Seven Tips for Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban

Seven Tips for Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban - Eleanor Snare - Featured Image

Last year I successfully changed my consumption habits, cutting my clothing buying down to just two new items and six items of second-hand clothing in a whole year. The experience changed how I interact with fashion in a positive, exciting way. In this article I’ll give you some tips on how to manage if you’re thinking of cutting down on your clothes shopping.

Seven Tips For Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban - Eleanor Snare 2

1. Improve your wardrobe

As you won’t be buying any new gear for at least a couple of months, it’s important to start with good foundations. Clear out any old or unworn clothing and set aside a pile for cleaning or repairing. If you’re missing an essential item – like a white t-shirt or jeans – then get a high quality option before you begin your shopping ban.

A good basic wardrobe will help you make better choices because it’ll have all the foundations you need, and will mean you’re less likely to ‘buy to solve’ a fashion problem during your period of shopping abstinence.

2. Tidy up your clothing space

A messy wardrobe or drawers will make it difficult to see what you own and therefore you’re more likely to buy items you think you need when secretly they’re hiding in the back of a cupboard. Give your clothing space a good clean inside and out. Arrange hangers properly, fold jumpers, and sort your shoes so you can see them.

WRAP’s 2012 report shows an embarrassing number of the clothes in our wardrobe – about 30% – haven’t been worn in the last six months; have a clear out and you might find something you’d completely forgotten about.

3. Put together example outfits

This is a fun activity but also very useful. After you’ve improved and tidied your wardrobe, spend time laying out outfits of different clothing combinations. Photograph or document the outfits, and keep the information handy; it’ll prevent you from thinking “I have nothing to wear with X” which can lead you down a path to purchase.

It’ll also start to focus your personal aesthetic and identify which items of clothing are going to do the most work during your shopping ban.

4. Unsubscribe

After tackling your physical possessions, it’s time to look at those less tangible things which influence our buying behaviours. Unsubscribe from all marketing communications from fashion brands. You have to go cold turkey here; those brands will send you sales materials and they will tempt you into buying.

Sales-related marketing often comes via email newsletters – but you might have to cut yourself off from Instagram too, and ignore those tiny Facebook ads tempting you from the sidebar.

5. Avoid shops and fashion magazines (to start with)

This seems extreme but if you’re taking your shopping ban seriously, you only need to avoid clothing stores and fashion magazines for a couple of months. Like any marketing, store layout is designed to encourage you to buy, and magazine editorial is designed to engage you (often leading to purchase).

My biggest blip last year happened when I started reading fashion magazines again, because it inspired me – and made my current wardrobe look boring. Build up your willpower, then pick up Vogue.

6. Spend time with your clothes

During your shopping ban, you’ll be spending a lot more time with your current clothes than you probably ever have before. Look closely at your garments: where were they made, when and by who? How does it feel when you wear them? Take time to appreciate each piece of clothing as fully as possible and you’ll want to wear them again and again.

If you’re keen to change your relationship to fashion, this quality time is a good place to start. Stop looking at your clothes like they’re disposable, and start seeing them as indispensable.

7. Don’t panic if you do buy

When I bought a second hand item last year, I freaked out a bit – I thought I had failed. But this is your personal challenge; if you renege and end up buying something, that’s ok. Think about why you did it, and if you can avoid doing the same thing in the future.

There’s no shame in buying things, and there’s no shame in enjoying it. The idea of a shopping ban is to shock yourself into new habits, but don’t punish yourself if you don’t quite make it.


At the start of last year, I would’ve found the idea of spending only £80 on pre-made clothing over the next 12 months laughable. But my experience showed me you can change your consumption habits, spend less and enjoy fashion even more than when you’re buying tons of stuff.

Try out these seven tips if you’re thinking of taking a break from shopping, and let me know how you get on.

Read my experience of 2016’s shopping ban: What’s It Like Not Buying Clothes for A Year?


WRAP. 2012. Cited in Breyer, M. 2012. Unused Clothing in UK Closets Worth $46.7 Billion, Report Finds. Treehugger. Available on:

What’s It Like Not Buying Clothes For A Year?

Last year I set myself a goal: to only make the clothes I wanted to wear, not buy them, for the entire year. In this article I’ll share the experience with you to help you see that changing your fashion buying habits is possible – and it can even be rewarding.

What's It Like Not Buying Clothes for A Year - Eleanor Snare - Image of wardrobe and post title




If you’re interested in changing your buying habits, you might already know some of the statistics surrounding our current rate of production and consumption of clothing. Zara produces around 450 million items of apparel per year (Berfield and Baigorri, 2013) – that’s seven items of clothing for every person in the UK.

We spend phenomenal amounts of cash on clothing; Asos’ 2014-15 accounts show they had more than 29 million orders with an average spend of just under £70.00 each (Asos, 2015). Their gross profit was over £574 million.

And yet many of our clothes go to waste, either as part of the 350,000 tonnes decaying in landfill, or as some of the 30% of clothing in our wardrobes which hasn’t been worn for the last six months (WRAP, 2012).

My history of buying clothing has reflected this pattern. I would buy items every couple of weeks, mostly from charity shops, ending up with a huge wardrobe where many pieces weren’t worn for months – or even a year – at a time.



Last year, it seemed more people than ever were interested in reducing their participation in mass clothing consumption.

I’d read about women who had cut out new clothing completely (Hall, 2016), or cut out spending on anything (McGagh, 2016). Livia Firth’s #30wears concept gained traction, partly through the efforts of Fashion Revolution; Jen on the Tartan Brunette explains the idea very well. And the blogger-devised capsule wardrobe ‘33 for 3’ hit six years and widespread uptake (Carver, 2010).

My significant spending on clothing had reduced by the end of 2015 as I aged and my priorities changed. It seemed like an ideal time to challenge my habits and find a new way of interacting with fashion.



For 2016 I set a self-imposed ban on buying any clothing, new or second hand. Instead I would make anything I wanted to wear. The goal was to reduce my consumption habits and increase my dressmaking skill level.



It was a tough year.

If you think fashion is a load of superficial nonsense, not taking part by consuming clothing is probably easier than if you think fashion is expressive, creative, culturally-situated, radical, exhilarating and all round wonderful.

I am in the second camp.

I found, to start with, not buying clothes was an unnatural experience. I felt like I was punishing myself and that I couldn’t take part in what everyone else was doing – the fun and excitement, the new shapes and colours, the joy of expressing yourself in a new way. It was rubbish.

But after the first few months, I started to enjoy the new ways of experiencing fashion that I’d found. I could visit a clothing store in the same way as an art gallery or museum; not expecting to buy anything, but to take in the visual feast on display. Stepping back from consuming meant I could see fashion as entertainment – and some clothing really is entertaining – and enjoy it without owning it.

I was enthralled with developing my skills in sewing. I drafted new patterns, came up with design ideas, collected swatches and clippings from magazines. I was a fair seamstress before, but through 2016 I became a good seamstress, confident and happy in my own skills. Not every piece worked, and not every piece was worn, but the making became the most enjoyable process.

A result I didn’t anticipate was the refinement of my fashion aesthetic. With a buying ban, I couldn’t take part in new trends quickly; I had to carefully consider whether it was worth my time and effort making a hyper-fashionable garment (spoiler: it wasn’t). My core aesthetic became clearer because I had fewer choices, and I wanted my skills to contribute to a garment I would regularly wear and love.



In 2016 I made 11 items of clothing which I kept:

  • 1 long-sleeved wraparound lace jersey top
  • 1 grey wool cropped sleeveless swing top
  • 1 grey and white slubby racerback vest
  • 1 pair mottled leopard print satin wide-leg trousers
  • 1 black and white sleeveless wraparound jersey top
  • 1 pair denim culottes
  • 1 pair black cropped trousers
  • 1 pair black and white checked cropped trousers
  • 1 grey short sleeved t-shirt
  • 1 white V-neck twist-front t-shirt
  • 1 black wool funnel neck sweater

I made three items which I ditched because they were too small, too ugly or too complicated.

Total spend: I didn’t keep track because I owned lots of fabrics and patterns from before I started the challenge.


I did end up buying six items of second hand clothing:

  • 1 grey jersey sleeveless tshirt
  • 1 black padded cotton bomber jacket (for my trip to chilly Stockholm)
  • 1 black men’s tuxedo jacket
  • 1 black sequin and velvet collarless jacket
  • 1 pair men’s camo trousers
  • 1 racerback black jersey tshirt

Total spend: £42.00


Despite my efforts I also bought two brand new items of clothing:

  • 1 pair black thermal leggings (M&S) bought in November 2016 because it was cold
  • 1 pair black satin high heeled mules (M&S) bought in December 2016 as a Christmas present to myself

Total spend: £41.00


During 2016 I bought eight pieces of pre-made clothing, with a total spend of £83.00.



Setting this challenge for myself wasn’t a quick decision, but my interest in developing a sustainable life and my shopping habits didn’t match up. Fashion industry statistics tell a story of over-consumption and under-use, and my personal practices reflected that.

I chose to do something dramatic as a test, and although I didn’t survive the whole year without buying pre-made, I was much more aware and attuned to my consumption patterns.

Changing my habits like this brought multiple rewards. I spent less and enjoyed fashion more because I saw it as entertainment and art, not a way to practice ownership. My dressmaking and pattern making skills improved significantly. I clearly defined my core aesthetic and enjoyed experimenting with its limits.

When I did buy items, it was a considered experience. I bought only what I knew I would love, would use and had been searching for – like the proper camouflage trousers or the satin mules (the style was the same as a magazine clipping of a designer shoe I’d stored in my scrapbook for about a year). Buying became a special experience.

Most importantly, I continued to deepen the relationship I have with my clothes, which I believe is a key factor in changing fashion purchase, wear and disposal habits.

If you have been toying with the idea of making some changes to your relationship with fashion, try it. It’s tricky, but it can be done – and the rewards are completely worthwhile. Let me know how you get on on Twitter.

Try your own consumption challenge: Seven Tips for Surviving a Clothes Shopping Ban


ASOS, 2015. Annual Report and Accounts 2015. Available on:

Berfield, S. and Baigorri, M. 2013. Zara’s Fast Fashion Edge. Bloomberg. Available on:

Carver, C. 2010. Project 333. Be More With Less. Available on:

Hall, S. 2016. Sally Hall: My year without clothes shopping. Yorkshire Post. Available on:

McGagh, M. 2016. My year of no spending is over – here’s how I got through it. The Guardian. Available on:

The Tartan Brunette, 2016. The 30 Wears Campaign. Tartan Brunette. Available on:

WRAP. 2012. Cited in Breyer, M. 2012. Unused Clothing in UK Closets Worth $46.7 Billion, Report Finds. Treehugger. Available on:

Why I Don’t Want to Shop With Brands Who Don’t Value Their Product


Why I don't want to shop with brands who don't value their product - Eleanor Snare


Our high streets are not just about shops and selling. The successful ones are a great experience, an engaging place to visit to try new things.

Mary Portas, This is Money


Recently, my partner bought a set of notebooks from Paperchase. After unwrapping them at home, he realised the cover was made of translucent plastic, not paper (which is what we expected). We thought this was pretty cool, but it made me think a bit more about this retailer.

Why hadn’t Paperchase advertised this product’s USP, the translucent covers, in the shop?

Why were the books wrapped up and filed away on the shelf with all the other ‘normal’ notebooks?

In fact, why do shops do that? Why don’t they make the product’s USP more obvious?

Why do they make it seem like they don’t care about the product?

-If a brand really cares about its product, it should show.-

This experience, combined with many others over the last year as I’ve looked at ways to shop more sustainably, led me to this conclusion:

I don’t want to shop with a company who doesn’t seem to care about what they sell.

I don’t want to buy from brands where the product isn’t valued.



It’s not about the financial value of the product. It’s about whether the value of the product is clearly communicated in store. And it feels like a product isn’t valued when two big things happen in store:

  1. Poor visual merchandising
  2. Poor service

Why I Don't Want to Shop Where the Product Isn't Valued - Eleanor Snare

Undoubtedly good visual merchandising and good service is subjective, which is where the different business models of different brands contribute to how the product value is communicated.

For example, we might expect a fast fashion model to include:

  • High volume display
  • Merchandising focused on sales targets
  • Low interaction service or fast self-service

An example at the other end of the scale is a luxury brand model, where there’s low volume display, merchandising focusing on product quality and highly personalised service.

Both models reflect what the customer is paying for beyond the physical product. Both communicate the different value of the product and values of the brand.

But even in the highest volume, lowest interaction service models merchandising and service shouldn’t be of poor quality. There’s still a competitive standard to be met, and increasingly competitive as high street fashion brands vie for market share.



If good visual merchandising and good service is subjective, here’s my minimum requirement for fashion retailers:

  • Clear signage or indication of departments, types of garments, sizing and price
  • Clean, undamaged, pressed clothing
  • Tidy display units with enough space to move and see clothes clearly
  • Staff who are ‘visible’ (they’re on the shop floor and have some sort of identifier)
  • Staff who know the shop layout, sizing conversions (e.g. bust measurement of size 12) and new stock
  • Staff who are willing to help and polite

I don’t expect amazing visual displays involving fountains and fruit, or staff who can recite the latest trends to me. Or even staff who smile and are really pleased to see customers, because I know retail is a tough job. Just that list.

(I don’t know whether the list sounds far too simple or radically unachievable. Tell me what you think!)



In some of the disappointing experiences with fashion retailers, I’ve found display units rammed with hangers, making it difficult to see sizing. Clothing is crushed or streaked with makeup from a previous potential customer. Staff don’t know sizing conversions or can’t explain where items on ‘hero’ mannequins are in the shop itself.

In the worst cases, products are so poorly arranged or cared for it feels like you can’t buy them (either from confusion or repulsion). Staff are disengaged (unsurprisingly, given what we pay sales assistants in the UK) to the point of apathy and haven’t been trained in spotting when a customer is ready and willing to buy – so they miss sales.

Why I Don't Want to Shop Where the Product Isn't Valued - Eleanor Snare

These small things show that retailer hasn’t met that minimum requirement. In turn, it shows that the brand does not value their product enough to clearly demonstrate its perceived value through display or service.

Retailers have to deal with customers and their irritating habits of making a store messy, so it’s expected that over the course of a trading day the shop floor won’t always look it’s best.

But brands still have a choice at the start of the day to display products in a way which adequately communicates their value. They have a choice in staff, and a choice when it comes to training staff. They have a choice to meet a minimum requirement.

So why don’t they?



1: The business model

Partly it depends on what business model they operate. Low cost, high volume retailers work on big numbers of clothing, so it’s imperative they pack as much into their retail footprint as possible. And to cut costs their wages and training funds might be lower than average, resulting in lower than average service quality.

2: Quantity over quality

But also there’s a desire for many retailers to demonstrate breadth of choice over quality of choice.

In Predictably Irrational, my recommended reading from last month, the author explains a number of experiments which show our dislike of losing out on available options even when the options open to us aren’t high quality.

We (apparently) want choice, so retailers work quantitatively rather than qualitatively.

3: Brand aesthetic

Similarly, the aesthetic of a certain brand might contribute towards a retail space which is visually busier than you might expect – like Lush, or Accessorize, where abundance/indulgence are both quite important aesthetic elements.

However, even in these stores clear value is assigned to the product ranges, through experiential merchandising and very good staff knowledge.

4: Lack of appreciation of service skills

Fashion retailers don’t necessarily pick staff with poor product knowledge, but the way British culture undervalues good service means some retailers don’t think the willingness and ability to absorb and communicate product information is that important. Instead, speed and flexibility of working hours might be the reason staff are chosen.

5: Poor internal communications

Many retailers don’t effectively market to their internal customers (their staff) compared to their external customers. That means training programmes are minimal, or hurried, or are consistently these top-down messages so staff don’t feel like they can really take part.

The result is a body of people who are disengaged and therefore don’t accurately communicate the value of the product they’re selling.



Ultimately, the reason retailers don’t appear to value their product and instead display poor merchandising and poor service is because the alternative is high risk.

It’s risky to show a few products in a retail space where five times as many could be packed in.

It’s risky to invest in training for staff who might leave next year.

It’s risky to really think about the perceived value your product is (or is not) communicating, because that would mean questioning the quality of your product and business.

Why I Don't Want to Shop Where the Product Isn't Valued - Eleanor Snare

Brave retailers who truly value their product are self-assured. They select and merchandise products with care. They train staff so they are living emblems of the business’ values. They see these investments of time, money and space not as high risk, but high return.



As bricks-and-mortar retailers compete with a greater range of ecommerce stores, physical retail spaces and personal selling are becoming bigger USPs than ever. Yet visiting a British high street, neither of these potential differentiators feel like they’re really being addressed.

The real risk isn’t money or space wasted. It’s that there’s a demographic of consumers, interested in finding brands they can depend on and a high quality, fully-rounded experience, who will turn away from these retailers.

Why I Don't Want to Shop Where the Product Isn't Valued - Eleanor Snare

Why should a customer value a brand’s product when it doesn’t seem to be valued by the very people who make and sell it?

Why love a brand which doesn’t love its products, its people or its store?

Why buy something value-less?


I believe that good service is our basic right. Far too many businesses on our high streets don’t prioritise good service as part of their offer, meaning that as a nation we’ve come to expect no better …[yet]…It’s amazing how the smallest service gestures really make a difference: from connecting with and really knowing and caring for your customers, to having an in-depth knowledge that guides and advises them; serving is quite simply the new selling.

Mary Portas, The Portas Review 2011

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The Need-to-Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016

The Need-to-Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016

The catwalks for 2016 highlighted the relationship between fashion and big, global issues – I picked up on a new type of feminism, new religiously-motivated consumers, and clothing as representing the fragile global security we’re experiencing.

These issues will continue to influence designers over the next twelve months, but what about fashion businesses and their customers? Let’s get a little Mystic Meg and predict the future: read on for the need-to-know big fashion issues for 2016 and a snapshot of how they might affect your work and fashion habits.

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016 - Eleanor Snare


Do consumers really care about the sustainable credentials of their clothes? Mark Sumner, previously Sustainable Raw Material Specialist with Plan A at M&S and now my colleague at the University of Leeds, often cites research from the high street giant showing consumers put ethics and sustainability at the top of their ‘requirements’ list when questioned.

But when it gets to point of purchase, ethics drops right down below price, quality and brand. Not surprising, but why is sustainability such a buzzword?

In part because newer generations of consumers look like they might care more deeply about where fashion is coming from and, importantly, how fashion businesses are operating sustainably. Lucie Greene, in Harriet Quick’s article for Wallpaper*:

Millennials are expecting more than ever from brands, and they’re increasingly starting to lead in the luxury space, causing a need for luxury to pivot to appeal to them … They expect hyper-transparency, ethical behaviour, sustainability and values from the brands they consume.

In 2016, business operations will need to be sustainably-managed too, from dealing with energy shortages to your PR and marketing teams handling ‘greenwashing’ claims. Across finance, marketing, consumer behaviour and day-to-day working life, 2016 will be the year we truly start to feel the pull of sustainability.

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016 - Eleanor Snare


As of August last year, four-year-old Instagram had racked up over 25 million images with the hashtag #fashion, fashion brands were some of the top advertisers on the platform, the numbers of hours we spend watching YouTube videos increased by 60%, and we all started going a bit barmy over the potentials of rapid Snapchat+fashion. James Kirkham, global head of social and mobile at Leo Burnett:

The future of advertising looks like this, and it is bloody glorious. Hardly anyone in ad land has ever used Snapchat, let alone gets its potential … the excellence of this campaign is its insistence to create and leverage ‘urgency’ in the audience. In a time when appointment to view is increasingly hard, where consumption is more difficult to achieve through proliferation of choice, this feeling of urgency is a new secret weapon.

At the same time, stress-reducing colouring in books were some of the most popular non-fiction purchases of the year, searches for ‘wellbeing’ and ‘mindfulness’ increased rapidly and at least one high profile blogger ditched social media for something more wholesome (apparently). Consumers are looking to slow down or streamline, but fashion can’t stop speeding up.

So 2016 will be the year of focus for fashion brands (and maybe individuals too). Marketing spend is wavering and teams are stretching resources across multiple channels with negligible ways of measuring benefit. This year brands will pull back and focus attention on core communication channels – maybe not even social media – and long-term, narrative-driven, personalised marketing.

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016 - Eleanor Snare


The fashion industry is collecting more data than ever about its customers, as ASOS’ 2014 financial report shows, or as BoF highlighted in their special report on Inditex’s incredible tech silo. Brands are getting better at segmenting data and – in many cases – serving up the right stuff to the right people.

But our consumer groups are rapidly evolving too. The Pew Research Centre predicts Islam will be the fastest-growing religion in the world over the next 25 years, giving the fashion industry a new, and unique, set of customers. Caitlyn Jenner became the first transgender woman on the cover of Vanity Fair and Pantone announced a 2016 colour that blended two culturally-gendered shades into one.

World migration and forced displacement are reconstructing societies; in 2014, the number of people moving due to forced displacement rose by 8.3 million. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner:

We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.

Businesses (fashion or not) have whole new consumer groups to deal with and, in a few years time, a new generation of young customers who will be products of two or more cultures, with a mentality similar to the Baby Boomers of post WWII.

All this means that, in 2016, fashion business will start to develop highly specific consumer profiles based on dependable, longitudinal data. Brands will emerge catering to those consumers appearing on the ‘edges’ of existing demographics. You’ll be asked to put your customer’s world under a microscope, which could mean enlisting the help of people trained in anthropology, ethnography and cultural studies who’re able to dissect the unique circumstances surrounding these global consumer groups. And you’ll need to articulate your customer profile in much more detail – physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological – than ever before.

The Need to Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016 - Eleanor Snare


As consumer groups become more niche so to does our interest in personalised information. The flavour of neo-liberalism can be tasted across every sphere of life, heavily influencing our ideas of the individual as entrepreneur, as unique, as isolated, or as ‘special’ (just for existing).

Fashion brands have dabbled in personalisation for decades. A recent example spawning plenty of copies was Burberry’s monogrammed ponchos and scarves from 2014 and 2015. Widespread personalisation in 2016 will mean more brands creating simpler ‘mix and match’ product personalisation options – like Nike’s build your own trainers or Ferragamo’s build your own classic shoe – but also developing services, marketing and content tailored to individuals.

Rather than personalisation purely being associated with high-end brands, 2016 will see middle-range fashion businesses echoing the service levels of independents with the consistency of luxury names at every customer touch point. As social platforms develop their marketing algorithms, consumers are more likely to be served relevant content, so the in-store or on-paper experience will need to reflect this.

The trick for fashion brands will be creating cohesive campaigns which can be highly-individualised and yet part of a greater whole. You might need to re-train shop staff in personal service skills, ramp up your customer response teams as a whole, or dedicate team members to developing ‘personal marketing’ tactics – from hand-written thank you notes to email newsletters where content segments are swapped depending on the recipient.

Over the next year I’ll be writing on each of these issues in turn, delving deeper into why they’re important in 2016 and how you can work with them, rather than against them.

Thanks for reading.

Signature ES2.1

Are there any big issues you think I’ve missed?
Let me know in the comments.

Photographs: [space] by NASA via Unsplash | [leaf] by Joe Wroten via Unsplash | [river] by Leo Rivas-Micoud via Unsplash | Freckles by Frédéric Poirot via Creative Commons | Tourist – Fashion – Santa Fe Indian Market by Larry Lamsa via Creative Commons | Icons found via Creative Commons and edited | All images available for non-commercial re-use license with credit

The Most Inspiring Elements of Fashion are Still on the Catwalk

For someone obsessed with fashion, I don’t often write about clothes. Fashion is a cultural product and, like any other cultural product, is influenced by a huge range of global and local phenomena. I find these influences – how, for example, economics affects local fashion production – sometimes more interesting than clothing itself.

But I’ve realised that’s not because the clothes of fashion are boring. It’s because the clothes of fashion we’re presented with day-to-day, in mass-read editorial or mass-market retail, are boring.

The ‘trickle down’ effect

Harriet Posner (the author of an important introductory text to fashion marketing) describes the ‘trickle down’ effect in the pyramid of the fashion industry: a creative concept travels from haute couture and high-end ready-to-wear all the way down to mass and value markets (Posner: 2011). At the top there are few products and few customers; at the bottom there are millions. As with any service which must be used by many, many people, what’s produced needs to be loved by as many people as possible, which in turn leads to a kind of ‘lowest common denominator’ of product.

To carry on with Posner’s analogy, the creative concepts embodied in couture and designer fashion become ‘watered down’ as they drip down to the mass market, because they need to appeal to a broader range of consumers.

Harriet Posner Basic Hierarchy of Fashion
Figure 2

The ‘watered down’ effect

While a high street retailer might produce one or two items a season which turn out to be completely ‘out there’ and commercially unsound, realistically even their most unusual items will be bought by hundreds of thousands of people. Compare that to luxury designer brands, who might make thousands of one item, or couture, who may not even make ten. These higher-end designers, with a smaller and more intimate customer base, can create fashion which is more exciting – because they have fewer customers they need to appeal to, and whom they know much better than those retailers catering to millions.

This mass market is also more in tune with commercial appeal and the importance of sales (and rightly so) than couture or high end, which means if a trend or item works, they keep repeating it. That’s why in summer you can guarantee high street stores will stock floral and ‘tribal’ prints (a troublesome term), and in autumn it’ll be some sort of riff on safari/army and jewel tones. Every single year.

For those of us paying attention to the cycles of fashion, and interested in fashion as a creative cultural product (not just something to wear), this starts to get boring. Certain anomalies might intrigue us (like AW15 suede – impractical but very attractive) but if you looked at the timeline of fashion with half-closed eyes, you’d start to see the same splotches of cultural products occur again and again.

Manish Arora SS16 Ready to Wear
Figure 3

The well of creativity

One of the solutions is to return to the source of fashion: the big ideas driving fashion trends, the couture and luxury designers embodying those trends, and the unannounced influences which send certain trends off in another direction (like sub-cultural groups, political events, individual styling, etc.).

It takes time and energy to go back to the source, and I’ll reiterate here that (like the Internet) the fashion industry is not democratic: there are a number of barriers to seeing designer collections first hand, whether that’s a ticket, circulation figures or a decent WiFi connection. But when you do – as I’ve done for the first time in a while with the recent SS16 shows – there are many more exciting ideas and cultural products than mass editorial and retail would like us to believe.

Follow my SS16 Key Trends board on Pinterest to explore some of the concepts which have caught my eye, and share your favourite trends with me on Twitter.

Posner, H. 2011. Marketing Fashion. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Featured image: Joy, T. 2014. Untitled (detail from Harvey Nichols AW14 fashion show). [Online]. Available from:
Figure 2: Posner, H. 2011. Basic hierarchy of fashion. In: Marketing Fashion (p.13). London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Figure 3: Vlamos, Y. 2015. Untitled (Manish Arora SS16 Ready to wear Look 42). [Online]. [Accessed 13 October 2015].  Available from:

How to Rediscover Local Fashion in a Global Market

An international fashion industry, benefiting from the boom in online communication platforms, is undoubtedly interested in the virtual and global places of fashion.

Is this an industry still interested in local places?

Local fashion places in Britain are a sensitive subject. Trades like cloth production in West Yorkshire and shoes in Northampton have suffered due to focus shifting from local places in fashion, with the resulting unemployment and socio-economic impact you might expect. Local, global and virtual places exist symbiotically, so erasing the importance of one can dramatically affect the others.

Is there an opportunity to encourage participants in the fashion industry, especially those shaping it (like graduates and retail workers), to take part in remaking their local place to be a place of fashion?

Could these new places help break through the homogenisation fashion increasingly suffers from?

In this article I look at:

  • What place-making is
  • Why it’s important
  • Why the global and the virtual are prioritised in fashion industry and education
  • How to reclaim the local
  • How to start your own fashion terroir project


Leeds City Markets by Simon Grubb via Creative Commons

The gloriously-lit Leeds City Markets, whose fabric retailers help inform the final collections of fashion students in the area.


What place-making is

The term ‘place-making’ originates from the planning and management of public spaces. But using it as a wider-ranging term, I think place-making is the practice of interacting with a space, absorbing and consuming its qualities or commodities, and putting back into that space through expression or production.

Some examples of place-making might be:

  • Local government cleaning graffiti from a skate park
  • Property developers building a large shopping centre out of town
  • Graduates setting up a co-working design space

Each of these place-making actions has different effects, with different demographics reading effects differently. A skate park without graffiti might be clean and safe, or it might be suppressed and monitored. A co-working design space might be creative and agile, or disruptive and ‘cliquey’.

Place-making is the forming of a ‘terroir’ for something specific. A ‘terroir’ is the character and environmental components deemed essential in the growth of specific food products, like wine, tea or tomatoes. The definition of character is hazy, which is why it can be applied to products that aren’t grown (like cheese) or less successfully to complete products – Champagne, Stilton and the Cornish pasty are all subject to ‘terroir’.

Importantly, terroir operates on a local level, from the hyperlocal (different vineyards) to largely local (regions or counties).

A fashion terroir could be an interesting idea, then, for local areas.


Eleanor Snare _ Placemaking in fashion 5

Singapore, just round the corner from a street exclusively populated by fabric stores.


Why place-making is important

On a fundamental level, humans are deeply attached to the places and environments in which we live. Many cultures have sayings denoting the attachment between human and housing (‘Home is where the heart is’); we regularly move to find work or stay put because of attachment and despite unemployment; and we prefer to frequent places where we are socially accepted (either explicitly or implicitly).

Place-making is a continuous process; like most human endeavours it’s done over a long period of time with no obvious direction and plenty of mistakes. Like evolution, it isn’t by design but a mutation process. That’s why top-down place-making – when local government decides a terroir development plan – can feel uncomfortable.

For fashion, developing terroirs could be an interesting challenge. Fashion is an industry which takes place simultaneously at sites across the globe and in virtual geographies, and draws from the globe for inspiration, yet houses millions of local places in which fashion is being learnt, practised and re-shaped – eventually to be absorbed into the global and virtual geography of fashion.


Different priorities

It might not be accurate that local places are becoming redundant in today’s fashion industry. Design houses still need the ateliers of Paris to be deemed ‘couture’; others need the lace, embroidery, button or fastening industries of towns in Italy, America, India and more to create their products. However, global and virtual geographies are taking priority when it comes to publicising the fashion industry and within fashion education.

Why is this happening, and why has it happened within living memory?


Eleanor Snare _ Placemaking in fashion 3
The inside of Linva, a famous qipao (traditional Chinese dress) maker in Hong Kong.


Prioritising global places

First, it isn’t specific to fashion – it’s specific to capitalism.

David Harvey, a geographer and economist, describes the need for the flow of capital (money and assets) to be made easier to facilitate continuous growth. Part of this is achieved through breaking down geographical and spatial barriers. One example of this process might be trade agreements between countries, which mean import and export is easier. This has happened increasingly since the 1970s and the development of neo-liberalism.

Focusing on the global quality of fashion, therefore, is a good way to encourage movement of lots of fashion commodities (and therefore capital) around the world. It means we start to ‘place-make’ fashion on a global scale, often through defining certain areas as consumers (like the West) and producers (like the East). And these concepts of places have been created in part due to overcoming barriers to capital flow and accumulation: shifting labour to the East means a greater profit for capitalists in the West.

Our education system is becoming more global and therefore global place-making is a high priority in institutions. Students from China, Europe, Britain and America cross continents to study, contributing to a rich community of creativity that also comes with its own unique challenges.

So, global place-making seems to be a natural priority as there are many (apparent) benefits for ecommerce, customer choice, creative culture and, essentially, the continued growth of the fashion industry.

However, global place-making – like any place-making – isn’t necessarily inclusive or positive.

It’s easier for us to conceive of places whose inhabitants number the billions in a simple form. Diverse geographies get pushed into dichotic roles like ‘producing nation/consuming nation’, with wide-spreading negative social and cultural repercussions. The UK’s Empire past can also dominate ideas about global place-making, reinforced by the actions of brands – for example, Manolo Blahnik won’t sell in China due to concerns over counterfeiting, compounding negative ideas of Chinese originality and ingenuity.


instagram fashion

Six of the top posts with the hashtag ‘fashion’ on Instagram, possibly the home of crowd-created fashion online: there are over 25 million photos tagged #fashion.


Prioritising virtual places

Virtual place-making, too, isn’t a specific fashion issue but a larger mechanic to overcome barriers to economic growth through shifting capital into the apparently infinite world of The Internet.

Some examples of overcoming barriers include digitised garment ordering and production systems which remove the need for physical storage, and easy-to-build ecommerce websites which mean new designers don’t need physical retail space.

An interesting insight from Harvey that can be applied to virtual place-making in fashion is the need for capital (money, especially) to have a home – a place it can be invested and expand as capitalists accrue more capital. We see the Internet as an ever-expanding territory, making it an ideal place for investment.

A notable example is Instagram, which was purchased by Facebook in 2012 for US$1bn after raising US$57.5m in venture capital funding between 2010 and 2012. At no point in this journey did Instagram have a clear business model which made money, yet investors queued up to fund them. It’s because these ‘unicorn’ tech companies are a good way to “mop up” (Harvey’s term) the surplus capital which capitalists need to invest to make more money. Fashion and Instagram are made for each other; Michael Kors was the first company to advertise on the platform, and nine of the top 14 most-followed brands are fashion/retail companies.

Virtual places are newer than other geographies, and fashion (like capitalism) is obsessed with the new. A major contributing factor to their prioritisation in industry and fashion education is the perception that younger consumer demographics are more ‘at home’ with virtual technologies and geographies like Facebook or Snapchat.

Therefore an industry will publicise itself as ‘owning’ virtual geography, because its customers are hanging out there. Educational institutions will pour money into the digitisation of teaching practices, fashion work and assessment, thinking ‘digital natives’ will find this a more comfortable geography to roam around in.

So prioritising virtual places, again, seems obvious: they’re an excellent home for surplus capital, they transcend barriers to growth, they’re new and exciting and young consumers really like them.

But just like prioritising the global, prioritising virtual geographies is rife with issues.

As a home for surplus capital it’s unstable, unproven and could result in another dot com bubble (and burst). The Internet is also not democratic. It’s posited as a democratising tool, but there are millions across the world without online access (nearly six million people in the UK alone have never been online). Just like any communication channel, there is a hierarchy to the Internet and the virtual places in it, and it often reflects some of the more entrenched divisions in ‘real life’ especially regarding the white, Western-centric fashion industry.

For education, institutions which prioritise virtual place-making and technologies are missing a crucial point: there is a difference between ‘digital natives’ and early adopters. Early adopters of the virtual will try anything, take risks, build weird websites and re-make virtual geographies through disruptive actions.

On the other hand, digital natives have grown up with a clear status quo of the virtual world, heavily aware of its dangers and not necessarily willing to challenge or re-make that place.

As I mentioned in this article, using methods which reflect students’ current outlook only reinforces it more deeply, making it harder for them to be radically creative. Using virtual technologies and places to make digital natives feel at home, then expecting them to be revolutionary with them, is a potential dead-end.



Inside the Victoria Quarter, Leeds’ most luxurious shopping mall.


How to reclaim the local

Understanding why the global and virtual are prioritised in fashion better equips us to make the most of opportunities to reclaim local place-making. There’s the potential to develop fashion terroirs in an interesting way, especially for students, graduates and the youngest members of the industry.

How could we do that? First, define ‘local’.

Local means very different things to different people and industries; is it a ten minute walk on foot (your average local shop distance) or the geography of a whole region? What about hyperlocal, especially in cities with suburban subcultures? Is there a maximum population to ‘local’, and then how much does physical geography play a part?

Defining it through arbitrary distances doesn’t ring true with the slightly intangible part of terroir definition; it’s a character, so how do you define that? This could be one of the most fascinating parts of the place-making itself – defining what ‘local’ means for fashion in your area.

Remember: local doesn’t mean narrow-minded, of which it has an unfortunate connotation in Britain. The scars of cultural memory mean all generations can end up blaming the deterioration of local economies and cultures on victims rather than perpertrators. This is compounded by increasing global migration and the expansion of new sites of production which are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. Sometimes the result is a positive, diverse, economically-even geography; sometimes it’s not.

Re-making terroirs for fashion in certain geographies means addressing what the local is like now and will be in the future, not trying to reassemble something which has decayed.

The main barrier to reclaiming local places for fashion, I believe, is overcoming the process by which local geographies are made into passive absorbers of other geographies’ work. It’s a result of that global place-making which puts us into digestible dichotomies: do you make stuff, or do you buy it?

For fashion, this is the difference between a place known for shopping and retail development (passive consumption processes) and a place known for street style and visual merchandising (active production processes).

Active processes might include manufacturing, but they might also be marketing, exhibitions, modelling, illustration or curating shows. They require work, investment, time and plenty of challenging discussions, making them ideal practices to develop in the critical spaces of education. It also makes them less than ideal for local governments with chronic short-termism, who prefer passive, absorbing processes which are a commercial draw for investors (a way to “mop up” their surplus capital) and a recreational draw for consumers (who want something to spend their money on).

So creating terroirs for fashion boils down to this:

to make a place meaningful for the fashion industry by re-introducing active production processes alongside passive consumption processes.


Eleanor Snare _ Placemaking in fashion 6

A coat, made in Melbourne, hanging in a pop up shop in the same city.


How to start your own fashion terroir project

How do you start creating a terroir for fashion in your local geography? How do you make your place a place for fashion? This section is intended as a guide for anyone keen to start a creative fashion project in their area.


1. Anthropological research

The first step comes from close observation and analysis of what’s happening in the place. A good creative idea starts with all the research in hand – in this case, anthropological research. Examine all the big exhibitions, the tiny ones, the outfits of people on the street, the visual merchandising of retail, the conversations between sales assistants, the clothes given to second-hand shops, the flyers in the café window.

Get out of the area you live and socialise in and explore a wider geography (this is especially important in cities). Set yourself a good chunk of research time to get a real feel for the place – three to six months is a good start.


2. Open and searchable documentation

The purpose of this anthropological research is to spot patterns which could lead to creative outputs. So a key part of your documentation process is making your research easy to access and search, for the pattern-spotting you-of-the-future and for other people.

The medium you choose is important – for example, you might want to have an open blog which people can read as it progresses – but the method is the most essential to openness and searchability. Use tags, metadata, annotations and descriptions accurately and consistently. If your brain works in that way, use colour or symbols to ‘tag’ information.

Digital services like Evernote, Qwote, Popplet, Google Drive or Pinterest are all useful for collecting and categorising data.


3. Spot patterns

Once you have your research, it’s time to spot the patterns. I recommend watching this documentary about Bill Cunningham, the original street style photographer in New York. His method of collection, analysis and trend spotting is very educational. After collecting together your anthropological research, spend time looking through and allowing recurring themes to make themselves visible. When they do, think about their impact: what does this pattern mean for the local area?

This is a difficult process, but if you think systemically – that each element of your research is part of a machine that functions as a whole – it can help. If you think in a linear manner, you’ll end up missing out on interesting patterns because you’ll just follow one ‘thread’ of information.

If you’ve categorised properly, you will find it easier to spot patterns by searching through your tags. And if you spot an interesting pattern, it’s a good idea to confirm it through looking at other sources of information or cross-referencing.


4. Create ideas

Next is using your creative mind to imagine ways to maximise those patterns. Work with other people to generate as many ideas as possible about how those patterns of activity could be highlighted. Share your patterns and the original research – something new might emerge.

Some questions to use in your creative activities might be:

  • How can we bring this pattern to life?
  • What does this pattern tell us about local people?
  • What are my preconceived ideas about this pattern?


5. Make them happen

After imagining different ways to highlight the patterns, and picking a couple you think will be effective, create a plan of action to make them happen. This might involve self-publishing, working with local charities or applying for funding. The idea is to do something creative and outward-focused which will start to create the terroir for your area.


The process in action

Here’s an imaginary example of how these steps might work.

Anthropological research You study all of the tailors in your city for six months, regularly photographing their window displays, recording customer numbers and interviewing tailors themselves.
Open and searchable documentation You use Google drive to store your data collection and make the interviews available through Soundcloud.
Spot patterns After six months you spot a pattern: the average age of the tailors’ customer is younger than expected and they shop more frequently. You cross-reference it by conducting focused interviews with the tailors, who confirm your thoughts.
You conclude that this pattern shows younger people in your local area are increasingly interested in bespoke fashion products, potentially helping to revitalise the industry.
Create ideas You ask friends to help you come with ideas to highlight this pattern. You decide to host an exhibition featuring photographs of young customers, their garments and the tailors. This will also be used to create a printed directory of tailors in your area.
Make them happen As you’ve built up a good relationship with the tailors, you’re able to source images, stories and more for the exhibition. You team up with a PR student who helps your exhibition get into national press, and your directory is distributed to coffee shops, barbers and galleries where potential new customers hang out.

The aim I’ve articulated for a fashion terroir is “to make a place meaningful for the fashion industry by re-introducing active production processes alongside passive consumption processes”. The example above does this by:

  • Identifying existing production and consumption processes (tailoring and buying tailoring)
  • Highlighting a specific quality of them in an active way (the exhibition and directory)
  • Making the local area meaningful for the fashion industry by drawing attention to a non-mainstream, artisan sub-industry

These sorts of creative activity are just the starting point for creating a terroir, and it’s only with repeated creative work that the terroir will ‘stick’. But working from the bottom-up like this is more meaningful and authentic to a local area than top-down ideas which are forced onto the geography.


Eleanor Snare _ Placemaking in fashion 2

A Japanese market selling clothing, technology and homewares to tourists, and food and beverages to locals.



There’s an opportunity to start making local places relevant for fashion again through creating ‘terroir’ (based on the idea of a region’s character required for making certain food products).

The fashion industry and fashion education currently prioritise global and virtual geographies, as they’re profitable, modern and fit in with trends in migration, global communities and younger demographics. However, this activity isn’t always beneficial for a wider population or for individuals.

Reclaiming the local could be a rewarding creative activity which will break through the homogenisation of fashion, but needs careful thought to avoid becoming a ‘top-down’ place-making project. Starting your own fashion terroir project requires research, open and searchable documentation, pattern-spotting, creative ideas, and ways to make them happen.

The Enigma of Capital, David Harvey, 2010 (Profile Books Ltd: London).
Internet Users 2015 report by the Office of National Statistics
Leeds City Markets by Simon Grubb via Creative Commons
County Arcade Victoria Quarter Leeds by Michael D Beckwith via Creative Commons
All other photographs distributed with Creative Commons attribution non-commercial use license by me, Eleanor Snare
Instagram screen shot and statistic taken 17:28 28 August 2015