'Gorpcore' Might Signal The End Of Fast Fashion

by: Courtney Sanders | 2 years ago | Features

Image: Chloe, our intern, wear a Patagonia t-shirt. Due to its dedication to reducing its environmental impact, Patagonia has become one of the key brands associated with the 'gorpcore' trend.

It started where most cool things of note start: with young people. A year or so ago I noticed teenage skaters wearing long sleeve t-shirts emblazoned with Patagonia logos, experimental electronic music artists wielding fanny packs (slung across their shoulders), and young women opting for loose, beige or khaki slacks, over my generation’s pants-of-choice: skinny jeans.

Then it was everywhere.: I recently attended Dark Mofo, the music and arts festival for hipsters over the age of 25 (because no-one younger can afford the locally-distilled peronis), and found myself (politely) swamped by (perfectly-fitting) puffer jackets and (cropped, just above the ankle) cargo pants. Since then this trend has been given a name by The Cut: ‘gorpcore’. It’s also been given a ribbing by those who find it ironic that urban-dwelling liberals who fear the avocado shortage now dress like they’re in Man V. Wild.

And it is funny, too: you do not need that many pockets for your job as the co-founder of a disruptive tech start-up, Mr. Cargo Pants. But it’s also more than a joke: ‘gorpcore’ is the aesthetic end-point of something early-adopters have been working towards for some time (it’s predecessor being the equally subversive but less directed normcore): the rejection of the fast fashion industry in favour of something that’s kinder to planet and the people who live on it.

Since globalisation, and the advent of fast fashion, this part of the industry has dictated not only what we all wear, but what we all think, about fashion: ‘buy trends, throw trends away, buy more trends’. But every social, political, and fashion movement has a lifecycle, and the advent of ‘normcore’ followed by the advent of ‘gorpcore’ might just signal the end of fast fashion’s popularity. Or at least the end of fast fashion’s popularity with that portion of the population who spend their weekends fixing fiddle leaf fig plants into artisanal ceramic planters.

The fashion industry is now a $2.5 trillion dollar industry. Considering that, in 2016, H&M made $19 billion and Zara made $14.4 billion, the fast fashion industry makes up a big part of it. But fast fashion is more influential on the industry than the numbers alone: it's responsible for perpetuating the concept that buying new things all the time is great, that buying as many new things all the time is better, and that we should make and buy at the expense of the planet and the people living on it. It’s so pervasive that, quite often, we don’t know we’re doing it: we’ll advocate for women’s rights in a slogan t-shirt made by exploited female garment workers.

When it comes to fashion, this is a recently new phenomenon. Before globalisation, clothing was generally made in the country in which it was designed and sold. This meant there was a finite amount of product being produced and that finite product was expensive: people simply didn’t have that much choice, and they couldn’t afford to buy lots of clothing, anyway. Recently, I watched a period drama set in the ‘60s with my flatmate, who remarked on how stylish everyone was. Of course they were, $5 jeggings hadn’t been invented yet.

The advent of fast fashion was exciting: suddenly I could buy Prada-inspired dresses for a fraction of the price, and I could do this every week. In the beginning it felt liberating, like the fashion industry wasn’t just for the 1%, it was for everyone. The hugely problematic idea of the ‘democratisation’ of fashion was born. The fast fashion industry wielded the power of huge margins in the form of huge marketing budgets, launching a cumulitive campaign to make us believe keeping up with fashion trends is an essential part of our self-worth. This kind of intrusive, psychological, marketing is what Sheldon Wolin, political philosopher, describes as inverted totalitarianism, which is the term Otto Von Busch, Associate Professor in Integrated Design at Parsons The New School, has adopted to explain the psychological impact of fast fashion. “The current mode of democratized fast fashion shows explicit tendencies of what political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism”. While fashion may not govern politics, it plays a crucial role in the desire-driven demobilization of consumers, while it simultaneously celebrates the subject’s illusionary individualism and autonomy”, Busch told Auckland University of Technology ahead of his participation in a conference about the future of fashion in Auckland. It would seem the ex-fashion director of British Vogue, Lucinda Chambers, agrees, given her comments about the industry after being fired after a 36-year stint in the position: “In fashion, we are always trying to make people buy something they don’t need. We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people” into buying.”

Today, though, we’re more aware of the human and environmental impact of the fashion industry than ever. The Rana Plaza factory collapse, in which 1,000 garment workers were killed and over 2,000 garment workers were injured, shone a spotlight on the inhumane working conditions for much of the garment manufacturing population in the developing world. As the real effects of climate change begin to be felt, quite literally, we’re paying more attention to our environmental footprint, and the fashion industry’s environmental footprint is large. In Australia, we each throw away 30kg worth of clothing per year, on average. Problems like microfibre pollution of the ocean are garnering mainstream attention, and the images which depict the culmination of human and environmental suffering, in the form of, for example, polluted waterways, insecticide and pesticide poisoning, and chemical pollution, are unavoidable on most of our digital feeds.

Which is where ‘normcore’ and ‘gorpcore’ come in.

Image: Chloe, our intern, wears the Patagonia Down Sweater, made from recycled polyester and traceable down (a Patagonia initiative in which the goose down is traced from parent farm to apparel factory to help ensure the birds that supply it are not force-fed or live-plucked).

We know millennials are changing their spending habits. We know millennials are more likely to work for companies and buy products from companies which reflect the personal values they find important: more than 50% of millennials make an effort to buy products from companies that support the causes they care about, according to research from Barkley. How are millennials relaying this to the wider world? Through what they wear of course.

The ‘normcore’ movement, popularised by this piece by Fiona Duncan for The Cut, was written off as a joke. I get it: seeing incredibly attractive fashion industry types opting for grey trackpants and New Balance sneakers, en masse, did make me feel like I was being punked (“Are you the CEO of Apple? Then you have no business wearing New Balance sneakers.”). But the people wearing said tracksuits were doing so to protest two things: our addiction to quick-moving trends, and our addiction to corporate brands, by opting out of both things completely. “Fashion has become very overwhelming and popular,” Jeremy Lewis, founder and editor of Garmento, explained to Fiona Duncan in the aforementioned article. “Right now a lot of people use fashion as a means to buy rather than discover an identity and they end up obscured and defeated. I’m getting cues from people like Steve Jobs and Jerry Seinfeld. It’s a very flat look, conspicuously unpretentious, maybe even endearingly awkward. It’s a lot of cliché style taboos, but it’s not the irony I love, it’s rather practical and no-nonsense, which to me, right now, seems sexy. I like the idea that one doesn’t need their clothes to make a statement.”

‘Gorpcore’, named after the ‘Good Old Raisins and Peanuts’ mix favoured by hikers, is the natural progression of ‘normcore’. It’s not just anti-fast fashion, it’s pro-nature.

The outdoor brands which are being popularised by ‘gorpcore’, like Patagonia and The North Face, don’t just create clothing for wearing in nature, they care about nature. According to this profile in The New Yorker, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, spends so much time fishing and generally out-of-doors without cell phone or email connections that, “for days at a time no one really knows where he is”. The modus operandi of Patagonia is to ‘build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and they do this via a number of initiatives including installing repair centres in many of its stores and donating 1% of its profits to grassroots environmental organisations. On Black Friday this year, Patagonia opened its stores (they usually remained closed to protest of the over-consumptive nature of this faux holiday) in order to donate all sales from the day to environmental organisations, which they did, in the form of over $10 million.

The fashion industry doesn’t exist in isolation. We’ve replaced our supermarkets with local communal gardens with the wellness movement with our rejection of the wellness movement. We’ve replaced our political apathy with large, largely meaningless, protests with our rejection of meaningless protests. In fashion, we’ve replaced trends with meaningless trend-less fashion with meaningful trend-less fashion. ‘Gorpcore’ is the sartorial rejection of Goop vagina crystals in favour of Everything In Moderation, just like your Grandad told you (while the two of you were out fishing way back when). The people who embrace ‘gorpcore’ mightn’t help save nature, but if they buy products from companies which do instead of companies which don’t, that’s change, and that’s something.

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