How to identify a trend vs a fad is a topic I discuss at length during my Intro to Fashion Design class at Columbia College Chicago. However there is one cautionary tale that I usually tell during this lecture that pretty much sums it all up.
My story begins at the end of the summer of 2005. I was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - the original hipster capital of the USA. The summer trend was Boho-Chic. Every good New York girl was outfitted with an oversized hobo bag, oversized sunglasses, and a skimpy floral sundress. There were three types of footwear available that summer to coordinate with this carefully polished, thoughtless, look - moccasins, wedges, and espadrilles. I had a pair of red Minnetonka moccasins that I continue to wear these 12 years later
One day, while exploring my very cool neighborhood, I ventured into an extremely over-priced shoe store and saw them - the birth child of the trifecta shoe trend that had dominated that summer. They were perched upon a clean, white shelf, two feet above my gaze - a shoe like I had never seen before - a pair of brown moccasins with a espadrille wedge heel. At this point in the story you are probably thinking "ew, why would someone do that to a moccasin?" However my immediate thought at that time was: "I have to have these shoes." I didn't care that they were $350, a price well beyond my 27 years. Nor did I care when the attendant told me that they were out of my size, so I would need to squeeze into a half size down. I didn't care one bit.
I needed those shoes THAT moment and not a second later.
As it turned out the shoes could not wait for me much longer either. The shoes were slated for fashion failure the very next day as I stepped out onto the streets of New York and saw the Boho-Chic trend setting sail along the East River toward someplace far away. I had been too caught up in the moment to notice the trend was ending. And so, I learned the hard way, how to identify a fad, a trend and a classic. The trend was Boho-Chic and the fad was the monster shoe child that lay in the wake. And my still beloved red Minnetonka's are a classic. It made no difference that the hi-end designer "mocc-espadrille wedge" in the chic Williamsburg boutique were $350. The price tag and location did not make them a good or bad shoe. In fact the quality of the shoe was quite good and I imagine they are still in good condition somewhere? today. What made them terrible was that (well for starters, they never fit me to begin with and) they were designed for precisely one moment in time and not a second longer.
This painful-to-my-wallet mistake has weighed heavy on me. As a designer today, I continue to watch un-needed trendy items accumulate in our world and grapple with my own dilemma/ desire to create something "new." I've watched with horror how the fast-fashion system can destroy lives and local economies through movies such as the True Cost and River Blue and as a result I've found a simple trick to help me identify the pieces that will last.
30 WEAR is a phrase coined by ethical/ sustainable Fashion Activist, Olivia Firth. In short, 30 WEAR begs you to ask the question, "Will you wear it 30 times?" If you believe that you will wear something 30 times then, perhaps you can justify the purchase. If not, then you should rent it, buy it second hand, or just forget it. I've taken on this approach to both my purchases and my designs and find myself making better decisions as a result. This summer I purchased an organic dress from Mod and Ethico that I must have worn at least 30 times. Each time I wore it, I enjoyed styling it a different way with different accessories and jewelry. It was a great dress to dress up and dress down. Everyone was always asking me where I got it from and I enjoyed answering that is was an organic dress from a sustainable boutique.
30 WEAR has also shaped my own design intentions for the outerwear. Periodically, a boutique owner will tell be I need add some flashy "of the moment" embroidery. To which, I respectfully decline. My aim is to extend the life of my coats with multiple ways to wear options. Not shorten them with trendy bits. I try to keep my styles and lines classic and when my customers notice my intentions for longevity, it makes me smile.
However, with all this in mind, I'm still human and it's easy to make mistakes. Last year, I bought a bright blue jumpsuit that my entire family rolls on the ground laughing at me hysterically every time I put on. I look like a cross between a nurse and car mechanic when I wear this thing. It's so bad. But I'm going to try to force myself to wear it 28 more times. It's fashion penance for my mistake and it's teaching me to make better decisions in the future.