The fashion industry is a multibillion-dollar global sector focused on the production and retail of clothing. Some analysts make a distinction between the garment industry, which creates “mass fashion,” and the fashion industry, which creates “high fashion,” but by the 1970s, these distinctions were becoming less clear.
The simplest definition of fashion is the type(s) of clothing and accessories that individuals or groups of individuals choose to wear at any particular period.
The high-end designer clothes displayed on Parisian or New York City catwalks may not look the same as the mass-produced sportswear and streetwear found in global markets and malls.
The design, production, distribution, marketing, retailing, advertising, and promotion of all kinds of clothing (for men, women, and children) are all included in the fashion industry, from the most exclusive and pricey haute couture (literally, “high sewing”) to regular, everyday items like lingerie and sweatpants.
The more general term “fashion industries” is occasionally used to describe a wide range of businesses and services that serve millions of customers worldwide.
The contemporary era is what gave rise to the fashion business. Before the middle of the 19th century, almost all clothing was produced specifically for each person, either at home or on-demand from dressmakers and tailors.
With the development of new technologies like the sewing machine, the rise of global capitalism, the growth of the factory system of production, and the proliferation of retail establishments like department stores, clothing had increasingly come to be mass-produced in standard sizes and sold at fixed prices by the beginning of the 20th century.
Although the fashion business originated in Europe and America, it has now become a worldwide, highly globalized sector. Clothes are frequently created in one nation, produced in another, and then sold in a third.
For instance, a U.S.-based fashion brand may purchase fabric from China, have the garments made in Vietnam, have the finishing touches added in Italy, and then have the finished products delivered to a U.S. warehouse for distribution to retail stores abroad.
One of the biggest jobs in the United States for a long time and it still is in the twenty-first century is the fashion sector.
However, employment significantly decreased as production shifted more and more overseas, particularly to China.
A global production estimate of textiles and clothing is difficult to find because data on the fashion industry are normally reported for national economies and expressed in terms of the industry’s numerous distinct segments.
However, it is undeniable that the industry represents a considerable portion of global economic activity by any standard.
There are four layers to the fashion industry: the manufacturing of raw materials, primarily fibers and textiles but also leather and fur; the creation of fashion goods by designers, manufacturers, contractors, and others; retail sales; and various forms of advertising and marketing.
These levels are made up of a variety of distinct but interconnected sectors, all of which are committed to meeting customer demand for garments while preserving the ability of industry players to make a profit.
Key sectors of the fashion industry
1. Textile Design and Production
Textiles are used to create the majority of clothing. One of the early successes of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century was the partial automation of the spinning and weaving of wool, cotton, and other natural fibers. These procedures are now carried out by highly automated, quick machinery.
Fabrics used in clothing are produced by a sizable portion of the textile industry.
Both natural fibers (such as wool, cotton, silk, and linen) and synthetic fibers (like nylon, acrylic, and polyester) are employed. The usage of eco-friendly fibers like hemp has increased as a result of a growing interest in sustainable fashion, sometimes known as “eco-fashion.”
High-tech synthetic fabrics may drain away moisture (like Coolmax), resist stains (like 303 High Tech Fabric Guard), retain or release body heat, and offer protection from fire, weapons (like Kevlar), cold (like Thinsulate), ultraviolet radiation (like Solarweave), and other dangers. Through the use of dyes, weaving, printing, and other manufacturing and finishing techniques, fabrics can be created with a broad variety of effects.
To design fabrics with colors, textures, and other attributes that anticipate customer desire, textile makers collaborate with fashion forecasters well before the clothes production cycle.
2. Fashion Design and Manufacturing
Few fashion designers, such as Coco Chanel or Calvin Klein, who produce exceptional high-fashion collections, whether couture or prêt-à-porter (“ready-to-wear”), have historically achieved fame as “name” designers.
Contrary to popular assumption, these designers have a significant impact on defining fashion trends, but they do not impose new trends; instead, they work to create clothing that will appeal to consumers.
The vast majority of designers work anonymously for manufacturers as members of design teams, transforming current trends into clothes that can be sold to regular people.
Designers are influenced by a variety of things, such as active sportswear, street styles, and costumes from movies and television.
For the majority of designers, computer-assisted design processes have supplanted or replaced more traditional design procedures like drawing sketches on paper and drapeing fabric on mannequins.
These enable designers to quickly alter the silhouette, fabric, trimmings, and other aspects of a suggested design and give them the opportunity to instantly discuss the proposed modifications with colleagues, whether they are in the same room as them or on a different continent.
Only a tiny fraction of designers and producers create cutting-edge high-fashion clothing.
Even fewer (primarily in Paris) manufacture haute couture. Most manufacturers create affordable or moderately priced clothing.
Most businesses depend on independently owned manufacturing companies or contractors to make the clothing according to the fashion company’s standards, however other businesses employ their own production facilities for some or all of the manufacturing process.
Manufacturers in the women’s clothing industry often create a number of product lines (collections) each year, which they then supply to retailers at specific times of the year.
Even more regularly, certain “fast fashion” producers release new products. Planning a line and creating the designs involves the entire product development team.
To show samples to retail purchasers, the materials (fabric, linings, buttons, etc.) must be located, ordered, and procured.
The transformation of the clothing design into a pattern that comes in a variety of sizes is a crucial step in the garment-making process. Patterns can’t just be consistently scaled up or down from a basic template because the human body’s proportions change as weight fluctuates.
A traditionally highly skilled occupation, pattern creation. Despite advancements in computer programming in the early 21st century, it is challenging to alter larger designs for every figure.
No of the size, the fabric is cut into the parts that will be connected to construct a garment according to the pattern, which may be written on paper or programmed as a set of computer instructions. Fabric is cut using computer-guided knives or powerful lasers that can cut multiple layers of fabric at once for all but the most expensive clothes.
The assembling of the garment is the next step in the manufacturing process. The advent of computer-guided machinery and other technological advancements led to the automation of several garment assembly processes in this area as well.
Nevertheless, stitching is still a labor-intensive operation at its core.
This puts unstoppable pressure on apparel manufacturers to locate their operations in low-wage areas where there are frequent problems with workplace safety and labor exploitation.
Up until the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of 1911, which led to increased unionization and regulation of the industry in the United States, New York City’s fashion industry was dominated by sweatshops that were situated on the Lower East Side.
Due to its low labor costs and highly organized workforce, China became the world’s largest producer of clothes in the late 20th century.
Clothes that have been assembled go through a variety of steps known as “finishing.” These include the addition of ornamental components (beading, embroidery), buttons and buttonholes, hooks and eyes, snaps, zippers, and other fasteners; hems and cuffs; and brand-name labels and other labels (often legally required) specifying the fiber content, washing instructions, and country of manufacture. Following pressing, finished items are packaged for shipping.
Following World War II, importing nations severely restricted the trade in textiles and clothing by imposing quotas and tariffs. Beginning in the 1980s, these protectionist restrictions that were eventually unsuccessful in halting the transfer of the textile and apparel industry from high-wage to low-wage nations were gradually dropped.
Under the regulatory auspices of the World Trade Organization and other international regulatory bodies, they were replaced by a free-trade strategy that acknowledged the competitive advantage of low-wage countries as well as the advantage provided to consumers in rich countries by the availability of highly affordable clothing.
Production may now be tightly correlated to market conditions even over vast distances thanks to the development of containerization and reasonably priced air freight.
For commercial and statistical purposes, underwear and other accessories like shoes and purses are typically not included in the garment business, but they are nonetheless strongly related to it.
Similar to clothing, accessories come in a variety of price points, from high-end luxury goods to low-cost mass-produced goods.
Similar to clothing manufacturing, accessory production frequently occurs in low-wage areas.
High-end accessory manufacturers, particularly those that make handbags, face intense competition from knockoffs, which are frequently made in the same factories as the original products using subpar materials.
The introduction of containerization and reasonably priced air freight also made it possible for production to be closely correlated with market conditions even over vast distances.
The production and distribution of accessories like shoes and handbags as well as underwear are closely related to the fashion industry, despite the fact that they are typically not included in the clothes industry for trade and statistical purposes.
Similar to clothing, a wide range of products are made for accessories, from high-end luxury goods to low-cost mass-produced items. Similar to the manufacturing of clothing, accessory production frequently occurs in low-paying contexts.
High-end accessory manufacturers, notably those who make handbags, face stiff competition from knockoffs, or fake products that are sometimes made in the same facilities as the real thing but with subpar components.
Despite being forbidden by a number of international agreements, the trade in these knockoff goods is challenging to regulate. Name-brand producers lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year as a result.
3. Fashion Retailing, Marketing, and Merchandising
After the clothing has been created and produced, it must be sold.
However, how will clothing travel from the maker to the consumer? Retail refers to the industry of purchasing clothing from producers and selling it to consumers.
Three to six months prior to the buyer being able to purchase the clothing in-store, retailers make first purchases for resale.
Fashion marketing is the act of controlling the flow of merchandise with the aim of maximizing a company’s sales and profitability, from the initial selection of designs to be made to the display of products to retail buyers.
The understanding consumer desire and responding with the relevant products are essential for successful fashion marketing.
Marketers inform designers and producers about the kind and quantity of things to be created through sales tracking data, media attention, focus groups, and other methods of gathering consumer preferences. Therefore, marketers are in charge of determining the target market for a fashion company and reacting to their preferences.
Both the wholesale and retail levels of the market are active. Companies that don’t retail their own goods must sell those goods to retailers like boutiques, department stores, and online sales companies at wholesale costs.
To find a good fit between the clients of the store and the items of the manufacturer, they use fashion shows, catalogs, and a sales force equipped with samples of the products.
For businesses that do offer their own items at retail, product compatibility with their own consumer base is of utmost importance to marketers. Marketing includes promotional efforts including print and other media advertising at both the wholesale and retail levels with the goal of building brand awareness and reputation for various traits like quality, affordability, or trendiness.
Merchandising, which aims to increase sales and profitability by persuading customers to buy a company’s items, is closely tied to marketing.
Selling the correct product, at the right price, at the appropriate time and location, to the right customers is the definition of merchandising as it is commonly used.
Thus, fashion merchandisers must rely on marketers’ knowledge of consumer preferences when making decisions about things like stocking appropriate merchandise in sufficient but not excessive quantities, offering items for sale at enticing but still profitable prices, and marking down overstocked items. By using store windows, in-store displays, and special promotional activities, merchandisers can present their products in an appealing and approachable way.
Merchandising experts must be able to swiftly acquire new stocks of the desired product in order to meet spikes in demand.
An automatic order for a given quantity of clothes of a specific sort and size to be delivered in a matter of days can be sent to a production facility in Shanghai by inventory-tracking computer software in a department shop in London, for instance.
Early in the twenty-first century, the Internet had grown to be a significant retail outlet, posing new problems (such as the inability of customers to try on clothing before buying it, the need for facilities designed to handle clothing returns and exchanges), as well as providing merchandisers with new opportunities (e.g., the ability to provide customers with shopping opportunities 24 hours per day, affording access to rural customers).
Merchandising has become one of the pillars of the contemporary fashion business in an era of expanding shopping options for consumers and fierce price competition among stores.
4. Fashion Shows
In addition to merchants (such as fashion buyers), media (such as fashion journalists), and direct customers, fashion designers and manufacturers also market their products to the media.
Paris couture houses started allowing their clientele to examine the newest looks privately as early as the late 19th century.
Starting in the first decade of the 20th century, department stores and couture companies both frequently staged fashion shows with top models. Ready-to-wear designers in other nations started staging fashion presentations in the same way as Parisian couturiers did, for an audience that included buyers, journalists, and private clientele.
Fashion shows played a bigger part in the introduction of new designs in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as they evolved into elaborate theatrical events conducted in larger settings with elevated runways (“catwalks”) specially built for the models.
Fashion shows had become a regular fixture of the fashion calendar by the early twenty-first century.
The official syndicate of couture designers, which consists of the most upscale and expensive fashion houses, hosts two couture shows a year in Paris (in January and July). These shows feature clothing that might be ordered by potential customers but are frequently intended to display the designers’ opinions on current fashion trends and brand image.
Shows of ready-to-wear clothing,
During spring and fall “Fashion Weeks,” of which the most significant take place in Paris, Milan, New York, and London, separate presentations of both men’s and women’s clothing are held. On the other hand, there are dozens of different fashion weeks worldwide, from Tokyo to So Paolo.
These events, which are far more significant commercially than the couture shows, are primarily targeted at buyers for department stores, wholesalers, and other significant markets as well as fashion journalists.
Fashion shows, which receive extensive media coverage, both reflect and push the direction of change in the industry.
Instantaneously broadcast images and recordings of fashion shows are used by mass-market manufacturers to create cheap clothing that is either a direct copy of or an inspiration for runway designs.
5. Media and Marketing
All forms of media are crucial to the marketing of fashion. In the latter half of the 18th century, specialized fashion publications first appeared in France and England.
Fashion periodicals like the French La Mode Illustrée, the British Lady’s Realm, and the American Godey’s Lady’s Book multiplied and thrived in the 19th century.
Fashion magazines, which publish articles, hand-colored illustrations (known as fashion plates), and advertisements, along with other innovations like the sewing machine, department stores, and ready-to-wear clothing made in standard sizes, contributed significantly to the modern era’s democratization of fashion.
Fashion photography and extensively illustrated fashion publications like Vogue grew in popularity as a result of the early 20th-century development of efficient and affordable techniques for reproducing photos in print media. Rapidly, magazine advertising took over as the fashion industry’s main marketing strategy.
People from all over the world can now watch fashion displays and copy the celebs’ styles thanks to the development of newsreels, short films of current events, and the growth of television.
The Internet era saw the dominance of visual media continue, with fashion blogs becoming a more significant channel for the dissemination of fashion news.
Celebrities get the chance to be photographed wearing designer clothing at red-carpet events like award ceremonies, giving the designers important publicity.
6. World Fashion
Today, the majority of people wear what can be called “global fashion,” a condensed and extremely affordable version of Western attire, frequently consisting of a T-shirt and pants or a skirt.
In addition, there are several smaller, more niche fashion sectors that serve certain national, regional, ethnic, or religious markets throughout the world.
The design, manufacture, and marketing of saris in India and boubous in Senegal are two examples.
On a smaller, regional basis, these industries coexist with the global fashion industry.
The widespread adoption of the hijab (religiously suitable attire) by Muslim women in the early twenty-first century, not only in the Middle East but also throughout the Islamic world, was a notable advance in the subject of ethnoreligious dress.
Veiling standards and fashions vary widely because there are millions of Muslim women living in different nations worldwide.
For some people, veiling entails a complete exclusion from the ups and downs of fashion. Other ladies, notably those for whom modest clothing is required in public, might put on chic European fashions under their more traditional street clothes.
Others have aimed for appearances that are stylish yet understated.
The market for modest clothing was expanding internationally at the start of the twenty-first century.
A growing number of suitable and fashionable styles were created by Muslim and non-Muslim designers, and a large number of fashion blogs and magazines specifically for Muslim women were made available.
As seen by efforts to create modest yet functional swimwear and sportswear for Muslims, certain designers and producers faced not just the aesthetics of modest apparel but also the practical issues involved with the conservative dress.
7. The Fashion System
The “fashion system,” which includes the business of fashion as well as the art and skill of it, as well as not only production but also consumption, is a bigger social and cultural phenomenon that includes the fashion industry.
In addition to the individual consumer who chooses, purchases, and wears clothing as well as the language and visuals that influence how customers think about fashion, the fashion designer is a significant factor.
All the elements involved in the entire process of fashion transformation are part of the fashion system. Some aspects of fashion, which involve variety for the sake of novelty, are inherent (e.g., when hemlines have been low for a while, they will rise).
Other elements are outside (e.g., major historical events such as wars, revolutions, economic booms or busts, and the feminist movement).
Individual trendsetters like Madonna and Diana, Princess of Wales, as well as changes in lifestyle like the introduction of new sports like skateboarding in the 1960s and music all, contribute to the development of trends (e.g., rock and roll, hip-hop).
Fashion is a complicated social phenomenon that involves a number of sometimes competing motivations, including the need to both express one’s individuality and to belong to a group, as well as the desire to both follow fashion icons and defy convention.
In order to satisfy any consumer’s desire to embrace or even to reject fashionability, however that term may be defined, the fashion business must be diversified and adaptable enough to do so.
Photo Credit Cynthia Kimathi
Content courtesy of Britannica & NFH