Societal Decodings by Serge Carreira

Everything is torn apart, everything is reconfigured…

Against a backdrop of unprecedented upheaval in the fashion industry, Première Vision invited Serge Carreira, an industry specialist and lecturer at Sciences Po in Paris, to outline the scope of the disruption, and describe some of the avenues pointing to the future.

How would you define the present moment?

We are witnessing a real revolution that extends far beyond the world of fashion. It’s a paradigm shift from a growth imperative to what is known as “inclusive prosperity”. It’s not about decreasing growth but about taking into account new criteria – environmental, societal, etc. – together with traditional financial imperatives. The idea is to find an economically viable model that incorporates more than just financial elements. The model is no longer limited to performance alone.

Today, there seems to be an overriding demand for eco-responsibility. How is this transforming the industry?

It’s a concern impacting our entire universe. Before, companies were interested only in their bottom-line performance, now they have to focus on sustainable development. This leads to limiting risks in terms of sustainability. It’s a transformation that must influence all stages, from raw materials to manufacturing processes, from more rational production processes to more limited supply chains, especially in terms of reducing carbon footprints. The most prestigious companies now have a huge opportunity, because they’ve reduced the outsourcing of their production. Fast fashion has further to go, as its share of responsibility is larger in terms of both volumes and structures. There is a massive awareness. What’s changed is that now we’ve entered a second phase, an action dynamic, following a period of reflection.

 

©Cody Cob

There’s talk of a risk of a slowdown in consumption, with the boom of upcycling and more reasoned purchasing decisions. Is this the trend of the future? 

It is not simply a trend, it is a groundswell, which goes hand in hand with a demand for novelty and immediacy. And there’s a paradox here, a dual and somewhat contradictory expectation, at least on the surface. On the one hand, there is a hunger for something new and, on the other hand, a quest for authenticity, quality and sustainability. We want something new, but it has to be meaningful. What brings meaning? A deep anchoring in lifestyles, with an openness to the world, an aesthetic and creative dimension. The craftsman helps to provide meaning in the same way a designer does. They both help address a need for transparency.

Yet in this context, fashion consumption continues to rise. Isn’t that also paradoxical?

New markets are opening up to fashion and driving consumer growth. But make no mistake about it, the problem in fashion isn’t so much consumption as it is overproduction. Unsold stocks of clothing are huge, and are currently estimated at more than half of total production. This isn’t just due to a gap between supply and demand, it’s also due to production blindly meeting growth and margin requirements. Today, it’s sometimes more profitable to produce 1,500 tee-shirts rather than 1,000, without a demonstrated ability to sell them. But here again, things are changing. The challenges being faced by some fast fashion chains are indicative of this changing approach.

 

What do you think of the boom in upcycling?

Re-using raw materials is one of the industry’s virtuous paths. The explosion of the second-hand market is highly indicative of a shift in consumer thinking. It represents a responsible commitment on their part. It also reflects a shift in their relationships to possessions. This is a major breakthrough. We are living in a moment of hedonistic immediacy. We want something now, but not necessarily to keep forever. These second-hand channels allow us to cede to temptation without guilt.

©John MacLean

How can brands best respond to this entirely new situation?

It’s not so much a matter of selling more, but of selling well, selling better. This new paradigm is disrupting the entire supply chain: raw materials, supplies, production facilities and distribution channels. Stores are becoming retail experiences, not just sales spaces. Because one answer to this search for meaning is to create an experience – an intangible but qualitative response that meets the need for well-being. There’s an identity side to clothing. More than ever, consumers need to feel in tune with a fashion house’s values. There has to be a certain harmony between the customer and the brand. There’s a need to feel part of not just one community but a multiplicity of complementary communities. They all contribute to creating the person as a whole, their identity. This dimension is a response to profoundly changing ties to family, social class, religion, etc. There’s less predestination and more self-determination.

Is the fashion industry aware of these issues? How is it approaching them? 

The success of Jacquemus is quite telling. It has created a universe and a fashion statement. It is a dense, plural, spontaneous and immediate universe. There’s instinct and authenticity, but also a pertinent and coherent development strategy and risk-taking. In response to a fashion world that cultivates snobbery and elitism, Jacquemus evokes a popular culture, the countryside, the South of France, free of any artifice. It engages in an arresting manner with its audience without limiting itself to clichés. Today, otherness is essential but it also has to be open-minded, find favourable interest. We have to offer meaning and embody essential values. Beyond the new codes, the big question here is the “soul”. That’s what creates a certain specificity in the eyes of others. Fashion is ephemeral, but fashion houses can withstand the test of time if they are situated in an authenticity that embraces collective aspirations. In my view, this is the sole key to success, and it points up the limitations of a dialogue focused on know-how. Which is essential – but we’re not looking for virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake. We need to build relationships. We have to mirror our surroundings with a perspective that’s both bold and relevant.

At the show, discover Smart Creation (Hall 3), the space dedicated to responsiblefashion and innovation, which brings together:

  • A selection of sustainable development and fashion tech specialists and services.
  • An index for eco-responsible and innovative products.
  • Talks and discussions around issues related to the fashion of tomorrow.
  • An exhibition on the theme of biomimicry.