In response to Business of Fashion article ‘Why are Sportswear Giants Embracing Fashion?’.
The answer at first seemed obvious ($), but with some thinking became nuanced.
Collaborations with celebrities or designers from Pharell to Stella McCartney mean sportswear brands can lead trends, making radical new products that stomp all over fashion industry norms, innovating not just per season but something new, exciting, crowd-rousing and twitter tickling, each week. The multi-billion dollar plan seems to be working.
This kind of hyper-production drives the fashion industry, particularly women’s fashion. H&M may not stock that dress in 3 weeks time, so: Buy now!
Meanwhile, Detox My Fashion was launched by Greenpeace in 2011 and continues to work with 76 international brands, retailers and suppliers to “eliminate all releases of hazardous chemicals.” Imagine living in the Global South and performing the daily washing, cultivating and cooking with water poisoned by toxins. Of the 76, 3 global companies are making significant change and progress throughout their textile supply chains, (thumbs up to Zara, H&M and Benetton).
But sportswear, despite a multi-billion pound industry, despite the occasional eco-shoe, is failing to impress. Nike and The North Face (Esprit) are amongst the worst “failing to take individual responsibility for their supply chain´s hazardous chemical pollution” though still available to take your money.
Greenpeace single out the speed of the fashion industry as the root of the problem. This technology push encourages shortcuts and short measures. The suppliers provide quantity and speed, not ethics, for a ravenous, brand-led industry. By flaunting ambitious financial targets, corporations like Nike leave little room for improving the lives and environments behind their products.
Without the push industries would rely on market pull, waiting for consumers to want a new innovation, to desire a replacement for a garment that now has a hole. And that wait would be slow and less profitable.
Also, prior to recent discharges of ‘Hey, I’m a Brand, you’re a Brand’ collaborations, sportswear became egalitarian. Ordinary people, some without aspirations or a sporting-addiction, wore labels previously colonised by the elite.
The Noughties saw “professional hooligans” including a gang called ‘The Burberry Boys’ become recognisable by the generic sporting of a Burberry cap then available on certain High Streets for £50. Counterfeits were readily available on different High Streets for much less £. It wasn’t just hooligans wearing the brand, Burberry became synonymous with working class culture, particularly Chavs. The message was loud, brash and not elite. Burberry discontinued the cap, clearing their shelves across the world in an instant.
Sports brands have to grapple with the same cross-cultural and horizontal markets. In my normal day, sportswear will appear as part of brand-clashing-street-couture worn by Chavs, Scallies, Hoodies or Town Lads (image below). For rapid brand success, distinctions have to be made.
Town Lads are absolutely distinguishable from Road Men (example look below).
Which can be absolutely be distinguished from the art school flavour of this Designer – Addidas collaboration with Yohji Yamamoto.
The audience for each look is an exact demographic who are targeted before the garment is a glint in an artist’s eye. The more vertical the market (focused on a particular niche demographic), the greater the price tag. Sportswear brands want to protect the aspiration for their various lines.
But street life, tough times, scallies, ASBOs et al, have their own appeal. I shall skate over scally porn and keep focused on vertical branding; with names like Criminal Damage and Weekend Offender (logo mimics a prison logo – it’s that explicit), these brands could have the elite salivating after some genuine street appeal.
Photo credits >>
Featured Image: Mary Katrantzou x Adidas
Adidas Ocean Waste Shoe: Dezeen
Infographic: Author’s Own
Burberry cap: Fashion Mission who probably nicked it from Burberry
Town Lads: BBC / Getty Images
Urban Psychedelic: Y-3
Hoodies: Weekend Offender
Trousers: Criminal Damage