A week in the fashion industry is a very long time. Trends rise and die in the blink of an eye on social media, and the high street and fast-fashion brands are either fuelling it or playing catch-up. It’s a dizzying world that not many people could have predicted back in 2010, when we stared at the new decade with hope and optimism. A lot has changed in the last ten years of fashion, from recovering from the worst recession to hit the Western world since the thirties, to the rise of social media, ethical fashion and the backlash to brands behaving badly. Fashion trends focused as much on the past as they have always done, but it also saw the rise of new trends that spanned several seasons and years in their longevity. The 2010’s as a decade in fashion was as much about the fast nature of our new connected, digital world as anything else. It highlighted and reflected our culture back at us, and allowed brands, trends and concepts to evolve much more organically than ever before.
The decade began with the Western world at almost crisis point; we were suffering through a terrible recession, austerity and economic uncertainty. It was also a time for great change for the traditional high street brands, as the recession can be attributed to the beginning of the end for a lot of long-time brands. With the rise of the Internet and e-commerce, brick and mortar shops on our high streets could not keep up with this new fast and digital world. It killed off many traditional brands and department stores such as BHS, Barneys and Jaeger to name a few. But the mid-range brands weren’t the only ones affected; designer brands were also hit hard by the change in consumer spending and the rise of online shopping. Brands such as Charlotte Olympia, Christian Lacroix and Sonia Rykiel all went under in the last 10 years; and many more are going through bankruptcies right now.
While the traditional high street shops we grew up with disappeared from our shopping centres, there was a new face to fashion consumerism; online and fast-fashion. The 2010’s saw the rise of fast-fashion like we had never seen before. Fashion brands like H&M, Zara and Primark went global, opening in dozens of new markets and between them opening over 2,000 stores in the last decade alone. With the crippling recession and lack of spare cash for a lot of consumers, cheap and fashion-forward brands became the go-to place to shop, and with it rose the idea of trend-based items that could be thrown out after a season of wearing. What also fuelled this materialistic excess in many ways was the rise of online brands. The leader of the pack, without a doubt, is ASOS, but it has newer and cheaper upstarts chasing after its crown of top online fashion brand. These brands offered shoppers fashionable clothing, at cheap prices with either free or incredibly reduced delivery. A shopper no longer had to go to the shops for items; they could get it delivered to their door. These online brands were also fuelled by the growth of social media, where they always had a much heavier presence than the traditional high street brands. Shoppers could see new items and order then within a few hours. These brands could spot a new trend developing either on social media or on a celebrity, and with their expedited supply chain and lean logistics, ship it out to a shopper within the space of 6 weeks. The logistics of ordering new items, having them produced in Bangladesh and then shipped out to Europe to your door in such a short time frame seemed fantastical only 10 years ago, but that is a testament to how much technology has sped up the fashion industry.
The fashion industry is the second biggest contributor to pollution in the world
But with this rapid turnaround in making and binning these clothes, a backlash has started on what kind of an environmental impact the fashion industry is leaving behind. The fashion industry is the second biggest contributor to pollution in the world, behind only the oil industry. It uses 20% of global wastewater to produce clothes, and an estimated 90% of clothes that end up on a landfill could be recycled. There are plenty more scary statistics out there of the impact it is having on our planet. It is no surprise that the general population is waking up to the environmental impact they are leaving behind and demanding brands change their practices. The concept of creating our clothes from recycled materials has gained serious traction over the last 5-10 years, as has using more sustainable methods to farm cotton, pay living wages to the farmers and factory workers who make our clothes. Consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z, who are more tuned to social media and have a greater understanding of the environmental impact, are becoming pickier towards sustainable brands. Fashion brands have to play catch up to this new reality, and those who do not are facing the double-edged sword of not keeping up sustainability efforts and a tougher trading climate.
While social media has seen a sharp rise in fashion trends rise and die, it has also led to a democratisation of the fashion industry. At the turn of the decade, the fashion industry and its affiliated fashion weeks were still a closed group to those lucky few allowed into the industry. Fashion Week was a trade event reserved for fashion buyers and magazine editors. The outside public, were allowed glimpses into this closed world, but not to partake in it. Fashion bloggers, those fashion obsessed young people who dreamed of seeing the collections first-hand themselves, started to break down those walls and one-by-one become stars themselves. With their huge online following, made up mostly of the younger generation who were highly covetable to advertisers, the 2010’s saw the first time that bloggers and influencers were allowed into these sacred events. Bloggers were at the forefront of this trend, but with the rise of Instagram and an influencer, who became a star on social media and how much power and advertising revenue they could wield depended only on their talent, their following and their ability to market themselves. Though this new style of fashion star didn’t come without its own frictions. Back in 2010, when some of the earliest bloggers like Chiara Ferragni and Tavi Gevinson of Style Rookie were attending fashion shows, there was still a lot of tension from the old guard. Anne Slowley, Elle’s Fashion News Director dismissed Style Rookie as a bit “gimmicky” and New York Magazine accused Tavi of getting help from her mum or older sister. But these younger fashion bloggers and influencers have something that the editors themselves are craving; advertising abilities and an ability to turn followers into buyers just by posting an item on their social media. With that have come new advertising rules both in the US and the EU, on how paid posts, gifts and sponsorship should be displayed. Failure to comply is both bad for the influencer’s brand, but also places them at risk of a financial fine.
As the entire world turns towards social media and the online presence, a new mentality has developed on the Internet: the cancel-culture. While authors and sociologists have been warning of the online, anonymous cancel-culture that has developed online and become a breeding ground for extremism, aspects of it have also infiltrated the fashion world. With such large online presences online, brands have to be extra careful with what they say or what they do, for fear of having an online following turn against them and end up on the news. The biggest take-down of a fashion designer and their subsequent brands in recent years was Stefano Gabbana from Dolce & Gabbana. When in 2018, D&G posted online a very questionable ad for D&G for the Chinese market, with Chinese models trying to eat Italian food using chopsticks and seemingly laughing at them in the taglines, the online backlash was swift and furious. Leading the charge was an Instagram account called Diet Prada, known for skewering brands for cultural appropriation, copyright infringement and general bad behaviour. The backlash to Dolce & Gabbana was so severe, that the Chinese government back in November cancelled their fashion show in Shanghai. It’s too early to see what the long-term effects on their bottom line will be, but the Internet is not going to allow D&G their misstep anytime soon.
It is not just the wider world that is going through social upheaval and change; the trends that have risen to the fore over the last decade have also changed drastically. We started the decade off with shrugging off the hyper-sexualised styling of bondage dresses of the late noughties to embrace the stark minimalism of Celine amid the recession. But while this decade saw the inevitable long list of trends that rose and died, one of the most prominent ones for this decade has been the rise of altheisure and hip-hop inspired fashion. As we became more conscious of our health and our lifestyle, this was also reflected in the fashion we wore. From the early to mid 2010’s leggings, heeled wedge trainers and yoga pants came into fashion. Our gym wear, became our daywear, and when wedge trainers finally fell out of favour, they were replaced by Dad sneakers, Gucci Aces, Yeezys and Veja lace-up trainers. As streetwear rose in prominence, in thanks due to the rise of hip hop in the music industry and our collective consciousness, this became reflected in our style. Disruptor brands and trends became the new thing to follow, and often leading this charge where the rappers decked out in the best brands. It was through this confluence of hip-hop and fashion that brands such as Gucci, Off-White, Supreme, Vetements and SAVAGE X Fenty rose to the stratosphere in the middle of the decade. Fashion outsiders became the most powerful players, in part through their connection to the music industry, their social media following and a very organic growth from the very streets it embodies.
The fashion industry also said goodbye to some very influential and much-loved fashion figures over the last decade. It at times felt like the old guard of the fashion industry, the legendary designer-house creators all passed in the last decade. We lost Oscar de la Renta, Hubert de Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld, Azzedine Alaia and Marie-Louise Carven, leaving behind their brands in the hands of the next generation. The last decade also saw a slew of designers who took their own lives, leaving behind a larger-than-life legacy and many questions as to the impact of the fashion industry on ones mental health. It is probably no more tragic, than knowing we started the decade by losing Alexander McQueen, considered one of the greatest British designers for many decades. We also saw the loss of L’Wren Scott in 2014 and Kate Spade in 2018 to suicide.
If there is one thing that we can say about the fashion industry, and how it has changed since 2010, it is this. The fashion industry is much more inclusive and welcoming than it has ever been. Bloggers and influencers, the outsiders of the industry now have a voice and a say in how fashion should be consumed, what trends are important and can even create their own styles and trends. Social media and our inter-connected world now have the voice and the power to call out bad behavior of those that were usually protected by their status. The #MeToo movement has shone a light on sexual harassment in the industry and finally problematic behaviours, casting agents and photographers are being shamed out of the business. The industry has become much more accepting and inclusive of different body sizes over the last decade; not only does every major high street brand have a robust plus-size range, designers and higher-end brands are becoming more aware to the need to be more inclusive in their sizing. Plus-size fashion and models are no longer on the fringes of the industry, and brands such as SAVAGE X Fenty and Rihanna’s main fashion label, Fenty, supply all items in plus sizes. Menswear became as dominant as womenswear over the last 10 years, thanks to Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton and Kim Jones at Dior Men. Men’s fashion weeks as a result have gotten more press and attention from the wider public and the industry as a whole. It is no longer an after-thought, which is proving false to the assumption that men aren’t as interested in fashion for themselves. Finally, fashion is championing LGBTQ and minorities’ rights issues like never before, which is unsurprising, considering the industry has always been incredibly liberal. These things are worth remembering as we look back on this last decade; despite the uncertainty in our world, and the global existential threat that climate change has on the fashion industry, we have travelled so far in the last decade already.
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