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If Fashion Weeks Want To Be Meaningful, They Need To Become Places For Ideas, Not Just Fashion

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 years ago | Features

Image: from the Kitx presentation at MBFWA last year. Image source.

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week has just kicked off in Sydney and it has got us thinking about the importance of using events like this to hold conversations around the future of the industry. We are pleased to see that the last day of the event this year (Friday May 19th) will be dedicated to some ideas-driven seminars, like Clean Cut and Ethical Clothing Australia’s Future Talks conversation on ethical fashion, for example. Or WSGN’s discussion on the future of fashion. In general though, the rest of the week is pretty chock full of fashion, rather than ideas. Which is a problem because this reflects fashion’s current stalemate when it comes to meaning vs appearance.

Let’s face it, fashion today is essentially held hostage by a vicious trend cycle — one that demands a breakneck pace and leaves little room for anything else. Especially not for a consideration of how the industry can pivot towards sustainability and thus remain both responsible and relevant. Without making space for such conversations, however, it becomes increasingly difficult for both brands and consumers to know where their priorities lie. And as we scramble to keep up with the trends, we also tend to overlook the meaning behind our clothes (or lack thereof). Which is, of course, exactly what the fast fashion retailers are after. 

Responsibly made clothing is meaningful clothing, because a great deal of thought has gone into its production, beyond just superficial considerations like cut and colour. But without the space to discuss why this is important, ethical fashion will unfortunately remain the purview of just a select few brands. So now is the perfect time for this sort of disruption, given that fashion weeks are currently in a state of flux and constantly searching for new meaning. Certainly these events aren’t what they used to be — aka exclusive presentations attended only by the press. Today, these shows are beamed around the Internet in real time. And now that they are, there are increasingly fewer reasons to actually be there IRL.

So with the original purpose of fashion week essentially evaporating then, it’s important for us to charge these events with more meaningful goals. Like fostering the exchange of ideas for the betterment of the industry, for instance. So with that in mind, it would be great to see more than just one day of seminars at MBFWA and instead see this focus extended right throughout the whole program. If we did, then it might also open up more room for responsible brands on the fashion schedule as well. This year we have Kitx and ECA accredited Bianca Spender, but we should be seeing a lot more ethical brands and should also be talking more about why these brands are so necessary right now. 

New York based Australian label Tome understands the importance of conversations like this. Speaking as part of the Clean Cut Future Talks panel at MBFWA last year, Tome designer Ramon Martin said that the saturation of trends now means we need to return to meaning in our wardrobes. “So how do you find the next chapter in fashion; of something that expresses the time and the culture of any given period in our history?” Martin asked. “[Responsible fashion] is it; this is what is going to speak to generations to come; to [distinguish] what fashion was in the early 2000s. ‘It wasn’t about high hemlines or a miniskirt or whatever it was back in the day; it was about changing the way we make clothes.’”

Discussions such as these are incredibly important now, because they force us to think a little deeper about the fashion that’s presented in front of you — whether that be on the runway at MBFWA, or on the clothing racks in your local boutique. By interrogating the meaning behind your clothes and how they were made, we can all become more active as consumers and make consequential choices that have a broader impact on the industry, planet and people’s lives. Fashion week is the perfect place to inspire people to make these sorts of choices. Because fashion doesn’t just exist on the surface level and neither should the events surrounding it. In short, fashion week is no longer just for physical fashion, it is also for fashion conversation — at least it needs to be if it wishes to stay relevant for the future. 

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