called Toward a Minor Architecture, Stoner (2012) expresses her concern with the role of architectural spaces in creating dominant social structures. Jill Stoner invites one to be a Minor Architect as this supports the architecture of nothingness or the generic citythat is nothing but a reflection of present need and present ability rather than creating autonomous spaces, which often lead to social exclusion. One could question if this concept of being a minor architect can be applied in fashion? Can luxury fashion brands promote and inspire people to engage in need based buying and create a platform for non-autonomous social structures?
Humans have always had a tendency to bond with the affluent communities of society, as they are considered more favorable in a social setting. Since their affluence and wealth is not directly visible, while bonding, humans rely on signals to perceive the same. Individuals sometimes socially manipulate these signals due to their need of fulfilling aspirations to live an exorbitant life, desire for instant indulgence and hedonistic expectations. One can argue that this way of consumer behavior rejects a need-based one to what Thorstein Veblen calls conspicuous consumption.
Although this may not be a worry for already wealthy individuals, but the pressure to send these signals provoke people who are not financially comfortable to irrationally consume which in turn creates autonomous segments and imbalances in societies. Savings, medical insurance, etc are most times not the first thing on ones minds in this present day, but designer clothes and accessories in order to keep up with ones Joneses become priority, like in Anita’s case.
Social media plays a great role in the present day to send and receive signals. Although it could be an advantage for spreading awareness on various current issues or aid in buying expensive item with an intrinsic goal (such as seeking personal style over mainstream, purchase with environmental and socially responsive behaviours) rather than an extrinsic one which leads to extended wasteful consumption and widens social barriers. Unconscious decision made due to peer pressure induces constant feeling of deprivation (need for more, more and more) and surviving in these dominant atmospheres alienates individuals from each other and is devoid of communication. Lack of communication leads to isolation.
Conspicuous and unconscious consumption also has an effect on a macroeconomic level.Governments have an incentive to keep consumption growing in the economy. In most nations, consumption expenditure accounts for about 60-85% of their GDP. BOF analysis report (2019) outlines executives in luxury segment were the most positive when it came to growth trajectories in 2018. All other segments faced challenges with a soaring forty-two percent and expecting it to worsen in 2019 with only luxury segment still remaining optimistic. Although it has contributed to global economic growth one could argue that this is far from thereflection of present needs and present ability.
Recent studies show that more brands are moving towards onmichannel, e-commerce, improving in store experience and brand building with primary concern being sales growth of brands. It could be understood if these tools are driven towards keeping up with the recent technological developments to make meaningful transformations to drive sustainable development, but intensions can be can questionable if only what it only does is provoke customers to buy more and more.
The role of the CEO in a brand is very important in making conscious transformations in the company. The barriers between CEO and shop floor create dominant social structures in house, which in turn hamper conscious structures of societies. Communication barriers and no personal involvement of the top team with shop floor pushes them to engage in practices that does not support transformative power of the organization in a positive way. All shop floors can hear is the economic growth driven voice of the CEO and they work towards luring customers to spend and consume unconsciously. Although one can argue that brands priorities are in keeping up with trends and current lifestyles of consumers, isn’t there a way they can use it towards transforming lifestyles? While sales driven autonomous corporations and economic growth driven governments think that fostering conspicuous consumers to buy more and more seems like a victory to them, it is not.
Rather than using marketing and sales channels to trap/imprison vulnerable customers like Anita in a vicious cycle of conspicuously consumption, luxury brands should use them to as doorways to educate customers to make need based decisions, use items to foster meaningful and authentic self expression and create inclusive environments in societies by breaking hierarchies. We as consumers must be more conscious, buy mindfully produced items and participate in circular economies. Let’s use fashion as a tool to foster inclusivity and not as barriers to create autonomous structure in societies. Let’s become Minor Fashionistas!