Over the last few days, I’ve read some articles with good and bad moral news for the fashion industry. For example, young Chinese consumers of luxury care less about the artisanal background to a product and more about the sales experience (https://jingdaily.com/chinese-millennials-the-future-of-luxury-brand-experience/). Sales can be carefully and beautifully wrought, and all to the good, but there is something deeply disappointing about the crafts people being under appreciated. Not only disappointing, but immoral (V&R Chapter5). Adam Smith would not be surprised — the spectator is typically superficial (V&R, Chapter 4).
Happily, there is another trend which pushes back against this. In an article about brand credibility, there is a consensus that young consumers in the West demand clear value commitments from a brand. One observer of the industry argues that companies that do most stuff in-house and can demonstrate the care they take of staff throughout the production process will be beneficaries (https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/cultural-credibility-brands/). Benedict strongly welcomes this development (V&R Chapter 3). Further evidence that this is a trend is found in an article promoting their care of workers put out by Old Navy at BOF (https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/careers/at-old-navy-optimising-for-positive-impact).
One of the conundrums about fashion that I most enjoy is its mock-epic quality. Mock-epic plays on the unexpected coming together of divergent categories. Most people in fashion are liberal progressives and take fashion seriously as an agent of subversion and transformation, but, time and again, fashion returns to conservative principles. A nice example is Burberry’s return to their origins (https://metro.co.uk/2018/08/06/burberry-rebranded-new-monogram-pretty-epic-7802313/) and their founder (https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=burberry+commercial+about+thomas+burberry).
A more startling case of a brand going against the spirit of the age is this gloss on the gaining-steam concept of personalization. Beauty companies are asking customers for detailed surveys so they can make bespoke products particular to the customer’s skin and hair condition/experience. This return to bespoke is predicated on an insight: “Choice overwhelms people, and studies have shown that people don’t respond well to too much choice,” Goldsmith explains. Personalization is a way out of that.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/06/special-orders-dont-upset-us/591367/). The boon for companies is that they don’t actually have to carry a vast range of products and help consumers navigate the array.
The irony of this approach in an egalitarian and democratic age can hardly be overstated. Morally, personalization is an ambiguous good. On the one hand, the focus on persons must be good (Pope Francis agrees! V&R Chapter 2). On the other, it is accomplished by algorithms — and make-up companies quickly sell your data (http://www.ethicsoffashion.com/fashions-demonology/).
As ever with the ethics of the fashion industry, the occlusion of persons is at stake.