Gen Z elves? Imagining a future when fashion gets even faster
Past predictions of fashion's future have missed the mark, while some present fashion outlets are aiming high - if slightly wide. Amy Kean looks at why fast fashion has had its day and how the DIY ethos is coming to the fore.
Once upon a time, the year 2000 was the future. In the past, the 21st century (which we’re already a fifth of the way through) was the stuff of fantastical premonition.
Whether Back to the Future’s 2015, Bladerunner’s 2019 or The Jetson’s 2065, movie-makers were all pretty pumped about flying cars (imagine being crushed by a car literally falling out the sky).
One thing was for sure, women in the future would be hella sexy, with their tight dresses and see-through mesh.
The fashion was less desirable. One thing was for sure, women in the future would be hella sexy, with their tight dresses and see-through mesh, but the loose theme of ‘silver and shiny’ in most sci-fi suggested that as time progressed we’d start to look like robots, as robots become human.
Many in academia now predict the two will merge. Professor Yuval Noah Harari, expert in the history of humankind at the University of Jerusalem, believes “we will become God-like cyborgs within 200 years”. Eek! It’s assumed the world will get faster and more efficient, but the fashion industry has been an unexpected and controversial leader in this evolution.
Above: Daryl Hannah in a scene from 1982's Bladerunner.
Fast fashion is as much a metaphor for modern living as it is a cultural and commercial trend. Referring to the speed at which clothes are made and sold, we’re now seeing some online retailers reduce production times to two weeks, from day of design to customer’s doorstep.
Fast fashion is new, low-cost, Instagrammable and short-term. It’s novel, too: the ‘collaboration’ - once spearheaded by Topshop - has been redefined by brands like Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing, who’ve been teaming up with influencers, Love Island stars and US celebrities to create quick lines of disposable outfits.
In London there are more tube posters adorned with sassy fast fashion straplines than you can shake a stiletto at.
And who could miss the infamous £1 Missguided bikini released earlier this year which was supposed to send out a “message of female empowerment” (there are so many messages of female empowerment nowadays it’s lost all meaning) but instead drew harsh critique as the epitome of un-environmentally friendly. But when the earth’s temperature rises to a point where it’ll be impossible for most lifeforms to survive, at least we’ll have cheap AF two-pieces to strut across the desert in.
Fast fashion is making a big impact on the ad industry, too. Relatively new entrants to the market [Nasty Gal, Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, Misguided, I Saw it First] have been among the top 10 fashion retail ad spenders of 2019.
And who could miss the infamous £1 Missguided bikini which was supposed to send out a “message of female empowerment” but instead drew harsh critique as the epitome of un-environmentally friendly.
They went big on TV when traditional retailers moved away. Pretty Little Thing persuading Ashanti to record a song with Afro B (not quite a jingle, but close), and launching its own podcast shows signs of a fledgling entertainment brand. In London there are more tube posters adorned with sassy fast fashion straplines than you can shake a stiletto at: #doyourthing, #summerofyou, #youdoyou and so on. It’s non-stop. A space that used to be governed by the seasons has seen an irreversible shift that very few predicted.
Above: Missguided's controversial £1 bikini.
How did this happen? Let’s go back to the year 2000, which was once the future, but is now the past. 2000 was a year we started to see rumblings of disruption, because Threadless launched. This once-legendary site allowed users to create their own t-shirt designs, to be voted on by other users and the most popular got made and shipped. It was a turning point in international fashion retail and from 2005 until 2011 Threadless was cool, fitting the ‘consumer in control’ narrative we were peddling at the time.
If you’ve ever spent time with a ten-year-old watching YouTube you’ll have witnessed our youth’s obsession with crafting slime with glitter and glue.
These days its home page screams “40% OFF!” and the volume of designs is overwhelming. It wasn’t quite the future-proofed model its founders hoped, but Threadless did prove that civilians could be just as creative as creative directors.
Fast forward to today and we have more proof of this. Etsy has democratised commerce for small designers and, as their website proudly boasts, “As long as your item begins with your imagination and creativity, you can sell it on Etsy”.
The spark is everywhere: the rise of TikTok as a mind-blogging hub of young talent and weird creativity; transitions and memes and pure positivity gives us an early indication of what tweens are capable of. Young people got game. If you’ve ever spent time with a 10-year-old watching YouTube you’ll have witnessed our youth’s obsession with crafting slime with glitter and glue. Maybe it’s ADD as a result of having iPads rammed in their goddamn faces from the age of two, but these kids love to create.
In five years, young people will be designing and producing their own clothes as a matter of course, and it’ll be as fast as you can possibly get.
September is the time of year I get asked what will happen next year, in five or even ten years. I DON’T KNOW WHAT DO YOU WANT TO HAPPEN YOU’RE NOT JUST A PASSIVE RECIPIENT OF THE FUTURE, I often reply. But with fashion, I’m certain.
According to my crystal ball/tarot cards/freaky dreams, fashion – for a new generation who want to create and show off - has only one direction; DIY. In five years, young people will be designing and producing their own clothes as a matter of course, and it’ll be as fast as you can possibly get. Faster than a flying car! Generation Z will be their own workforce: less like robots, more happy elves, toiling away on their own domestic assembly line, equipped with the tools and confidence to suit their individuality (and probably saving money, too).
Above: The launch of online store Threadless precipitated the rise of DIY fashion.
How are you so sure, Amy? you ask (to which I say, would you ask me that if I was a man?). Well, there’s a number of trends that will lead us there.
Fast will get faster
Eventually (circa 2049) the Belt and Road initiative will pave the way for items to be ordered in any of 71 countries, made in China, then shipped and delivered within days or hours. Sooner, in 2025, we won’t have flying cars (and to be honest, flying cars can fuck off. Imagine society’s worst, richest people owning the sky as well as West London) but we will have drones. Drones are being trialled already by UPS in America and will be delivering personalised wares to our doors. You could design an item for Friday night on Friday morning.
A huge amount of investment received by 3D printing companies this year will mean that in a few years they’ll finally be mainstream, and we can print as much 3D shit as we want. Hell, we can print our own bodily organs if we want, and I probably will.
The beauty industry has already made a start here, and 3D make-up printers like Mink exist, but unlike beauty where science might leave some skeptical about their ability to produce competitive products, fashion’s subjective enough to be fair game. The rise of merch as a legitimate corner of fashion will continue; get more artistic, irreverent and affordable.
Customisation is already a profitable strategy for retailers
The savvy ones – rather than seeing their customers as a threat – are already on board with DIY fashion. Primark, in its flagship London and Birmingham stores has launched its own Custom Lab, which is essentially a Threadless 2.0 printing bespoke t-shirts, with prices starting at £5. Nike and the like have been doing it for years, but other high street retailers have to learn how to follow suit in a way that’s right for their brand.
Above: Primark's Custom Lab.
Consumers love selling to each other
The rise of second-hand selling sites like Depop and rental service Hurr are a beautiful nod to the sustainable fashion movement that’s also rising. There will be a fast fashion backlash, and many young people are aware if not active in the sustainability space because they have to live on this bloody planet a lot longer than we do. The secondhand market place is set to be 50% larger than fast fashion by 2028 (Thredup), so people making, wearing and then selling their own stuff makes perfect sense.
Wouldn’t it be lovely, for our kids, to have more of a say over what they put on their bodies?
It’s a future I’d love to see.
Wouldn’t it be lovely, for our kids, to have more of a say over what they put on their bodies? The Instagram-driven awareness amongst young people about their ‘personal brand’ means that in the future, being your own boss will be a realistic ambition and driver of social mobility. What a wonderful future world, where everyone is able to celebrate their uniqueness, and has the power to forge their own style for their shape, outside of the dictation of big global businesses.
Humans are about to become more creative than ever, starting with the clothes on their backs.
Robots might eventually look and act like humans, but humans are about to become more creative than ever, starting with the clothes on their backs. Which is infinitely more appealing than wearing a silver spandex suit, spending 50p on a sweatshop dress, having microchips inserted into your eyes or being sent to an early grave by a free-falling Ford Fiesta.