As so often is the case, the fashion world represents the global economy. Everything happens at increasing speed and those who lag behind are doomed.
Clothing-retail company Hennes & Mauritz, one of the first companies that made it their top priority to be the first in their industry to respond to the market (this is nowadays referred to as ‘fast fashion’) is facing the music this month. The Swedish company has been listed on the stock exchange for forty-five years, but last year marked the first quarter in which its revenue decreased: four percent over Q4. This is why the company organized a ‘Capital Markets Day’ on 14 February, for the management to have a conversation around the topic.
Spanish competitor Inditex, too, is all about fast fashion. The time between a design and the placement of the product in stores can be as short as fifteen days. This allows the fashion behemoth to adapt to the consumer’s fickle preferences in the blink of an eye. But is it fast enough? British online retailers ASOS and Boohoo are even speedier. Over the course of 2016, ASOS adjusted both its expected sales and its expected profit upwards, with the value of its stocks increasing more than any other Western European retailer aimed at consumer products.
This development in fashion fits into a broader economical and societal context, that has been described both extensively and succinctly by a wide range of people, including Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and the recently deceased Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum, Trudeau said the following: “Think about it: The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.” In that same speech the Canadian prime minister asserted that the ripple effects of economic uncertainty and inequality play out around the world, leading to anxiety and fear amongst large groups of people that can no longer keep up.
It is as though we are constantly on thin ice, worried about falling through the ice as soon as we decrease our speed. He who moves too fast, Zygmunt Bauman warns us, no longer has the time to think. In his typical, grandiose prose, he writes: “And in the absence of thought, the skating on thin ice which is the fate of fragile individuals in the porous world may well be mistaken for their destiny.”
This is where Bauman offers an opening: we have the duty to occasionally grant people a moment of rest, in order for them to have a moment to think. If Bauman is right, the battle for dominance will be fought by a group using ‘weapons of acceleration’ and a group using ‘weapons of procrastination.’
I secretly hope that we can become lighter and more manoeuvrable by shedding some unnecessary baggage (part of the current school curriculum, for instance). It will make us less likely to fall through the ice on the occasion that we do pause to think.
This article originally appeared on Studio Zeitgeist.