Fashion's Night Out, a now global event, was started in New York in 2009 to support the fashion industry through the promotion of full-priced merchandise. As the kick off to New York Fashion Week, the night of parties, shopping, celebrities, and events all had one caveat: retailers were discouraged to use this event to kick off sales or to drive sales of discounted merchandise. The goal is to generate buzz and excitement for fashion itself (the industry, the clothes, the brands, the designers, the events), to move away from, even for just one night, what fashion has become almost synonymous with: discounting.
Every year, the event gets bigger and better, but I can't seem to shake the feeling that it is only a blip on the map, and the discounting mentality of the consuming public will not change anytime soon. After all, who doesn't want a good deal?
We brag more about scoring amazing deals on stuff than do about the amazing quality and workmanship of a garment. The number of websites and startups dedicated to bringing people designer merchandise at a lower price is growing every day.
Face it: we as a collective are addicted to discounts.
And Fashion's Night Out is an attempt by the industry to show another side, the side that has almost been lost and overshadowed by an industry now built on sales.
Most of us don't give much second thought to what needs to happen in the rest of the world to fuel our fast fashion habits. I can walk into an H&M and Zara, and if I don't see at least several discounted sale racks, I can expect that something is off or I'm in the wrong store (alternate dimension, anyone?).
But behind the scenes of what is seen by us the shoppers as a benefit ("If I can get that for $30, why would I buy it for $50?") is merely mass desperation by retailers to keep the stuff moving, driven by a disposable mentality that has come at a cost: environmentally, ethically, socially, and yes, economically. (I would also argue psychologically as well.)
In recent years, some light has been shed on the tragedies and misgivings of the fast fashion industry. When it comes to unsold clothes that aren't snapped up even with the help of heavy discounting, there are plenty of stories hanging out in the news arena. For example, bags of unsold clothing were found ripped up by employees outside H&M. The same happened at Walmart, where bags upon bags of clothes were found just thrown out, hole-punched to prevent recycling and donations to charity. These two cases reflect a disposable mentality that has created way more clothes than people buy (and we do buy a lot), fueling heavy discounting to move things out faster, and questionable disposal methods that are wasteful and unnecessary.
An event like Fashion's Night Out was created because they needed it. Aside from the fun, glitz and glamour, it's an attempt to reignite enthusiasm for fashion itself, separate from sales. Ironically enough, it was the industry that created this mentality, and now they are fighting it, as best as they can, without alienating their customers who have come to expect what they expect: More. Cheaper. Stuff.
We need to stop bragging about clothes based on how cheap they are because in doing so, we are undervaluing the efforts of millions of people who are employed by the garment industry, either by choice out of love or by default to keep food on the table. We are fueling retailers to pump out lots of stuff to feed our habits, and they are scrambling to keep up -- so much so that even the big guns had to come out with an event like Fashion's Night Out to re-convince people that fashion is inherently fun and worth celebrating.
But perhaps most importantly, we are devaluing our own worth. Why is it that we are often more proud of how good we are at deal-hunting than we are about the actual qualities of the clothes we buy? There is no shame in recognizing and appreciating the inherent qualities of the clothes we live our lives in, that make us feel good, that aid us in work and play to look and feel the way we choose. Since when did looking and feeling great become a crime that had to be covered up with a "Oh, it was only 10 bucks"?
By the way, I was that girl who bragged about scoring that amazing dress for 50 per cent off. But that was then. Before I realized that it was a cop-out, a socially acceptable way for me to accept a compliment by shifting it away from me and onto something that everyone can relate to: wanting to get a good deal.
I recently launched my second collection as a fashion designer, and have very purposefully chosen to separate myself from this disposable, discount-driven mentality by making my pieces made to order, which means there is no need for me to "move" merchandise the way a fast fashion retailer needs to. I now choose to design and buy based purely out of love (which by the way, can be done full-priced at all ends of the spectrum, but not when it seems too good to be true. Trust me, someone is paying for that $10 top, even if it isn't you).
To be honest, I don't think that Fashion's Night Out changed anyone's mind about wanting to score a good deal. That's why it's really up to us as individuals to shift our thinking from wanting a lot of cheap stuff to buying less and choosing more consciously.
Here's what you can do:
1. Consider where something is made and what it's made of.
2. Don't get shiny object syndrome and buy something just because it's on sale.
3. Be purposeful about how/when/why you shop.
4. Buy less and buy what you love. We tend to believe that when we shop things on sale, we're saving money, but it reality, a good quality piece that is designed well and made well will do a lot more for your closet and conscience.
4. Think about it this way: Why would you pay for groceries or to dine at your neighbourhood restaurant when you could eat for way less at a fast food chain?
5. Get to know what goes on behind the scenes of the fashion industry. Awareness is power. My favourite? Elizabeth Cline's Overdressed.
6. Next time a friend compliments you on your outfit, take it in.
Your clothes -- and you -- deserve it.
Follow Ana Wang on Twitter: www.twitter.com/anawang_