I will be presenting: “The Hunger: Nascent Realities of Dematerialized Fashion Design & Consumption” at the Re-Imagining Global Fashion Business: New Models, Values and Ideas Conference #RGFB2021 Thursday, July 22 2021, 9:30 am Toronto time (14.30 London)
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Ursula Franklin Photograph: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/memoriam-university-professor-emerita-ursula-franklin
Covid-19 has necessitated the exponential growth of an already powerful and aggressive new form of fashion retail: online device-based consumption. This virtualizing of fashion consumption has in turn dematerialized garments completely. This conference presentation focuses on the contemporary engagement with fashion within the digital realm. Although late to the party, the Canadian consumer engagement with online fashion has grown exponentially. Garments are now purchased before they are engaged with physically. Therefore, within the new realities of device-based, fashion design and consumption, the “WOW” factor and virtual considerations are paramount. In this research through observation of a garment that was virtual before it became physical—In fact, a handsome red plaid shirt; you can’t get more Canuck than that, eh!— the ascendant contemporary structure of modern fashion retail is also analyzed. The methods of procurement in addition to the physical characteristics of the object itself also undergo a close analysis; how we as consumers are shaped by our methods of consumption as much as by our goods now. The dematerialization of the modern “boutique” that has now migrated online, the incipient forms of marketing to engage consumers, and ultimately the re-contextualization of the body and understanding of the self, all catalyzed by online consumption are considered as well. This research uses an object-based method, a process wherein both intrinsic and extrinsic information can be gleaned from the close examination of a garment, this data is then combined with relevant theoretical frameworks adapted from such visionaries as Jean Baudrillard and Celia Lury to form “grounded theory”. One theorist has been particularly inspirational for this research and that is eminent Canadian physicist and technology theorist Dr Ursula Franklin who provided valuable insight into the processes wherein emergent technology and human behaviours enmesh within quotidian engagements. Described as one of Canada’s “most accomplished scientists and educators and one of its most renowned feminists and peace activists”. Franklin was a physicist working in metallurgy, and her research on Strontium-90 in baby teeth was “instrumental in achieving a moratorium on atmospheric nuclear weapons testing” and in 1967 she became the first female professor of materials science and engineering at U of T, and in 1984 became the first woman to receive the title of University Professor which is the highest academic rank at U of T (UToronto.ca). In her (brilliant) 1989 Massey College lecture series The Real World of Technology (1999), Franklin identified with remarkable prescience many important issues around technology and society salient to analysis of modern online fashion retail. Franklin stated of the adoption of nascent technologies that “Many technological innovations have been introduced in order to change the boundaries of human and social activities with respect to time and space” (194). Time and space have certainly been disrupted with the technological migration of the boutique, and this virtualizing of fashion has in turn dematerialized garments completely. Thus, the engagement is primarily with the technology and not the tactile. Franklin separated the definition of technological development and application into two distinct categories: prescriptive technologies and holistic technologies, noting they “involve distinctly different specializations and divisions of labor, and consequently they have very different social and political implications” (26). With online shopping it is the technology that is undoubtedly guiding the process and as such it falls into the first category. All of the mediating and directive aspects of technology that Franklin identified can be seen manifest within modern online retail which affords access to a nearly limitless selection of product; yet all within an environ that enforces “cultures of compliance” (125). The impacts of this are staggering as current models used for fashion manufacturing are deeply imbricated into transglobal “Fast Fashion” supply chains, a process extremely harmful to both workers and environment. All of which is veiled by the ephemeral interface of the online marketplace. There should be no surprise though that these garments align so closely with our taste, our consumption habits, and our life patterns, they have been designed to do exactly that.