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With COVID-19 putting a pause on the world, the fashion industry has been forced to adapt accordingly, and with the year’s second season of fashion weeks fast-approaching unsurprisingly, they are not proceeding as normal. Unwilling to disrupt the economy and put designer’s work to waste, the industry has followed in the footsteps of most other businesses and moved its highly-anticipated event online.

London led the way by streaming its virtual fashion week from the 12th to 14th June. Hosted by londonfashionweek.com, the three-day event offered a selection of interviews, podcasts, videos and digital showcases of SS21 collections for viewers to tune in with. Supposedly due to the disruptions in the production line, there was significantly less of a focus on the garments themselves and fewer of the leading fashion houses made an appearance. However, this did offer the opportunity to strip the industry from its jam-packed schedules and theatrical catwalk performances, providing the time and space to reflect on its contribution to current affairs as well as its hidden talents in the form of smaller designers.

A time for reflection

The digital London Fashion Week opened with a poem by James Massiah, which captured “all the things that are fun about Summer and all the things that we might miss because of lock down.” It further emphasised how fashion should no longer focus on “peoples’ identity, race or class. You can choose the clothes you wear, the people you hang out with and the places you go and I really wanted to focus on those things more.” This recognition of current affairs and pressing global issues set a striking tone of reflection for the days to come, in line with the slowed pace of life COVID-19 has encouraged us all to adopt. I’m sure we can all agree that taking the time to appreciate what we have got and could work further to achieve is a habit many could adopt.

Research has shown a relationship between being mindful and having more sustainable consumption – both of which have also been shown to improve long-term wellbeing. This brings to question why the fashion industry hasn’t adopted a greater focus on enhancing the wardrobes we currently have, rather than what we should add to it (Geiger, Grossman & Schrader, 2019).  What’s more, adopting a mindful approach can also benefit those around us too, as being aware of our actions makes us more likely to adopt them to become more prosocial (Donald et al, 2018).

Telling a story

The benefits of these new forms of Fashion Weeks may not lie only with the consumer. With approximately 4.57 billion people actively using the internet in April 2020, hosting catwalk shows online hugely increases the accessibility of live content worldwide – if you compare it to the handful of chosen celebrities and industry experts who sat in the front rows each year. By exposing the work of designers to thousands, if not millions, of more people it significantly increases the profiles of professionals and ultimately ends in more sales.

One of the most powerful aspects of the Fashion Week showcases are the stories that each collection conveys; and it is this narrative that allows people to connect with both the designers and the garments themselves. People are more likely to remember information presented in a story format, rate the brand more positively and be more likely to purchase the products (Lundqvist, Liljander, Gummerus & van Riel, 2013). Furthermore, stories are easy for consumers to attend to. From a young age many of us are presented with information through stories, we learn to connect to others by learning about their experiences and appreciate the world by engaging in its history (e.g. Woodside, Sood & Miller, 2008). Although we have begun to see live streams of catwalk shows made available to the public in recent years, it is perhaps surprising that it has taken a pandemic to push the fashion industry into expanding its online presence during Fashion Week, given the accessibility, adaptability and arguably increasingly effective nature of the internet.

What’s next?

This wave of innovation is something that has been deemed as an inherent human instinct; we are driven to adapt to environmental and situational changes, or pressures in order for us to survive – both in physical and organisational terms (Reiter-Palmon, 2011). However, as in most cases, a first attempt is not perfect, so with this season pioneering the new fashion week modality, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made.

Researchers have shown that innovation and creativity however is not always as simple is learning from and acting upon mistakes. In fact, there are a number of specific factors that foster change more effectively than others. Axtell, Holman & Wall (2006) noted how a high initial level of external support for new suggestions is needed, followed by structural job changes like the level of autonomy which allow individuals to freely adapt and generate new ideas. Finally, team members and colleagues must also be supportive of and willing to implement such changes. Although not a complete explanation, this may help to explain why this seemingly obviously beneficial method of communicating Fashion Week has been resisted until now.

Similarly, while we do indeed love to adapt and innovate, we are also creatures of habit. And one thing digital Fashion Weeks threaten is a love for tradition. These historically social and creative events have been held biannually ever since 1943, which provides us a sense of security. Their predictability subtly indicates that everything is constant and ‘normal’ – which is when we naturally feel most comfortable (Psychology Today). As I’m sure you are all aware, the current global situation is somewhat abnormal, and moving these events online only signifies this further by disrupting the predictability, constancy and normality that we crave.

It is still too early to see whether digital Fashion Weeks will be responded to with resentment or seen as a revolution, but whatever the case it is no secret that this new digital scene will take some getting used to. Hundreds of photographers, reporters, celebrities and stylists congregate in the world’s fashion capitals to observe the next-season’s trends, so to see these cities silent in what is usually one of their busiest times of year will be a significant change.

However, this new wave of innovation could be somewhat exciting. Technology is continually advancing, such as the introduction of shopping in virtual reality (Hur, Jang & Choo, 2019), leaving the possibilities for the future of fashion almost endless. Could we be witnessing a momentous change in the fashion industry, or do you think the tradition is too strong for any changes to have a lasting impact? 

It is no secret that our society is dictated by prejudices and discriminatory behaviours that we may not even be aware we are endorsing. Unfortunately amongst many others, the fashion industry reflects a ‘white privilege’ and it has even been suggested that ‘racism is at the heart of fast fashion’. A single glance up your local Highstreet or quick google search makes it immediately evident that the vast majority of both affordable and high-end designers are white and accommodate primarily white individuals. Little further reflection will also reveal how utterly absurd this underrepresentation is. Since when did, or should, the colour of someone’s skin determine their creativity, talent or potential? 

These attitudes are incredibly damaging to current and aspiring fashion professionals, but by simply becoming more aware of who we choose to buy from, real differences can begin to emerge.

With this in mind, we have created a collection of 22 black-owned brands that we believe deserve a little more love. There should be something to suit all styles and budgets, so consumers at every level can experience the fashion industry’s hidden talents.

Affordable

Offering non-toxic, cruelty-free nail-polishes that are individually made, 516 Polish is an ethical, sustainable brand. They pioneer ‘swatch diversity’ by providing product samples on a variety of skin tones and have specially formulated products that complement customers of all ethnicities. 

Boucléme creates British-based, cruelty-free and plant-based products that enhance natural curls. Their easy-to-follow 3-step regime encourages women to feel empowered rather than embarrassed by their curls. 

Selling sunglasses and jewellery that are inspired by North African heritage, this accessories label aims to create trendy yet timeless pieces.

Founded in a small New York apartment, Fanm Djanm (meaning ‘strong women’) is an accessory-based store best known for its bright and bold headwraps. Each piece is handmade in Brooklyn using sustainably sourced fabrics.

Cruelty-free cosmetics inspired by 80s and 90s music culture are what MDM Flow are best known for. From multi-use ‘glossy pots’, to lip products in a range of natural and experimental shades, this beauty brand has the potential to create fun, fresh and funky looks that take you from day to night. 

Selling beautifully crafted yet affordable 14k gold-plated jewellery, Saint Kojo is a hidden gem. If the elegant aesthetic is enough, they also use a portion of profits to educate and empower disadvantaged women in Africa. 

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✨✨✨ 📸 :@jenloumeredith

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This London-based brand celebrates diversity through it’s simple yet sexy garments that represent individuals of all ethnicities. At its heart, Sincerely Nude hopes to ‘break stereotypes one shade at a type’ by raising the awareness and accessibility of a more inclusive industry.

Vitae London incorporates ‘minimalist watch design with maximal social justice’. Working closely with charities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, each watch purchase provides a child with life-changing educational supplies. Their classic designs come in a range of metal colours and materials to create a bespoke timepiece. 

Premium

Andrea Iyamah is a clothing line ‘inspired by nature, inspired by colour, ethnic cultures, nature and design elements that stay true to creating authentic clothing’. Started by Nigerian designer Dumebi Iyamah at the age of 17, it hopes to modernise and embrace traditional African cuts and colours to create unique garments that make a statement.

Nalé’s designers are inspired by different aspects of travel, culture or the simplistic beauties of everyday living. This luxury womenswear brand is characterised by its appreciation of diversity, allowing consumers to learn about cultures all over the world.

Nubian Skin provides lingerie, hosiery and swimwear that aims to cater for consumers of all skin tones. Their founder Ade Hassan, MBE wanted to redefine the industry’s narrow representation of ‘nude’ undergarments, which seemed to disregard a significant proportion of the market – most notably women of colour.

Edgy streetwear in bold patterns and prints are at the core of Phlemuns. For those who want to elevate their everyday pieces and invest in stand-out sweats, their collections will not fail to make a statement.

Starting in Trinidad and Tobago in 1979, Sacha Cosmetics values the ethnic diversity of their consumers. They aim to formulate high-quality products for all individuals, regardless of race. Something all beauty brands should aim to do too.

Blending contemporary and traditional techniques, Tihara Smith is a recent graduate who creates fun and fresh fashion accessories. Inspired by her Caribbean heritage and London upbringing, Tihara creates unique pieces that allow her customers to carry a piece of the Caribbean with them.

Luxury

Aurora James founded this luxury accessory company in 2013 to help maintain traditional African designs and techniques. Each piece is inspired by an aspect of different cultures worldwide, ensuring a range of heritage styles are kept alive within the fashion industry. Using traditional practices in the production process, Brother Vellies ensures artisanal jobs are sustained and the manual craftsmanship involved is still acknowledged.

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Tyla Sandals • Summertime fine 🤎🦢

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With an array of luxury ready-to-wear and bridal women’s wear, Cushnie has something to offer the modern woman for every occasion. Designer Carly Cushnie creates timeless, minimalistic pieces with a fine attention to detail, all of which encourage women to feel both elegant and powerful.

Described as “a contemporary Ready-to-Wear apparel line for Women Without Limits”, Hanifa designs each of its garments with women of all shapes and sizes in mind. Ruffles, ruching, pleats and puffy sleeves best describe the brand’s aesthetic which collectively form figure-flattering, femeine and elegant pieces that undoubtedly suit every type of body.  

In recognition of the nude-shoe market’s poor diversity, Kahmune was formed. The luxury footwear is constructed from sourced, premium Italian leather, making their shoes a life-long investment. Each piece is available in 10 shades which are inspired by the global ethnic diversity, allowing every customer to find their staple nude shoe.  

Mateo New York is a fine jewellery designer founded by self-taught Matthew Harris who was born and raised in Montenegro Bay, Jamaica. Describing their collections as having an ‘aesthetic of simplicity and minimalism’, their collections are designed with modern women and art in mind. With the delicate use of diamonds, pearls and precious stones each piece conveys a sense of natural elegance.

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🌸 🌸🌸🌸🌸

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Specialising in ready-to-wear and bespoke jumpsuits, Rebecca Tembo ensures each client has a personalised, luxury shopping experience. All pieces are made one at a time using sustainable methods. She also founded The Entry, a course which aims to help aspiring start-up designers to build their brand and develop entrepreneurial skills.

Established in 2005 by Telfar Clemens, an undergraduate student born to Liberian parents in New York, Telfar is a pioneer of unisex fashion. Driven by its core value of inclusivity, the fashion brand is known to promote contemporary garments in ways that stand against the fashion industry’s historical discrimination and misrepresentation of non-white ethnicites.

The Folklore is an online concept store that sells a limited selection of pieces from African designers in order to promote their work and improve their financial success. Their curated collections represent ‘the diversity of Africa’s contemporary urban landscapes and design aesthetic’ and allow people online access to the African fashion industry that previously relied primarily on remote, local selling. If you’re after a one-of-a-kind piece, this is the place to look. 

What are your favourite Black-owned businesses? Comment below or tweet us @fashionispsychology

There has been a correlation between fashion and our own bleak view of the future ever since Chanel showed cocktail dresses with ragged hems during the 1930s (Forbes, 2014). We flashback even further to the French Revolution, where men (but not women) dressed down no matter what their stature as clothes became a political statement:

“…Lace cuffs, knee breeches, ruffles, frills, frockcoats, lighter colours, high heels, big wigs, the flamboyant Macaroni style—all of this fell out of favour. In its place came the rise of darker clothes, ankle-length trousers, matching jackets, suits, and short, natural hair.” (All About Candian History, 2016)

This drastic change was not merely a coincidence and we have to wonder in today’s society can we still attribute outside forces to our fashion sense. Let’s push forward to the most drastic event of the Millennial generation, The Great Recession. 

In 2007, just before the Great Recession, ruffled miniskirts and low rise jeans were all the rage with Ron Frasch (CMO of Saks Fifth Ave at the time) referring to the era as being “colourful and sexy” (Vox, 2018). Later that same year, the recession hit and fashion drastically changed. Even rich consumers, similar to the French Revolution, shied away from logoed clothes and bags perhaps in solidarity. “It was suddenly uncool to look rich” (Christian Binkley, former Fashion editor, Wall Street Journal); a trend that still persists today. Literally, fashion seemed to have changed overnight not figuratively but in taste. Stores slashed the price of inventory to remove those bright summer trends. Saks was the first to slash prices to 70%.

It was too late to retract the colour wheel and the Great Recession abruptly ended in June 2009; way too soon to create clothes that matched the mood of the citizens but that didn’t stop trendsetters from shying away from bright colours.

Even popular blog, popsugar.com had a hard time picking out which celebrity was the worst dress in 2007, showing how much the economic turndown affected the rich and powerful (popsugar, 2007).

Today, being aware of the tone of the economy isn’t just for people; businesses have learnt the hard way back in 2007 that the mood of people can dictate consumer behaviour on a large scale The fear of another economic turndown not only drives consumers to shop less but designers to create dark clothes in hopes to match the mood of the consumer and propel them to make a purchase. So perhaps the answer has layers. It’s certainly true that we noted that consumer behaviour changes when outside forces, either political or economical, make us re-examine our fashion choices. For now, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the runways and the FTSE to see what the future has in store.