High Fashion’s Controversial Relationship With Poverty

The luxury fashion industry has always been notoriously known for being in a price range that is only suitable for individuals within a particular socioeconomic group. $800 for a pair of jeans is obviously not affordable for most, but what about when the inspiration for a collection comes from the street? Modern-day streetwear brands, specifically Balenciaga, take inspiration from the styles of people living below the poverty line and exploit their need-based looks to send collections down the runway that further the economic gap plaguing America’s classist society.

Luxury fashion has always guiltily admitted to being elitist, and that has always kept people from criticizing the industry for being geared to the groups of people that can afford it. However, Demna Gvasilia’s attempt to place Balenciaga on a pedestal for acquiring inspiration from the people who cannot afford his creations in an attempt to make fashion more socially aware blindly ignores the elitist quality that has been a part of the industry since it began.

Although fashion’s tendency to draw inspiration from people outside of a targeted consumer audience to cater to the wealthy is nothing new, the problem continues to get worse as street style evolves. It hasn’t always been the trend to look like you paid $2 for a shirt at Goodwill that is actually on a mannequin in SoHo for $500. The early 2000s saw style icons, such as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, unwilling to be caught dead in an ensemble that did not noticeably cost less than $5,000. This influence trickled down just as it does now, but the trends have evolved. Now, modern style icons cultivate their style in a way that will appeal to Instagram followers who are obsessed with the “Balenciaga aesthetic.”

Trends are always changing, and it looks like streetwear is headed in a direction that only makes this problem worse. The fashion industry is only adding to the problem of gentrification in previously low-income neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Rent will probably go up when there is a new organic market on every corner, and Alexander Wang is having a fashion show in the middle of the street every September. From the ironic purchase of land widely populated by homeless people to build a Whole Foods, to the infamous “grunge” trend, it is all interconnected. There are many factors that make poverty in America so difficult to escape and fashion is one of them.

All the blame cannot be placed on luxury– however, this subtle way of asserting socioeconomic stance can be seen in fast fashion brands as well. That is arguably even more problematic given the production methods of fast fashion and the styles that have been taken from the lifestyles of the underprivileged.

Either way, the fashion industry has to make an effort to bridge the gap between their small intimate group of consumers and the masses that they are exploiting for monetary gain. There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from different walks of life, but there is something wrong with pretending that their obstacles are being fairly represented. In order for fashion to be totally inclusive, race, gender and socioeconomic origins need to be properly represented.

 

Photo: Kris Atomic

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