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Computer says “buy”

In her article Fashion Has Abandoned Human Taste (The Atlantic, June 23rd, 2022), Amanda Mull analyses why all clothes look the same these days and explores the reasons why some trends that one would expect to be only temporary–like puffy sleeves–seem to become everlasting.

The reason for this phenomena Mull attributes to fast fashion and streamlined industrial reproduction. According to Mull it is only too easy to take a bunch of cheap dress or shirt designs that suit all kinds of silhouettes and pockets and attach a couple of puff sleeves to them. That’s the reason why “At a time when most fashion trends have gotten more ephemeral and less universal because of constant product churn” and despite the fact that there is now more consumer choice than ever, “so much of the clothing that ends up in stores looks uncannily the same.”

Basically, fast fashion has taken human creativity out of the equation. Those individuals full of ideas, with attention to detail and intuitions that worked as a sort of human trend detectors are out of fashion. Mull basically argues that, towards the end of the 1990s, computers, internet and increasingly more sophisticated data analysis techniques started to make trend prediction “more centrilized and data-reliant.”

The fast fashion model “uses cheap materials, low foreign wages, and fast turnaround times to bombard customers with huge numbers of new products”, which at the same time forces traditional labels, which used to take their time to create their collections, to keep pace with these accelerated competitors. Besides, fast fashion brands produce so quickly that they do not even need to predict trends, they just market-test and reproduce and keep reproducing that which sells.

According to Mull, in this interconnected world, fast fashion brands only need to trawl the net or copy the work of independent designers–as they do–to flood the market with cheap, slightly customised frocks. Over time, this results in homogenization: “At the top of the food chain, a designer has an interesting idea, and bigger, more efficient retailers don’t just copy it—they copy one another’s copies.”

fast fashion

Most interestingly, Mull raises the issue that as online shopping keeps growing, customers keep loosing touch with the garments they buy. Internet makes them look what they are not and buyers pay up front, so users end up attaching more value to the immediate pleasure of buying something new than to the clothes they actually buy, which probably will not even fit or suit them once they try them on.

Furthermore, these (probably mediocre and anodyne) garments that we buy because they are made to look of indispensable style will enter the sales algorithms which will keep offering customers the same styles on a loop. This is how markets get flooded with the same, lookalike products over and over, and that’s why Mull surprises us with her most revealing line in her conclusion, “Stores stock up on stuff you might not love, but which the data predict you won’t absolutely hate.”

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