Who am I? And will this piece of clothing help me to express that?
Before I start wondering if the fashion retail industry is ethical, I want to begin with the question of personal identity.
Where does your identity come from? I know some of you will already have ideas about this. However, I want you to start thinking about how our clothes make up our identity. Once we have established this, it will help us to understand our own viewpoint of the Fashion Retail Industry and whether or not we truly practice what we preach about ethics.
Within this industry there is a large focus upon identity and who people are. Rittenhouse (2013:44) argues that “In consumerism, personal identity is spatially and temporally discontinuous”. There is a sense, from Rittenhouse’s argument, that it is possible to lose one’s true identity as identity is sought from elsewhere, which can be revealed (or created) through wearing certain brands or copying another’s style. As Tiplady (2003:35) states, “This is the key theme of much marketing in the West – whatever suits ‘you’. Personal individuality, and customization to that individuality, is the order of the day”.
People long to create an image that is different to everyone else’s. Today, it appears, people have control of their identity. They can choose what brands they wear and how to wear them. Individuals should be able to create an identity that differs to everyone else, but when a large group of people are exposed to the same marketing campaign, it often appears that their identities overlap with various similarities. Smith (2009:99) states, regarding shopping, that “we come with a sense of need (given our failure to measure up to its iconic ideals), and the mall promises something to address that”. What people understand as being missing in their life, they can purchase within a store. What happens we a large number of people buy the same thing? Have we lost our own individual identities?
I am not going to lie. I love certain brands and when a new product is released I am there ordering it. They are a key player when it comes to identity – especially within Western Society. Today most products come with a branded name and this name is often what influences a person on whether or not they should buy a particular item (Thompson, 2014:26).
Chan (2010:188) states “Young people perceive people with a lot of branded goods as happy and having more friends”, which highlights that young people are potentially most at risk of becoming consumed with defining an identity through brands. For young people growing up within this generation, Behrer and Van den Bergh (2011:95) understand that young people want cool brands and that their choice of brand is influenced through “friends, TV, magazines, advertising and music festivals”, and they continue by emphasising that “Music artists are much cooler than movie actors”. I understand how easy it is to be influenced by what our favourite celebrity is wearing, and which shops they endorse.
Identity is important and the clothes we wear reveal something about us to other people. How do we therefore respond to this industry that has such an impact on our own identity, without compromising our ethical values? Over the next few months I will be looking at a few of Stephen Bevans Models of Contextual Theology to come up with an appropriate response.
Former student president
Behrer M and Van den Bergh J (eds), 2011, How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding to Generation Y, London: Kogan Page
Chan KKW, 2010, Youth and Consumption, Kowloon: City University of Hong Kong Press
Rittenhouse BP, 2013, Shopping for Meaningful Lives: The Religious Motive of Consumerism, Oregon: Cascade Books
Smith J, 2009, Desiring the Kingdom, Michigan: Baker Academic
Thompson D, 2014, ‘Turning Customers into Cultists’, in Atlantic Vol. 315, Issue 5, pp.26-32.
Tiplady R, 2003, World of Difference, Cumbria: Paternoster Press