The November issue of Trouble magazine has hit the streets. This month I’ve written about the fast-pace frenetic nature of fashion and how shops are so focused on optimising sales in their window displays that they forget to look out the window and actually follow the seasons.

If you’ve not yet come across it, Trouble magazine is a FREE street culture and arts magazine. It’s small, compact and full of gallery and art listings from all around the country. I’m new to the world of published writing and love being part of this quality journal that brings together art, commentary and cultural musings. I love that it’s accessible to anyone and everyone with no status of purchase attached.

This is what I wrote, with image courtesy of Obus:

NOVEMBER 2010: Frockerphiliac – On shopping out of season

By Kim Kneipp

Obus Spring 2010

After a cold and wet, more typical, Melbourne winter, it’s turning out to be a chilly and wet traditional Victorian spring. Water tanks and catchments are finally filling up and the farmers at our local markets are starting to look relieved. Why is it then that fashion retailers are counting customers and nervously wringing their wrists?

While they are seasonal, you may have noticed that fashion cycles don’t actually follow the seasons. Winter collections hit the floor when outside it’s still warm and sunny, and at time of writing, the first summer frocks are flouncing in store, while I sit rugged up, gripping a hot mug, wearing multiple layers and boots. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t even begun to think about my summer wears and already I hear rumours of department stores possibly reducing theirs!

How does this happen? And can anything be done to slow it all down? The fast-paced fickleness of fashion can be tracked back to the French courts of Louis XIV. Determined to increase local industry whilst elevating France’s status in the European market, King Louis decided to play dictatorial dress-ups. Demonstrating a great eye for detail, it has been recorded that men’s jacket styles changed sixty-nine times during Louis’ seventy two year reign, compared to just four times during the thirty three year reign of his father. Years later, Napoleon then followed suit (or frockcoat), going so far as to instate a rule that forbade the wearing of any garments twice when visiting the French court. He even had the fireplaces at the Tuileries blocked up, forcing the ladies to exhibit more wears.

Fashion is no longer under the rule of monarchy, but the seasons and cycles are nonetheless dictated by a monopoly, with the major players leading the fray – the major department stores and the style-makers. The latter are the forecasters responsible for decreeing ‘what’s hot’, while the former act as retail foremen, punching in delivery times and going on clearance to stay ahead at the docks.

As technology improves, consumer demand increases and instantaneous consumption patterns are formed. The result of this is the rise of ‘fast fashion’. Fast fashion means that brands can turn around new collections every six weeks, offering up to eight collections per year – this is a distinct departure from the traditional annual model of two core collections.

Perhaps it’s part of the penchant with all things Français, but the current, mass market mode has now come down to this – who’ll be the first to produce the latest, hottest style on the smell of an oily rag-trade? And will the customer still desire that look when the ship comes in?

If the arrival of the stock doesn’t coincide with consumer desire and weekly sales are low, the next trend is to offer a variety of positive customer incentives to somehow help boost the cash flow. Garments may be bundled for sale – ‘buy one get one free, or tag-on accessories may be offered – ‘a free scarf with every dress’. Price rounding occurs – ‘all dresses $100’, or targeted price slashing begins – ‘25% off all new stock’. Sales staff are given pep talks and offered sales incentives; the music is turned up and fingers-crossed, some sunny, sales-inducing weather kicks in.

Of course, if one store goes on sale, particularly a major department store, everyone must follow fashion. Having already sprinted to get the new styles in store and probably ready to implode with exhaustion and self-doubt, what seems forgotten in this fast-tracked cycle is the livelihood of the smaller, independent stores and the designers who crafted their wears. Stuck in the conundrum of wanting higher exposure and needing sales to stay afloat and pay the bills, they must submit to the whims of a consumer-driven market, expected to provide quick production turnarounds and cope with reduced selling periods, when all they want to shout is: NOT ANOTHER SALE!

France may have started the frenzy, but they’ve also taken measures to make amends, with government regulations decreeing that stores may only go on sale, simultaneously, twice a year, with an additional 2-week sales window of individual choice.

Brilliant, non?

So, hopefully you’re with me on this one, but in order to give our already dwindling local industry a chance, we need to get the Aussie majors to stop going on sale and to slow the frock up. But how do we do it? Perhaps a citizen’s protest demanding the cost of clothing goes up, with banners blazing and a resounding catch-cry of ‘sell it full price, don’t sell-out’? Or something like that, because that is what it will take. Until consumers jump off the cheap needs cycle and stop demanding fast-fashion gratification, how can retailers follow fashion?

We love a slow cooked meal using local, seasonal produce, so why not a slowly crafted ensemble made by the locals to suit the season?

Here’s a few quality locals to hunt down:

I revel in the hunt of independent design, knowing that I’ll be wearing a limited edition garment that has been made locally under ethical conditions. For those true adventurers out there, op-shops and markets are a wild paradise where rare, exquisite beasts are always in season, previously captured, perhaps tamed.

martin & osa johnson - explorers, film makers

Whilst looking for an olde-timey image to accompany this post, I came across a great image-rich post form a blog called The Selvedge Yard, Some cut and paste words from this story to explain this photo:

‘In the 1930s, when the last unexplored regions of the world were being “found,” Martin and Osa Johnson, an American couple from Kansas, delighted audiences in theaters with films of their aerial safaris throughout Africa and Borneo.

The work of this couple was seminal in it’s day and their story is full of love and adventure. If ever I make it to Kansas I’ll definitely check out The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum.