Fashion, cannibals and forks
Published by Renewable Matter n. 16 May-June 2017
“Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork?” John Elkington is asked at the beginning of Cannibals with Forks, one of the most important books on sustainability published in 1997 where the triple bottom line principle is formulated for the first time. Elkington answered the question positively: if cannibals, who, in the metaphor, represent big companies that try to “devour” one another, use a fork, that is, adopt sustainable production models, will they really progress? The question also applies perfectly to fashion.
We, indeed, say that fashion is cannibal, affected by a sort of reverse Cronos Syndrome. In fashion, children – new collections and trends – devour fathers – the collections and trends of the previous season – making them obsolete, unfashionable and eliminating their commercial value. We could register fashion’s cannibalism as a perfect example of planned obsolescence, as Catherine Rampell wrote on The New York Times in a 2013 article where she provocatively invited brands like Apple to imitate fashion’s consumer brainwashing every new season to convince buyers to purchase something new. There must be some truth to it. But something more than that too, as is clear if we compare fashion with a “pure” creative industry such as publishing or cinema: could we perhaps claim that the publication of a new novel or the production of a new film is a waste caused by planned-obsolescence strategies initiated by editors and producers? Can we stick to reading or seeing the classics again? The need for new products is innate in creative industries and the hybrid fashion industry has inherited some of their DNA. It is difficult to imagine a world where the need for innovation and the cultural and symbolic aspect – in short, fashion – does not have a lot of influence on how we dress and where clothing is merely a functional feature.