Thanks to the growth of selfie culture, fashion is wielding increasing influence over the lifestyles of end consumers, who are better informed today than ever before. SEEK, January 2018. Photo by Jan Kapitaen.

Fashion for the World

Does Globalized Fashion Mean (One) Style for All?

By Anita Tillmann, April 2017, Berlin

The concept of “globalization” calls to mind the ideal of everything being available to everyone, no matter where they are. This idea applies to every sector of the economy, including fashion. Nowadays, the opportunities for a designer brand to make their mark worldwide seem to be unlimited, in the truest sense of the word.

Both the markets and ways in which we communicate have fundamentally changed. We are talking about a revolution. The effects are visible, yet the process is far from over. Open markets, which naturally also operate in the fashion sector, alter the attitude of the end consumer. Developing strategies for dealing with these new realities is the top priority for companies aiming to assert themselves or be successful. No up-and-coming designer can make their début without understanding the global market and its needs and trends; or even the domestic market, which has likewise been transformed. In order to achieve national and international success, both new and established companies must build a comprehensive picture of the fashion industry and develop an understanding and instinct for the mechanisms by which the international market operates.

The next generation in particular needs to be instructed in these aspects during their training, and talented individuals should be supported through internationally valued exchange programs. This is a task that, in my view, the industry ought to take on. The proximity to the market, networking and the collating of experiences are relevant parameters for success in the fashion industry — irrespective of the level the brand or designer is operating at. The cornerstone of a career in the international fashion industry, which is subject to daily exposure and scrutiny on social media, in magazines and on television, is firstly the ability to combine information with creativity; and secondly, the ability to break through commercial boundaries.

In the era of global communication, the availability of current fashion information is extremely straightforward. For instance, a budding designer from North America can find out all about the Asian fashion markets, or at least gain inspiration from them. Alongside the global fashion nexus, there are also national and culturally- determined trends. Sources such as blogs, social media, and traditional media ensure that fashion is no longer the preserve of an elite. Thanks to the growth of selfie culture, fashion is wielding increasing influence over the lifestyles of end consumers, who are better informed today than ever before. Fashion has evolved to become much more than simply an eye-catching outfit. Fashion is communication, a statement of a lifestyle as defined by the wearer. An outfit can non-verbally express more than words ever could.

After the initial euphoria over the opportunities offered by the globalization of the fashion world, creatives and consumers around the world are increasingly rediscovering their local identity. This does not contradict the approach of extensive self-education and self-development to produce globally relevant work. The various aspects coalesce to form a whole.

My theory is that the current trend for end consumers to define themselves in much more individual terms is here to stay. Over the past few decades, people around the world have acquired a standardized style that works everywhere and is universally accepted. It is jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Whether at Los Angeles Airport or deep in the Andes, those who wear the uniform of the global community instantly become part of this community, irrespective of where they actually are in the world at that moment. A few exceptions apply, of course: a casual outfit at a black tie event would be a faux pas. This is true worldwide. Even the sophisticated dress codes for red carpet events, cocktail parties, or private openings are subject to international standards. It is often the end consumer, the wearer, who replicates these codes on social media.

Sources such as blogs, social media, and traditional media ensure that fashion is no longer the preserve of an elite. PREMIUM, July 2018. Photo by Offenblende.

Fashion has, nonetheless, made a huge contribution to global democratization. The casual look signifies the first time in the history of humanity that affiliation to a social group is not signaled by an outfit, no matter what ethnicity or minority the wearer belongs to. Jeans and t-shirt make everyone equal, providing security in times when everything is in a state of flux. This is welcome. There are some less desirable consequences, however, both for creative inspiration and for the consumer.

Fashion ought to give the wearer a sense of complete security. Adopting a global style leaves little room for experimentation and individuality, and is especially counter-productive in a creative industry. When it comes to subcultures, which have always been the pioneers of change, a universal style equals the end of progress. Fashion, though, is precisely that: progress and continual change. Continuing to offer innovative new styles to the end consumer is required for success in a global era.

Our personal and professional lives have changed radically over the past twenty years. Due to the increasing number of production and transport options available, it is no longer a challenge for global companies to ship their products to distant countries and sell to those markets. American and Western European companies take advantage of this approach. Globally recognized fashion brands owe their significant expansion to globalization. My theory is that the consumers will change their focus in the foreseeable future. The fashion world needs to respond accordingly with the right products.

A product range can be defined by exploiting new markets, or by exploring the full market possibilities in terms of new technologies. The end consumer’s needs are subject to change, not only in the Western world, but also in areas considered to be developing regions. Here, designers are required to offer solutions. High- tech fabrics that provide energy sound like a First World product, yet this product is being offered in African regions where people are cut off from the outside world, because they lack access to an energy supply. Some 16% of the global population is excluded from the power grid.

Among other things, they lack access to the Internet and other sources of information and communication. This is where these new, high-tech fabrics come into their own.

“This is the start of a fashion revolution: we can demand textiles and fabrics with interactivity,” explains Amanda Parkes, co-founder and director of the Technology and Research Department at Manufacture New York in summer 2016. The development of materials that rely solely on the sun for energy supply are just one example of how fashion is relevant not just from an aesthetic angle or as a direct economic factor. Some new fabrics feature technology on a microscopic level. Integrated within the fibres, this technology enables the fabric to react to changes in temperature, or to store energy like a battery. Integrating this into a design with an enhanced local identity could be a recipe for success: global technologies with a look that veers away from uniformity.

Taking these innovations from laboratories to consumers’ wardrobes requires collaboration between scientists, manufacturers, and designers, to establish what consumers want and how these inventions can deliver on those wishes. These are issues that have long been discussed in circles beyond those of the fashion world, such as at the 2016 World Economic Forum.

These innovative products are still niche offerings at this stage. Different standards apply to mass market fashion: generational changes ensure that a global player’s posi- tioning may no longer carry sufficient weight. We are living through the decline of international brands that were previously thought to be inviolable. The output and speed of mega-brands in terms of mass production leaves no room for new brands to operate within this segment. Under the banner of climate change and the increasing scarcity of resources we need to ask ourselves honestly whether the world really needs another new white t-shirt design.

In considering the issue of globalization in fashion there are various different factors that play a role: one of these is the designer’s expertise; then there are the changed situations in the studios, where it is increasingly a question of teamwork.

One further aspect that ultimately benefits the consumer are the “blurring boundaries” as regards both disciplines and production methods — as expressed at Design Miami in 2002. Local craft workshops still exist, of course, which make use of centuries-old expertise. This
is where cultural heritage is kept alive and, luckily, this aspect of fashion is attracting increased interest. From leather processing to embroidery, such crafts are the DNA of fashion. Craftwork is increasingly becoming state-of- the-art and more visible in haute couture. This is also an option for successful positioning: high-tech materials processed using traditional handicraft techniques.

The other side of the globalized-world coin is precisely the mass production that it has created, fueling a throwaway mentality. It is not only an environmental problem; it also marks a change in consumer thinking, as textiles are not appreciated as having value beyond their creative appeal. The respect for the material itself is diminishing. This is an additional challenge for designers and manufacturers in a global market: to clearly highlight the value of their product — and avoid focusing solely on the price. It is evident that a fiercely competitive pricing war has been raging for some time. My recommendation is that the way forward for designers and consumers is in the combination of “old” and “new” workmanship, which reaches the end consumer over social media. This also creates opportunities for success in the global market.

To summarize: the industry remains dynamic and the need for fashion is as strong as ever. Designers and brands that can cater to both the needs of consumers and society at large will win through. Alongside the development of a throwaway mentality, we can also note that a new generation of consumers is coming to the fore, which transcends typical age boundaries as never before. This is a continually growing demographic that is very well informed. This, too, is a phenomenon of blurred boundaries which serves to contextualize the issues at stake. Today, aesthetic relevance, personal taste, trends, sustainability, and environmental awareness are inextricably bound up with one another.

The “Fashion Revolution” team carried out a field study by setting up a machine in the center of Berlin. Passers- by could buy t-shirts for two euros. At first, levels of interest were alarmingly high. However, those who threw in two euros were first shown shocking images of production sites on the screen. Afterwards, the potential buyers were offered the choice of buying the t-shirt anyway, or donating the money. The majority of the potential buyers chose to donate the money.

Consumption is increasingly reaching a critical level, which consequently raises the question: “What is luxury?” The luxury of being able to afford something is increasingly leading the Western world to question its decisions: What do I actually want? What do I actually need? Overflowing wardrobes are no longer a sign of prosperity or luxury. This challenges the fashion industry to bring products to market that consumers view as a positive investment. This is where creatives are need- ed. Success will only follow when the ability to identify needs — or ideally to anticipate them — is combined with the relevant creative expertise. No brand is an island. The requirement profile ranges from the teams in the workshops and production facilities to the fusion of disciplines, through to brand management on social media. Naively relying purely on existing skills has not worked for a long time now. The 1998 Nobel Prize winner for economics, Amartya Sen, once said: “Although I am pro-globalization, I thank God for the anti-globalization movement”. He was spot on. That goes for the fashion world too.  ■

Anita Tillmann

Anita Tillmann is the Managing Partner at PREMIUM Group. With the PREMIUM, SHOW & ORDER X PREMIUM, SEEK & BRIGHT trade shows as well as the #FASHIONTECH Berlin conference in her portfolio, she has redefined the contemporary fashion market across Europe, with international attendance rates of visitors and exhibitors reaching up to 90% across all three platforms.

In 2005, Tillmann spearheaded the creation of Berlin Fashion Week. In 2010, she received the Order of Merit from the Federal State of Berlin, in recognition of her outstanding service and commitment to developing Berlin as a fashion capital. Tillmann currently sits on Fashion Council Germany’s board of directors, further cementing her position as one of Germany’s most influential and passionate fashion advocates.