The Ultra-Fast Killing Hand

Who would have thought that digital nativism and the cult of “immediate fashion” would combine to suck the marrow out of life? Fashion is meant to uplift, inspire, and enchant. Nonetheless, social hypocrisy, rapacious fashion trends, and a diabolically clever supply chain have intertwined to lead us into environmental and ethical disaster.
FASHION StylIST: Ksenia Sharonova Model: Vivicoxy Photographer: Kocmoc FASHION Designer: Kristina Schnaider MAKE-UP ARTIST: Vlada Kozachyshche Producer: Nastya Acid Photo assistant: Sergey Lobanov
When I was a child, my mother took me, eager-eyed and salivating, on my annual trip to an elegant department store to purchase my academic attire. The ferocious yet warm-hearted nuns, also known as “las pingüinas,” that ran my school were unyielding in their demand for buttoned-down shirts, grey trousers, and blue blazers. My only form of rebellion was to select peculiarly patterned ties and polo-style shirts in a hue of colors. Fashion trends took years to meander into the colonial world of provincial Mexico. There wasn’t a virtual idolization of rivals preening for the camera. Nor was there the instant gratification of knowing that vermillion and celadon were the must-have colors! I did it the old-fashioned way, by reading monthly magazines. Most of us share the comical memories of an awkward youth desperately trying to be accepted or perhaps a faux rebellious stand against “the man.” Today’s society may still have these yearnings, but now we can make a global spectacle of ourselves and induce millions to mimic each of us via our cunning digital prowess. Digital Nativism describes people who have grown up in exclusive contact with computers, the Internet, cellphones, tablets, and of course, social media. Imagine a child who has no reference to physical books or magazines. Their cute chubby little hands frustratingly swiping the pages of a Dr. Seuss book with their faces screwing up in utter outrage when the damned thing wrinkles instead of moving on. These so-called digital natives are now dominating how the contemporary fashion industry operates, and they are frog-marching the rest of us into a hypocritical, self-absorbed future. We have all seen how social media has lurched itself into our lives like the ubiquitous all-consuming zombie viruses so popular in entertainment. From the quaint origins of blogging and sites like MySpace, our society has created a monstrous medium that vomits out trends, conspiracies, opinions, lies, and truth through an ever-faster cycle. What is fascinating about social media today is that anyone can influence us, not just global monoliths or personalities, from the ancient vehicles of broadcast television and movies. By using techniques such as cross-posting, where info is referenced in a campaign across multiple sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, an unknown teenager in Yakutsk, Russia, or Deception Island, Antarctica can entice us to follow them. At times it is shocking to realize that, on average, 25% of all humans born since 1981 follow influencers on social media. We consume postings from all types of niches but especially from travel, fashion, and fitness. Multiple surveys assert that we use social media to follow only family and are used just as pure entertainment. I am supremely and hilariously dubious of these suspect claims. I contend we use social media to enhance ourselves and publicize the versions of us that we want the world to laud and applaud. We also use social media to spy while lurking in the shadows as we revel in the missteps of our rivals and especially our ex-loves. Who of us has never created alternate personas or used an incognito window to pleasure ourselves with the proof that our exes have indeed ended up morbidly obese and with hideous partners? Social media also allows us to explore and experiment with emotional and pragmatic advice to create the absolute best version of ourselves. An unrealistic version that is not only dressed in the latest trends but also constantly in motion, displaying whatever is new, unique, and “better.” Better is a relative term for most of us, and luckily with the proliferation of influencers, we can discover our niche and swim in the glowing warmth of self-justification for whatever behavior gives us selfish pleasure.
Irrespective of your niche, one of the most common attributes of contemporary “influencers” is their need to show or wear trendy clothes as quickly as possible and with almost no repetition. One of the most unapologetic, soul-sucking tribes of vampiric hypocrites that lead social media are the Kardashians. Yes, I immediately acknowledge their prophetic business acumen and Rumpelstiltskin-like ability to create gold from straw. Criticizing this family is frankly a fruitless effort. They have successfully identified a global, desperate yearning to not miss out on multiple experiences, the infamous and nefarious “FOMO.” Regardless of my envious distaste for these “Kardasians” and all their ilk, even I look in the mirror and breathlessly wish to be universally admired for being fashionable and for attending premier events to the envy of everyone else. I do not blame anyone for these alluring desires since it is human nature, and baby… look at the digital natives, they breathe and ache for this type of fame. People desire this strategy for fame; if for nothing else, than it works. It is a proven path for financial and societal success. Nonetheless, in my opinion, it is also significantly harmful to our community, the environment, and potentially all higher powers up to and including the Baby Jesus, Xochiquetzal Aztec Goddess of Sex, and St. Drogo, the patron saint of unattractive people. You may be asking yourself, back up a moment, hoss. How did we get from a flood of fame and attention seekers to St. Drogo getting even more grief? It is simply a matter of Demand and Supply. From ancient Tamilac teachings to juristic Islamic scholars, everyone acknowledges the idea that if people greatly desire to consume a product or service, then there will be someone else ready to supply their desires for a price. Today? Our intrepid digital natives want the infamy and renown that has been displayed like a fatted calf on a golden altar by social media influencers. Yet, it is not that easy to attain these goals; recent news and whispering gossip maintain that some supremely famous influencers spend up to USD 350,000 a month on powders, creams, vegan chefs, weaves, and physical trainers. And others sardonically contend that up to USD 2M is spent every couple of weeks on clothes. God forfend that we wear clothes more than once! The mere thought harrows up my soul, freezes my blood, and makes my knotted and combined locks to part with each hair standing on end like quills upon the fretful porentine! Okay, granted my head is bald and very shiny, but digital natives have a great fear of appearing stale and off-trend. We have created a culture that demands a constant, endless stream of fresh looks, fascinating locations, and costume changes to ensure our entire existence stays relevant. But what do you do if you are a simple country gal from Eyore, Indiana?? Doesn’t she deserve a chance to shine in the warm digital glow of the iPhone’s flashlight? Doesn’t a young herder from Kul, Uzbekistan get a chance to rock the central Asian plains with their latest take on Yeezy’s footwear? Yes, they do. So, to fulfill these heart-breaking screams for attention, a group of sly, serpentine companies has slithered into the fold and have supplied what is needed; they are the Ultra-Fast fashion purveyors. Two decades ago, Zara was considered revolutionary for offering hundreds of new items a week; nowadays, Shein and Asos, two highly successful ultra-fast fashion sellers, add as many as 7,000 items a week. Besides providing an unceasing parade of clothes with marginal quality, these companies sell their questionable products at eye-popping low prices and free shipping. Consequently, Shein has recently become the largest online-only retailer in the world. But at what cost is this ultra-fast access to cheap clothing? If you parse out the impacts, three significant areas are troublesome: intellectual property rights, labor abuse, and environmental pollution. Imagine yourself as a small or medium-sized fashion company or designer. After months of feverish thought, you have created an on-point garment that is the ultimate representation of your aesthetic. Then much to your horror, an ultra-fast “designer,” whose deep reach is global, places the exact same garment on their site, plus or minus some stitching. What can you do? Designers and companies of every size are affected by this practice. For example, AirWair International, maker of Dr. Martens’ distinctive footwear, filed a complaint against China-based online fashion company Shein, alleging IP infringement. According to reports from the Financial Times of London, Shein is accused of listing a “Martin Boot” on their site, as well as 20 other styles, sold at a fraction of a genuine Dr. Martens shoe. AirWair International has the financial resources to take legal action against IP infringement, but what about smaller designers or retailers? Shein racked up USD 10 billion in 2020 sales and is widely reported to have a valuation between USD 20 to 30 billion. David did beat Goliath, but according to Jesus, that occurred 3,000 years ago.
This is a small consolation to smaller and medium-sized fashion companies whose designs have been appropriated. Believe it or not, I do not consider Shein a villain. The company was first launched in 2008, selling wedding dresses and women’s clothing for western shoppers. It was founded by entrepreneur Chris Xu, who ironically stated that he wasn’t interested in fashion but instead specialized in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) marketing. Take a second to reflect on that scenario. A computer geek with a genius for digital marketing and no special flair or creativity for fashion has become wildly successful in providing our digital natives with cheap clothes. From a business perspective, we must admire Chris Xu and Shein for their insight to fulfill global demand and success. But in the meantime, Coco Chanel and Gucci are puking out their entrails in the hereafter. To be absolutely clear, ultra-fast companies steal ideas and trends not only from large companies but more tragically, from smaller to medium-sized designers. For the most part, fashion is excluded from the system that protects writers, filmmakers, painters, photographers, and jewelry designers. There are some European countries that do allow some form of intellectual property protection, but it is not consistent across Europe, which means each case can be interpreted differently. From the start of the creative process, technology can greatly assist designers in producing beautiful clothing and providing consumers with the ability to easily purchase online. But this same technology has also made it very difficult for designers to outwit copycats and achieve their justifiable profits. Emerging and independent designers are at particular risk since they do not have the funds to fight copyright infringement. Cellphones can be easily used by copycats to identify their victims at trade shows and in factories. Online runway shows also provide an inlet for fashion design to be replicated by others. Of course, this happened prior to the proliferation of modern technology, but never at this pace and depth. All of this occurs simply because of demand. Speed to market is essential to the success of ultra-fast companies, and their achievements rest on their flexible, insanely quick supply chain. The success of this supply chain is built on relatively cheap human labor and work environments that are lightly regulated. Many fast fashion companies, such as Boohoo or Fashion Nova, contract their cutting and sewing out to factories in other countries and manage smaller, more specialized supply chains in an overall process that is opaque and complicated. The fashion industry has a history of poor labor standards, and ultra-fast fashion is only making things worse. Some reports have documented instances of modern slavery, child labor, unsafe working conditions, and long hours with little pay. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign (cleanclothes.org), eighty percent of the garment industry’s workforce are women, and reports of sexual harassment and discrimination against pregnant women are common. Poor labor practices are not limited to countries such as Malaysia or Bangladesh, the UK and the US have significant numbers of garment workers paid less than half of the country’s minimum wage, all due to the sweatshop system.
Finally, apart from intellectual property and labor issues, ultra-fast fashion is a significant factor in accelerating the waste of natural resources and global pollution. The average American buys a new item of clothing every five days and generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year. In fact, McKinsey, a global strategic consulting firm, has estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for 4 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, emissions from textile manufacturing alone are projected to skyrocket by 60% by 2030. As digital natives consider purchasing their new outfits on a weekly or daily basis, they are enabling the waste of about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. Textile dyes are also the world’s second-largest polluter of water, while pesticides, widely used in cotton cultivation, contaminate soil and groundwater. With inadequate environmental safeguards, these chemicals can leak into waterways and pose massive health risks to farmers and workers, and their communities. You may think to yourself, well wait, if cotton is such an environmental waste, maybe I should focus on synthetic fabric? Unfortunately, synthetic fabrics are made from heavily processed petrochemicals. Nylon and polyester yarns are mostly produced by melting polymer chips or granules and then manipulating them to produce very long, fine filaments used for the yarn. Most clothes on the market contain plastic, which consequently makes the textile sector the largest user of plastic after packaging and construction, accounting for around 15% of plastic use. Creating all these clothes has resulted in some unbelievable, negative situations. For example, the Kpone landfill, which is located about 25 miles from Accra, the capital of Ghana, holds not only trash and plastic bags but also American-exported clothing that was donated away by our intrepid digital natives. The mountain of waste at Kpone is truly awe-inspiring, with a daily increase of 1,200 metric tons of trash added daily. In August of 2019, a portion of Kpone caught on fire with thick black smoke, and over the course of a week, the entire landfill would go up in flames. Sadly, in October 2019, the Ghanaian press reported that fires still smoldered and burned. The reason that Kpone and other landfills in Africa exist is because of the gross overproduction and undervaluing of garments. Every year, the U.S. exports more than a billion pounds of used clothing. We rarely consider what happens to our disposable clothes. Most Americans believe that donating their old clothes is a positive alternative to simply throwing the garments in the local garbage. But this is absolutely not the case. The truth is that there is not enough global demand for the massive quantities of secondhand, low-quality clothing we donate. As a result, our good intentions become costly, overwhelming waste, and an environmental nightmare for people living halfway around the world.
This increasing demand for disposable fashion has been the key factor in the rise of ultra-fast fashion companies and the negative consequences discussed. The Boohoo Group, a UK-based online fashion retailer, saw its profits double in 2017 and then again in 2018, resulting in revenues jumping 41% in the year to February 2021, rising from £1.23bn to £1.74bn. You may pick your jaws up from the floor. The Kamani family, who was integral in the founding of Boohoo, continues to make inroads in the fashion business, such as their relatively new subsidiary PrettyLittleThing, whose clothes are bolder with more body-con dresses, metallics and branding focused on young female internet influencers. These ultra-fast fashion companies are tightly linked to a celebrity-obsessed culture with their social-media marketing directly aimed at TikTokers, Instagram models, and YouTubers that are encouraged to post about the brands. So, it is a vicious circle-jerk with influencers chasing fame and ultra-fast companies insidiously pursuing influencers to offer up their clothes as a basis for creating a unique image. One of the ironies of this relationship is the hypocritical tears that influencers shed for the latest trendy activist topics like child labor abuse and global ecological breakdown. In the end, yes, these ultra-fast companies should be held accountable for many detestable practices, but as stated earlier, these entities are simply fulfilling the demands of digital natives. Cheap, plentiful clothing is not only here to stay, but the desire for them is also increasing exponentially. There are no easy answers, and it all starts with demand from our digital natives, who are preening for the camera all the while I cough up a lung looking like hell in my vintage 1-year-old Gucci sweater.