Fast fashion – British men to lead solution to a global problem

"This is nice - it will look perfect in landfill"

1 April 2019

By Neil Patrick

Clarkson, Clegg and Facebook unite to clean up... 

Fast fashion is a big problem. According to the latest news, on average, people wear clothes just two and a half times before throwing them out. I am still trying to figure out how you can wear something half a time, but I’ll let you know after I’ve carried out some experiments.

Anyway I must be a statistical outlier - if I throw something out, it is likely only because I have spilled creosote all over it and the stains look like something unspeakably horrible has happened to me.

Fashion has been getting faster and faster for years. The fashion industry has created ever shorter cycles - winter and summer seasons have been replaced with lines which change every week or so. The original fashion put-down of ‘that’s so last year’ has become ‘that’s so last week’.

This is all made possible through the outsourcing of manufacture to factories in the third world with low pay, child labour and terrible working conditions. And the insatiable fashion addiction of millions. Fast fashion is to the planet what fast food is to health.

The environmental impact of making just one T-shirt is frightening. It uses enough water for one person to drink for two and a half years. Manmade fabrics take 200 years to degrade in landfill.

The principal consumer culprits of this combined speeding offence and environmental catastrophe are young and female – or at least those whose wardrobes are overflowing with cheap clothes from the likes of H&M, Zara and New Look. I know this to be true because I have a daughter and apparently, it’s important to buy a new outfit for every climate change demonstration she attends.

So I was pleased this week to hear about a new initiative to tackle the problem once and for all. A combination of celebrity influencer power and technology have come to the rescue.

If fashion is just too fast, it needs to be slowed down. For possibly the last time in history, this job needs a man. Ideally an old and fashion-proof one.

Step forward the man whose expertise on fashion and speed needs no introduction; Jeremy Clarkson. Apart from driving cars fast, nearly always without crashing them and only ever slightly injuring a few people with his bare hands, his fashion credentials are impeccable.

After eco-crime accessories Trinny and Susannah praised Clarkson's style as resembling that of a market trader i.e. an authentic provincial homme du jour, he was persuaded to appear on their fashion makeover show What Not to Wear. Here he was awarded their all-time worst dressed person award. He responded to their attempts at restyling him with due distain. Clarkson said he would rather eat his own hair than appear on the show again.

This week, as well as fumbling about a bit with Brexit, the government announced Clarkson’s appointment as Britain’s first Fast Fashion Tsar. He’s tasked with creating and implementing a road map to put a stop to the environmental destruction wrought by fast fashion.

 Fast Fashion Tsar Clarkson arriving (late) for work yesterday 

Clarkson has already proven his green credentials on Top Gear and more recently The Grand Tour, where fuel economy is one of his top concerns:

"There's a gallon of fuel gone there, and another there...and yet another there. As a matter of fact, the only way this car could be less annoying to eco-mentalists is if its engine ran on sliced dolphin."

So his qualifications are pretty unquestionable. If young women addicted to fast fashion are the problem, the choice of antidote of an old man who wants everyone else to be slower and less stylish than him is inspired.

But one man, even one as accomplished and admired as Clarkson, cannot solve the problem alone. He needs technology. And this is where Facebook is stepping up to the challenge. Nick Clegg, former virtual deputy assistant prime minister and keen eco-mentalist himself, has spoken for the first time since his appointment in October 2018 as Vice-President, Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook. He’s announced that Facebook will launch a new app which monitors and reports the fashion speed of users. He said,

"Our new app FashBit, is definitely a good idea. I think. Yes it is a good idea um for sure. It gives users complete control over their fashion speed. So it’s like you know helping people which is a good thing.

Mark says it has digital stuff in it which is completely secure and which we only share with consent. Like location tracking that monitors the amount of time spent in fashion stores, and status updates to tell you if your fashion is getting dangerously fast. And it's free so everyone can use it. It’s a no brainer really."

Facebook Chief of Data Acquisition and Repurposing, Brent Beard said,

"We've gone granular on this. We're mega-passionate about the planet and all the things on it we can help leverage. FashBit is our ideation of high fiving the unicorns.

Our online fashion integration technology unpacks the number and fabric composition of clothing purchases. It gives fashion brands drill-downs to know who is shortfalling on clothing purhases, so they can buy more energy efficient and laser-targeted advertising to them. In the meanwhilst, Facebook users who are maxing out in the apparel vertical will have fashion ads replaced with environmental ads - pictures of cute animals and cool nature stuff encouraging them to buy smaller shoe sizes which enables smaller carbon footprints."

Asked about his new challenge, Clarkson was clearly ready to take up the gauntlet. He said,

"My message is simple – everyone who is not me should stop prattling on about it, roll their sleeves up and get busy saving the planet. I’ve been doing my bit for years.

I’ve been wearing these same jeans for over twenty years without a single malfunction and the boffins tell me that’s saved over 40 endangered species. Turtles are dying right now just so you can buy another bloody frock which doesn’t suit you anyway. Think about that while you’re browsing the interweb for your next outfit which will be in landfill faster than a Frenchman can drop his pants."

Fashion retailers and brands are yet to show unqualified support for this innovative approach, however. They believe self-regulation is adequate and have taken direct action by printing millions of T-Shirts with pictures of polar bears and slogans to help get the message across. Spokeshuman for the Clothing Retail Association of Producers (CRAP), Krystal Methany said:

"So, our members strive like endlessly to reduce their like footprint stuff yeah? They’re like so awesome you know and are like totally committed to sustainable, kind of inclusive business models? We print T-shirts with pictures of like elephants? And slogans which really make you stop and like um think? They've created like literally millions of jobs for poor and starving people who would otherwise have to eat uncool stuff like you know, soil? Yay! I should try that diet – no, no I’m only joking dot com. We hashtag adore them all."

Asked about the choice of Mr. Clarkson to lead this initiative, Ms. Methany said:

"Jeremy Clarkson said the exact car I have which is like a Mercedes sports car was ‘a pretty car for ugly people.’ That’s like literally a hate crime? So he’s you know like totally unadorable to me? He’s a gross old man who doesn’t get it that the fascist um fashion industry makes the world a more beautiful and peaceful place for sort of like everyone I know? You know?"

Marketing to older demographics is a disgrace to the profession

If you think this is how to appeal to mature consumers, you need to grow up.
 A lot.

By Neil Patrick

Many marketers view older demographics with scarcely disguised distain and patronise them with naive assumptions about who they are and how they live their lives.  The over 40's are a high value and discriminating (in a positive sense) target market, yet brands and marketers regularly fumble their marketing to them. Why?

At the time of the 2011 Census, the median age for the population of England and Wales was 39 years. 27% was aged 40 to 59 years, and 22% was aged 60 years and over. In other words, almost half (49%) of the UK population is aged 40 or over.

Not only that, all the data tells us that people aged 40 plus have greater wealth and disposable income than younger people. The over forties are the most valuable age demographic in the UK today.

No business with any sense would want to alienate its highest potential market segment. So how can such an illogical situation be explained?

I think the explanation is actually very simple. It’s because people in marketing and advertising are generally under 40 themselves. They see the world through a lens which reflects their own likes and dislikes. They simply cannot empathise with those who are older than they are.

Empathy is the cousin of understanding. And without understanding, communication is always going to be difficult.

In their defence, I was no different. When I was 16, anyone over 30 was really old. When I was 30, a 60 year old seemed positively geriatric.

But ageist hiring begets ageist marketing, so the origins are not so much the fault of marketing teams themselves, but rather those who decide who is on those teams.

It’s unconscious bias at its worst. It results in stereotyping and discrimination – something which the young are especially keen to call out - but only it seems when it’s about gender, sexuality or ethnicity.

Brands which either appeal only to the young and/or alienate the mature are setting themselves up as hostages to fortune if they choose to stake everything on the fast-changing and transitory loyalties of the young.

It just doesn’t make commercial sense to target only young people when older demographics are higher spending and less fickle. Chuck Shroeder, a former director at ad giant DDB and now 71 said:

“Advertisers assume that the “old” people of today are some monolithic group of codgers who don’t know anything. Product managers are all young and they don’t want advice from people who could be their grandparents. They have the same attitude I had when I was 30, largely based on hubris and youthful lack of experience. They don’t grasp that they could sell more product if they actually talked to the people who have the money.”

Asked to give examples of ageist ads, he said:

“I nominate the Esurance commercial with the elderly lady who is bragging to her friends that she saves time by posting her vacation photos on her “wall” rather than mailing them. We see her living room wall with pictures stuck on it. Funny eh? It implies that we old folks know nothing about Facebook, even though Facebook has more users over 50 than under.”

Last week I observed a brand in action which would convince any young marketer to rethink their entire preconception of older demographics. But guess what, there were no young people there to witness this live case study of brand loyalty in action.

This is a brand which has endured 50 years of highs and lows, drug and alcohol traumas, fickle fashion changes and more.

I went to see hard rock band UFO play a sold out concert in Cardiff. This band was founded in 1969 and it has been touring constantly ever since. Founder and vocalist Phil Mogg will be 71 this year. The concert hall was packed with men almost none of whom were less than 40 years old. And whilst they didn’t have a mosh pit, they were jumping and singing along just like any audience of on-trend hipsters. This was no chamber music or smooth jazz. It was a loud and sweaty rock spectacular:

This was brand loyalty by the over 40s in plain sight. This tour is sold out nationwide. It’s the very real, cash-till ringing manifestation of 50 years of customer loyalty and spending. And a wake up call to everyone in marketing who thinks older men spend their time and money on gardening and golf. Or hula hooping...

Wake up and smell the coffee kids.

P.S. I learned with great sadness that a few days after this gig, Paul Raymond, seen above on keyboards passed away unexpectedly following a heart attack. As a more or less permanent member of UFO, he will be greatly missed. My condolences go to his friends and family.

Career survival in the age of surveillance capitalism

By Neil Patrick

In my last post I described the rise of surveillance capitalism. I also promised to provide some thoughts about how we can protect and grow our career prospects in an age where big data is deciding what we get to see, what sort of people we are and what we want.

The terrifying thing about this is that without our consent, algorithms are deciding on behalf of others what we deserve. It’s an Orwellian universe in which we are pawns, valued, categorised and ranked according to our digital footprints.

If you think I am being sensationalist, then I present Google founder, Larry Page’s disclosure of the corporation’s totalitarian ambitions as reported in Harvard Professor, Shoshana Zuboff’s earth-shattering new book, ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism; the Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power’.

As Zuboff says, “Page portrays Google’s totalistic ambitions as a logical consequence of its perfection of society. From his point of view, we should all welcome the opportunity…to willingly subordinate all knowledge and decisions to Google’s plan.”

And people are at the centre of this bid for god-like power. Page said, “…we have to understand the things you could buy, and…we have to understand anything you might search for. And people are a big thing you might search for. We’re going to have people as a first-class object in search…”

In other words, Google sees its collection of data about people, including you and I, as central to its mission to change the world into a shape of its liking. I don’t know about you, but I consider this a very poor deal – I provide every piece of information about myself to a corporation over which I have no influence in exchange for some digital apps and services. Thanks Larry, but no thanks.

If like me, you’d rather not submit to this assumption of control over your essential human rights to privacy, then what follows are my initial thoughts on reasserting some sort of control rather than sleepwalking into enslavement.

I cannot provide a bullet proof set of rules which guarantee results. At best, what follows is what I consider to be sensible practices for damage limitation. Any thoughts and additions others can provide will be extremely welcome in the comments section. Or contact me through LinkedIn or Twitter and I’ll do my best to add any contributions by means of updates to this post.

My thoughts and recommendations:

Assume everything you do online will be stored insecurely and shared

Plenty of data collectors and users will argue that they never share data. The truth is that even if they do not, there are so many loopholes within current data protection rules that the only safe assumption is that everything we do which involves an internet connection is visible to someone somewhere and those people likely don’t care much about our privacy.

Assume that you are a brand

Personal branding has been around for a while now. And it generally sucks in my opinion. It’s a spin off from social media culture in which individuals seek to market themselves with a view to securing fame and fortune. So I’m not talking about that. What I mean is that if you think of yourself as a brand, you’ll be less likely to do something which devalues your brand. Examples are easy and obvious – putting pictures of yourself onto social media which present you in a dubious light; expressing political opinions online; attacking others online – all these are brand damaging and will consequently have adverse career impacts.

Don’t let your rights to free speech work against you

On the one hand I place high value on free speech, on the other, what price am I personally prepared to pay to exercise my rights to say what I think without restraint? Each person must make that decision for themselves, it’s not for me to say what you can and cannot do. My belief is that we should never say or do anything online which others could perceive negatively.

Align yourselves with others online who will reflect well on you

I am the first to admit I am especially interested in what less likeable people think and say. It’s the social media equivalent of watching horror movies. But if you choose to follow a load of people online who have less than admirable credentials, you can safely assume this will do your career prospects no favours. So choose your online friends carefully.

Support your online community and put others first

Whatever field you are in, it pays to show that you care about the other people who are in it. As Dale Carnegie said, 'You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than in two years of trying to get people interested in you.' In the social media age, this means investing more effort in sharing, liking and commenting on others' content than pushing your own.

Give your apps and subscriptions a makeover

Assume that every social media platform you are on and every app you use will be discoverable. Anything which a professional contact might consider shows you in a negative light should be unsubscribed or removed.

Check the permission settings on your mobile phone and turn off location tracking

One of latest revelations is that Google Android phones track location even when this is turned off, they claim to enable core phone functionality. My guess is that even when our phones are turned off, location tracking is working at some level. So turning this off, won’t completely shut it down, but it should reduce the incidence of unwanted ‘help’.

Review the settings on your home assistance devices such as Cortana, Siri and Alexa

If possible disable any non-on-command voice recording.

Last but not least, think about what you post online and how your boss or employer now or in the future would interpret it

Assume everything you post online is visible to everyone. You have to care about this. Free speech is important but does your belief in it warrant the potential sacrifice of your career opportunities?

It’s your call and these steps cannot give you complete control, but I hope they help preserve a little more of your personal privacy, autonomy and prospects. All comments and additions will be welcome in the comments below.

P.S. My good friend Marcia LaReau has been hard at work already with her solutions for jobseekers to this problem. You can listen to her short Vlog commentary about this here.