Does the world need another clothing brand?
How about ones with a conscience?
In 2002, when I co-founded rag & bone, the brand landscape was fundamentally a very different place. There was no social, no e-comm, very little blogging, and the offering was limited to streetwear, main street and luxury. The were no heritage or niche speciality brands, the contemporary fashion sector was non existent and overall the menswear market was fairly barren. And to discover new brands we were limited to magazines, our local stores (which there weren't many of) and the good old word of mouth.
The premium denim movement had just started to take off and that introduced a new concept to us all, the idea of US made, premium fabrication and a return to ways of old with a value proposition that made a lot of sense to us at the time, even though the jump in price was considerable to what we were all used to.
When we started rag & bone we wanted to make great jeans in the US, from Japanese fabrics and return to that thing we have all come to love, heritage. There was a tangible thirst for new product that had the back story of history, provenance and quality. It was a very unique time and one that probably won't happen again.
Over the last 15 years, we have witnessed a transformation in the brand landscape. It has literally exploded with the birth of e-comm and social, in particular Instagram. Today, it seems that anybody can launch and sell a clothing line. That doesn't dismiss the fact that along with restaurants and movies, it's probably one of the hardest things to accomplish, but nonetheless the opportunity to do so is far greater than ever before. The point is all the platforms are there to market, sell, promote and thrive on a global level...instantly.
But with all this access, there has come excess...and tons of it. I always celebrate the idea creativity, individuality and expression, but how many pairs of jeans or types of t-shirt can we look at and consume! At some point does it all start to look the same and differentiating between one brand or another is becoming harder and harder.
The excess aspect is what drove me to start Double Eleven in 2014. I was tired of seeing the insane amounts of waste and consumption generated by the clothing industry and the enormous footprint it leaves on our planet. In the past, my eyes were closed, in fact it was not even a real conversation piece at that time; that what we are consuming and disposing of as an industry was unsustainable and teeing up a potential environmental disaster. There were some people taking this seriously at the time, Patagonia being the leader, but the overwhelming majority of the fashion industry was carrying on as if the consumption rate was part of commerce and there was no need to address the System of fashion.
The excess of materials and waste was obviously due to the increase in the volume of clothing being produced and consequently consumed. H&M opened their first American store in 2000. Until then fast fashion hadn't really existed in the American psyche, but it instantly melded and erupted. It made sense and still does, we're human after all, who doesn't want cheap, fashionable new clothes on a regular basis. But it came at a huge cost. In 2016, H&M sold $25 Billion worth of cheap clothes globally...that's a lot of clothing...and waste and resources.
H&M are one of the few Goliath fast fashion players, but underneath these giants, we have witnessed an explosion of brands offering every single possible item of clothing, at every single price category that we will ever need from here until eternity. You name it you can buy it. So with all these offerings is there room for any more brands?
I honestly don't think so, certainly not brands that go about things the same old way, design, consume, produce, sell, every 3-6 months over and over again. It's admirable that brands can even get out the starting gate and trade, but it's the behind the scenes aspect that fundamentally needs to be addressed. I'm talking about all the stuff that happens in the design stage, the part about how we actually go about making these things. The method and the ingredients. The food movement has certainly shined a light on the importance of where our ingredients come from and how they came to be. Now it's time for the fashion industry to do the same. It's not the job of you the consumer to have to do the homework, it falls entirely on the responsibility of the designer or brand to make the changes at a root level and in turn educate or lead through example, its customers and peers. Otherwise, without sounding alarmist, the system will implode, because at this rate what we are buying and how it is manifesting itself, is entirely unsustainable and the future generations are the ones who will feel the wrath of Mother Earth when she decides enough is enough.
We're humans, we will continue to consume. In my humble opinion, it's now about how do we consume more responsibly. It doesn't have to mean bleak compromise, it doesn't mean wearing a halo, far from it, it's a simple reconfiguration, realignment and rethink, from the industry in order for it to become the norm. We have the means, the intelligence and the creativity to structure things in a way that means you won't even be able to tell the difference between things made the old way and the new way. That's the art of it. But unless we the industry take note, stand up and make change (and there are many of us already doing so), the products we have all come to love will start to take on a whole new patina once we start seeing the implications of reckless practices.
So to answer the question, no, the world doesn't need another clothing brand unless it's doing something to resolve it's sourcing, supply chain, consumption and waste processes. Otherwise it's just part of the problem and not part of a longterm solution, which frankly is what a new brand should now stand for in the 21st Century.