By Margretta Sowah
I like clichés. I find there is a certain ambiance about them. I’m sure we’ve heard the usual ones like; you don’t know what you have til it’s gone, time heals all wounds, and my personal favourite, it is better to be safe than sorry.
My father is a Buddhist and I am a woman of faith, strengthened by my holistic household. This does not necessarily have any philosophical or religious relation to cliches; or why he insists on calling me Yoko even though I don’t look anything like the Japanese artist. What I remember about my childhood was my father reminding me ‘all that glitters is not gold’. We had a story time ritual. He would tell me tales with meaning – issues that were relevant at the time told in African folklore. I understood the fundamental basics of his statement. Not everything is as it appears. Don’t trust everything you see. Even salt looks like sugar, read one meme.
All that Glitters is Not Gold: “Not everything that is shiny and superficially attractive is valuable.”
I have always loved fashion because of the story showcased through form, function and fantasy. At any given moment the narrative can change – have dramatic flairs, emotional frills and surprising reactions. Going back to younger years I’ve always found myself drawn to bold and bright colours. But like most impressionable teenagers it took a few summers before I began ‘feelin myself’ #Formation. For this to happen I had to trust the process of growth and creative expression. So what does this have to do with glitter not being gold? To quote my other article Brand Perception; what we perceive, we believe.
When considering brands I lust for, only a few come to mind. As a Fashion Marketing graduate the career options are endless as you develop skill-sets. Internships are one of them. I have done my fair share of internships – one was at this very publication #shamelessworkplug. The previous ones were at established fashion houses. There was one particular brand (I will not name for privacy reasons) that was a personal achievement for me – to be in their head office, at their studio and flagship store. To sit with the ladies and see the concepts I had proudly promoted by spending many (many!) a penny on their whimsical yet fierce attire… with love. I was convinced we, brand C and I, had a deep emotional connection. I thought the concept matched my confidence. Brand C would represent me as classy and sassy. They fulfilled their promise. I felt great as a consumer but not as an industry insider. The marketing mix done well is almost as potent as a wish on a star – undeniable but unexplainable.
It seemed to me the problem was simple: I took too much stock in the emotional connection and perceived benefits I received through their clothing. This is not to say my appreciation was misplaced but in terms of basing my professional opinion in comparison to my personal opinion, yes. It was unsustainable. I remember a teacher of mine (lets affectionately call her S) explaining the process of a ‘marketing mix’ with this quote:
“Consumers don’t buy products or product attributes. They purchase benefits and emotional meaning.” -Theodore Levitt
This was my experience when referring to brand C. I wonder how many of us do this unconsciously. I wonder how many of us do this consciously. The Fashion industry feeds off social structures and cultural norms – they break rules but are fully aware of the rules. They hold them in high regard as a reference point (as do I); no matter if Fast Fashion, Mid-Range, High-End, Luxury, Couture and all the channels between. The industry values its ambassadors – the ‘it girl’, the trendsetter, the model on the runway. This industry needs relatable representation to sell the dream.
When I read articles on skinny-shaming, fat-shaming, gender-shaming, financial-shaming (oh yes, you know when you walk in a store and there are no price tags on any items? As if to say, ‘if you are not prepared for the prices we are not prepared for the service.’), I wonder if Vogue, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar or Marie Claire will ever run out of content.
The industry and society is riddled with the issue of COMPARISON and PERFECTION. We all strive for a state of control where we are pleased with our efforts – perfection; and we all fall into the trap of praising other people’s blessings instead of honestly focusing on our own – comparison. These two issues make for a mean feast of insecurity. Is this what we want fashion to be thought of? I remember catching up with my then-partner and his old friends. I got to chatting with a woman in her mid/late 30s. She asked me what I did. I excitedly explained I was studying Fashion Marketing. She freely scoffed before saying; “fashion is so fickle and self-absorbed. I think it’s fake and frivolous”. I remember staring at her for several moments. Self-absorbed? Fake? Did I mention she was wearing a BRIGHT fluro yellow body-con KOOKAI dress? Girl bye.
This is the problem. Fashion has the power to transform like no other commodity. It has the ability to be political, radical, severe, soft whimsical, poetic but never unimportant. It has the ability to change lives and societies. It is a reflection of souls and cultures and should never be apologetic. We can’t deny it is a mirror to society, serving to show us how we can be democratic and inclusive (in terms of different styles and subcultures) yet highly selective and haughty. It is frustrating when society tends to agree with the glitz and slits of fashion but will not extend those thoughts to value the concept or vision. It is definitely challenging to be a creative of any kind as we progress into the future. I began to ask myself, can you love the story but hate the message?
To sum up my ‘open letter’: it is easy to place products, people or places on a pedestal in our emotional psyche because they evoke a mood within us. Is there anything wrong with that? No, but we definitely shouldn’t base our decisions on subjective feelings or ‘perceived benefit’ (confidence, connection, security of identity, approval) of a product, service, advertisement or slogan. At the end of the day Fashion is here to fulfill a need and, like any other industry, this is implemented through discourses by discretion and influence.
We need this industry. We need representation. We need fantasy. We need form and function. We need issues to dissect and discover again and again with new eyes. There is a tangible goal that needs to be achieved – image positivity and self-love, with products and services being a means to an end.
They say fortune favours the bold, but does glitter give you gold? No, but it will definitely give you something pretty to look at. And hey, that’s worth a bit of a nibble of the carrot.