Fashion is going through a period of profound change. Driven by technology, the movers and shakers behind the big brand names are quietly repositioning their business models, redeveloping their supply chains and reconfiguring the way they deal with both their suppliers and their customers. As the public become more aware of the human rights and environmental abuses done in fashion's name, and become more strident in voicing their disapproval, the high street names are frantically working to make sure they aren't seen as villains. The awful realisation that their customers are both highly media-savvy and have weapons-grade bullshit detectors has scared them into doing the right thing by both the people under their care and the planet.
We're already seeing several trends emerging as the way forward over the next few years. Transparency is vitally important, but I think we'll see big brands embracing tech in new ways to take on the biggest challenge any multinational faces--taking full responsibility for their supply chain. It's no longer good enough for a company to claim ignorance about the conditions in the factories that make clothes in their name, especially when disaster strikes. Both Gap and Walmart faced significant consumer blowback after their mealy-mouthed attempts to wriggle out of compensation payments after Rana Plaza.
I'm not saying that it's going to be easy, of course. There's a complex network of suppliers and factories to tie together, from the fields of the cotton growers, to the mills where fabric is spun, to the manufacturers and suppliers of zips, buttons and decorations, to the factories where the clothes are assembled, to the shops where they are finally sold to the public. Supply chain logistics is going to be one of the biggest challenges of the next decade, and the first company to get it right will see massive benefits, as ways to streamline and smooth the production process become clear. You need the overview to be able to get things right. It's the difference between digging in your pocket for change, and taking it all out so you can get a good look at what you're carrying.
We will also, I think, see a step change in the way that brands interact with their customers. At the moment, there are stores like H&M that have ethical collections as part of their main ranges. However, they're seen as worthy offshoots from the main branch. You're supposed to feel good about buying them, and also applaud the brand for taking a bold step into sustainable waters.
The emergence of pro-social brands, where the whole business is based around an ethical core from which every decision is made, has yet to make it into the fashion mainstream. Think of food companies like Ben & Jerry's, or Innocent. The closest this sector has to a pro-social brand is, I suppose, Patagonia. The difference between an ethical and a pro-social brand is, as the Guardian points out, a campaigning nature that steps beyond simply promoting change and goes out of its way to actively seek it. Typically, donations to set charities or causes are baked into the profit margins, and the brands go out of their way to be fair to their suppliers. Pro-social is a way to show how importantly a brand takes ethical issues, and engage customers in a whole new way. Pro-social brands set the agenda, rather than be led by customer reaction or demand. They lead, and know that a conscious, engaged consumer base will follow.
In the higher-end of the market, you'll start to see clothes that push the artisinal agenda harder than before. Products produced to a high finish that have been created by highly skilled workmen will always attract a high price tag. As fashion in general becomes more interested in the people that make the clothes, the more exclusive end of the market will shift to take advantage of that new focus. Expect to see unusual material and styling choices using rediscovered skillsets: for example, Saigon Socialite's amazing shoes that team sleek French leather with traditional Vietnamese pagoda-carved soles.
There's loads more to talk about as we slip into the New Year, but I don't want to blow all my discussion points in one post. For now, I urge you take a peek at Ecouterre's discussion with a bunch of ethical fashionistas, who all have their own ideas about what 2015 has in store.