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What does it mean to be relevant when fashion is not?

What values remain important when everything around us seems to fall apart?

Being relevant is the most unattainable yet seemingly necessary thing in life – or at least, in fashion. Because the system itself is founded on a fear of being irrelevant. That is how fashion sells. If consumers weren’t as scared of being left out, they wouldn’t put as much effort (or cash) into fitting in. Trends are the currency of our industry. But working behind the scenes doesn’t make it any less likely that you’ll internalize this logic.

“There’s a lot of hype all the time,” says Sinead O’Dwyer, a London-based designer. “In a way, everyone being hyped all the time makes it easier to just stick to my own path, though it’s still really hard not to look around and be like, ‘Why am I developing so slowly?’”

They say that the worst fears lie in anticipation, which makes sense considering fashion is constantly anticipating what’s next. Since fashion exists predominantly online at the moment, the fear of remaining relevant has only intensified. Why? Because whatever we see online, probably doesn’t exist the way we think it does. What we are seeing is influenced by culture, reverberating the need to constantly prove yourself, and to the people around you, that you are relevant.

“You can’t create something valuable if you’re driven by anxiety.” – Talia Byre

Talia Byre, who designs womenswear pieces from deadstock fabrics from Northern English Mills, agrees, “I struggle with social media and the quick pace of it all. I’m more interested in real-life connections, which you can get through social media. It’s just slightly different. It’s hard to see real longevity online.” Sinéad agrees, “You can’t create something valuable if you’re driven by anxiety. I try to stick with an urgency to make and create that comes from within and is inspired by the world and not limited by the pressures of social media.”

It’s easy to blame social media for this fear of being irrelevant when “hype” and “fashion” have morphed, both on- and offline. Demna Gvasalia from VETEMENTS and Balenciaga may just be the best example. As a concept, no one seems to really know whether or not VETEMENTS was really what it intended to be. This is because the people consuming it never seemed to really care. No one questions what makes fashion fashionable or luxurious anymore. The idea that Teddy Bear slippers and DHL T-shirts are presented next to python bags and taffeta gowns by Armani and Tom Ford probably makes Gvasalia laugh. The inspiration behind his collections might come from a dark, poetic place, but this gets lost somewhere along the way, as most e-commerce sites that sell his garments don’t include “this collection is inspired by our subconscious dependency on corrupted corporations” in the copy. Yet somehow, Balenciaga and VETEMENTS designs always fly off the shelves and are seen all throughout our Instagram feeds. Gvasalia has somehow managed to jinx fashion into becoming the exact machine that he criticises. Gvasalia is the perfect metaphor for hype in fashion.

In the wake of a pandemic fashion itself can feel pretty irrelevant.

Being in or out, that has always been the question. But that seems to change. In the wake of a pandemic fashion itself can feel pretty irrelevant. It’s increasingly difficult to justify the billions of garments produced, sold, and wasted as escapism. Suddenly, we find ourselves wondering if post-apocalyptic fashion will find a way to align with the necessary.

What values remain important when everything around us seems to fall apart?

“Being a slow-growing venture, I value longevity rather than being immediately relevant,” says Talia. “Instead of adhering to trend-driven fashion, I like to focus more on timeless design and pieces that you can wear again and again. Not just in your lifetime but pieces that you can pass on to your family or friends in another lifetime. Obviously, things go in and out of fashion in a grand scheme of things, but my ultimate aim is to have slow growth.”

Interestingly, the irrelevance of our industry has led to many young creatives questioning their own ambitions within it. “I guess in terms of the pandemic, it’s really made me think about longevity a lot more. Nobody needs anything right now… maybe you want something but there’s no need for anything so you really do have to think about the future and timelessness,” adds Talia. Everybody is questioning what really matters to them, and suddenly, being trendy isn’t a priority anymore. “Before covid maybe I was a bit frantic, I think surrendering to the unknown and limitations of a pandemic has made me reassess what I was placing importance on,” explains Sinéad.

Life is a lot easier to live when you do not live in fear of being irrelevant. Fashion can do wonders when it is not ridden with anxiety. The new rise in fashion resale could represent this change, our new infatuation with old it-bags and trends from the early 2000s emblematic of our need for nostalgia – once-coveted accessories that are outdated yet somehow still beautiful. “The best thing for me as a designer after this pandemic would be that people just have a lot more consideration for what they are buying, as a lot of the quick fixes we once had are not as accessible anymore,” Talia admits.

So, as the word fear embeds itself in our daily routines, not from fashion but from a pandemic – relevance should become easier to find. It’s found in the simplicity of small independent businesses and interpersonal connections.