Think Piece: Fast Fashion and Authenticity
Harajuku, Japan’s street fashion mecca, has been facing difficult times. Beloved brands and sellers in and around Takeshita Street announced their closures, FRUiTS founder Shoichi Aoki declared the scene dead, and the last standing survivors in all of this chaos are fast fashion giants WEGO and Uniqlo. Normcore styles are booming and we are all just hoping our favourite street fashion brands will survive the year. Despite this bad news, the alternative fashion scene continues to flourish online with creative individuals showcasing their street fashion looks. Has fast fashion killed our beloved street fashion scene, or is this just the beginning of a new exciting era?
The essence of subcultures, be it Lolita or Visual Kei, lies in authenticity. It’s through our clothes we express ourselves. Our looks demonstrate our belonging to a group and show the outside world that we don’t want to be part of the mainstream. A mix of designer and thrifted clothing, and independent brands are key to creating a style that expresses our true identity and that will shape a subculture’s fashion identity in the long run. A subculture is a lifestyle and wearing its clothes is what makes us part of it. However, with fast fashion producing all types of clothing available at any time for cheap, are we going to lose our dedication to curate pieces that we can truly identify with? One click online will give us a full punk transformation without even knowing a thing about the scene. We can even get cheap vintage-look-alikes online, which renders the true essence of thrifting meaningless. With the current tendency to overspend on cheap fast fashion pieces without a second thought, we will end up with basic coordination of pieces we couldn’t care less about, combining them with a few brand accessories. With fast fashion brands becoming the top players in the industry by pushing for impulse purchases and inauthenticity, are Japanese street fashion subcultures doomed to make room for boring look-alikes?
While Lolita and gyaru are subcultures that emerged without having to rely on companies like H&M and Forever21, Decora is a good example of a street style on a budget. Back in the early 2000s, Harajuku’s fashionable youth shopped at affordable retailers to find accessories to decorate their arms and fringes. No outfit was complete without at least 20 different kawaii hair clips and layers of colourful shirts and skirts. Rather than relying on expensive brands and designers, Decora relied on cheap accessories everyone can get a hold of. Wearing and buying a lot of cheap clothing is what makes Decora truly authentic and its wearers a genuine part of the subculture. Decora shows that it’s possible to express our true self by wearing fast fashion pieces and combining or layering them in ways that make us feel like our best self. In that case, is there really a need to look at more expensive designer brands or spend hours thrifting for one piece we will probably have to alter anyway? Carefully curating pieces we actually like from fast fashion brands is a more affordable and safer method than saving up for years for a piece that we might never get. Japanese street fashion is now accessible to a much wider audience for less money.
However, selling cheap clothes en masse has its price. Most retailers produce their clothes in countries where they can get away with unsafe working conditions and child labour. Fast fashion is also the third largest polluter in the world, emitting 10% of all greenhouse gases. With increasing natural disasters around the world, it’s irresponsible of us to buy from fast fashion brands that pretend to be so eco-friendly or inclusive. A purchase from Shein is a direct support of modern slavery. Can we really say a cheap dress is worth a factory worker’s dignity or life? Fast fashion is also known for harming designers by selling low quality copies for cheap. Many retailers can’t produce the same high-quality products as Japanese designer brands do, making clothes and outfits often look ingenuine. In the worst case, stealing designs can lead to an independent designer’s ruin and a terrible financial situation. Stealing designs has been a huge problem even in Harajuku itself, and customers either don’t seem to notice or don’t care. The explosion of fast fashion retailers in Japan and worldwide has increased our overconsumption of low-quality products. With non-existing workers’ rights, increasing pollution and normcore in trend, who is really winning here?
On the other hand, a world without fast fashion will directly harm us consumers. Most designer clothes are simply not attainable for various reasons. They are extremely expensive and can cost more than a low-income family could afford. They also come in limited quantities for the sole reason of boosting their brand image by looking exclusive! People with 9-5 jobs or busy lives simply won’t have the time to always get their hands on an item quickly enough while it’s still for sale. Depending on where we live, we might not even be able to buy the right piece of clothes for ourselves at all, since many designers are very limited when it comes to their shipping. Additionally, as we know from most catwalks or from our experience shopping on Takeshita Street, designer clothing only comes in small sizes or one-size (which is usually a small anyway). The majority of us with different body shapes and sizes are completely ignored. Fast fashion companies provide us with solutions to these issues because of their great availability, affordability and inclusive sizes. If fast fashion would cease to exist, would we even be able to have enough clothes to wear?
The impact of the fashion industry on our planet is undeniable. However, many of us have started to rethink our consumption habits. Even fast fashion retailers like H&M and Uniqlo now accept used clothing for recycling purposes. With more and more of us understanding the issues the industry currently has, there is a chance to make it better. Do we really need a H&M store next to Bershka and 5 other retailers on every high street? And is there any way for designers to become more inclusive?
Japanese street fashion has reached worldwide recognition and is celebrated online. However, currently in the real world we see closed store fronts, normcore styles and food stalls dominating Takeshita Street. Are we just watching and waiting out a slow death of our favourite street fashion scene, or is there something else in the future waiting for us?
Written by Stefanie