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The Globalization of Fashion Essay

Globalization in contemporary society

The topic of globalization continues to be a crucial concept in contemporary social science. Contemporary globalization can be divided into three aspects: political, economic and cultural. The political aspect can be explained by a shift of power from the local nation-state into a broader international realm, making it more difficult for policy makers in the nation-state to influence the on-goings in their jurisdiction. Economic globalization is closely tied to political globalization, in that as the economy becomes more integrated, it constrains the ability of national governments to shape economic conditions. Citizens, conscious of these constraints, tend to have decreased political efficacy and decide not to vote under the circumstances of high economic integration (Steiner, 2010). Previous literature regarding globalization has largely been focused on the economic and political aspects of globalization. Contemporary research, therefore, needs to further address the cultural aspect of globalization, since the international exchange of cultural goods and ideas is so prominent in postmodernity.

Cultural globalization occurs through the increased spreading of popular goods and social trends across borders, creating a new global culture that is not necessarily attributed to a certain nation-state, since it is shared across borders in an international realm. The distribution of these cultural ideas and goods are primarily done through economic activity by means of trade and exchange of capital (Steiner, 2010). Very few would dispute the fact that we now live in a global world where national economies and varying cultural ideals are merging to create a more modernized hypothetical global state, with increasingly permeable borders that facilitate free market trade, communication and cultural integration. The phenomenon of merging borders has brought on drastic changes in the way goods and services are produced and distributed and how quickly this has been made possible by the intensification of time-space compression.

A theory first devised by geographer David Harvey in 1989, time-space compression refers to the speed of economic activity in postmodernity due to the advanced communication and transportation technologies that only become more nuanced with time. Harvey argues that the time it takes to get from the production stage of goods to the exchange and profit phase is almost non-existent and the lessening of social time and space through heightened economic activity and communication, is what makes that possible (Nash, 2010: 45-50).

Research Question

Fashion, both a business and a cultural good, has benefited largely from the capitalist expansion brought on by the acceleration of economic activity. The cultural and economic integration that has resulted through the spread of fashion, as a facet of popular culture and artistic expression, has grown superlatively over the past decade, with the latest fashion trends becoming increasingly accessible to consumers all over the world. It is patent then that in a society where fashion is so closely related to identity and culture, the popularity of renowned designers and their respective brands has a growing influence on individuals, regardless of his/her country of origin. The evolution of the fashion industry has brought together designers such as, Roberto Cavalli, Comme de Garcons, Christian Dior and many others from different ethnic backgrounds, into one cultural phenomenon that also carries economic interests, further proving that the fashion industry has no geographic or national limits.

Its success operates on an international platform. As fashion is a key aspect of culture in society, it is vital to consider its role in cultural globalization. In my research paper, I will address the question of whether and how the fashion industry, a major facet of culture in society, has globalized in contemporary society. Furthermore, I will address the way in which the globalization of fashion, if any, can be understood in terms of various theories of cultural globalization which will be further discussed below.

Theoretical Context:

Consumption is a leading practice in contemporary capitalism and is closely related to culture, particularly through aspects of it that can be tied to economic profit, such as fashion. As fashion images in magazines, music videos, the Internet and other similar mediums are spread around the world, they create a “global style” across borders and cultures (Kaiser, 1999: 110). This “global style” exemplifies the merging of several designers, ideas and cultures in order to create clothes and fashion trends that are relevant to individuals across borders (Kaiser, 1999: 110). This consequently increases consumer demand for national brands in the international realm and further globalizes the economies and cultures of several nation-states. Consumption is irrefutably a major aspect of capitalism in postmodern society. According to Lash and Urry, to understand contemporary capitalism, one must comprehend “the extent to which culture has penetrated the economy itself, that is, the extent to which symbolic processes, including an important aesthetic component, have permeated both consumption and production” (Lash and Urry, 1994: 601).

The economy, according to Lash and Urry, is based on the circulation of signs: the cognitive signs that are informational goods and the aestheticized signs of postmodern goods such as designer products (Lash and Urry, 1994: 4). Through both cognitive and aesthetic signs, Lash & Urry explain the development of a new ‘reflexive subjectivity’. This in cognitive terms involves the construction of the self in the reflection of information given by experts. In aesthetic terms, it involves the perception and formation of oneself through the consumptions of goods, ideas and images (Lash and Urry, 1994:4). That is, in respect to the cognitive terms, one is told through advertisements, magazines and popular culture (the experts), that this is what should be consumed. Based on this, in respect to the aesthetic terms, one builds his/her identity through the consumption of goods, carefully picking and choosing which brand to represent and which message to portray about oneself through consumption. The individual, according to Lash and Urry is thus forced to make choices concerning his or her self-identity through consumption of goods, and consequently consumerism becomes increasingly integrated into self-expression and culture.

As time-space compression intensifies, the experts (advertisements, magazines, fashion shows) are able to send a message across borders as to what should be consumed in fashion based on the latest trends. The individual then is able to go to the local mall and buy these latest fashion trends in the name of cultural production and identity formation, further reiterating that culture intertwines with the economy through consumption of the latest trends. Lash and Urry’s theory regarding reflexive subjectivity is relevant to my research question due to the fact that it explains the way in which individuals consume cultural products such as fashion brands, in order to reflect or construct their identities. Through cultural and economic globalization, these products and trends have permeated across borders and have thus resulted in a global culture that can perhaps be explained by the universality of the top fashion brands that dominate markets today such as Chanel, Dior, etc. These brands not only signify a reflection of ones identity, but are also advertised globally across borders and contribute to the expansion of international markets through their popularity.

Based on this explanation, it would seem plausible that the fashion industry is globalizing along with cultural and economic expansion, due to the fact that consumers are not only now able to stay informed of the latest fashion trends through the intensification of time-space compression but they can also actively purchase these brands that have been manufactured in one country but are marketed in hundreds of other countries. Previous research regarding cultural globalization has considered the globalization of other cultural aspects, such as in Achterberg et al. 2011, where research was carried out regarding the globalization of popular music. The authors allocate the globalization of popular music into three theories of cultural globalization. I will be using the same three distinctions to interpret the globalization of popular fashion, if occurring. The three views on Cultural Globalization are cultural imperialism or hegemonization, multiculturalization and glocalization.

According to the first theory of cultural imperialism or hegemonization, certain dominant cultures overshadow other more susceptible ones (Tomlinson, 2000: 80). Dominant cultures are typically exemplified in countries that are economically influential such as the United States or more generally “the west”. This theory of cultural imperialism is in accordance with Wallenstein’s world capital theory, which states that the core (dominant cultures) exploits or overshadows the periphery (vulnerable cultures). Although Wallenstein explains his theory in terms of economic exploitation, one can further attribute it to cultural exploitation or dominance as well, as in this case. It has been argued that this hegemonization creates a more “uniform global culture” that universalizes trends based on the western cultural perception as opposed to a mix of different individual cultural trends remaining distinct from each other (Achterberg et al. 2011). The distinction between different individual cultures and products contributing to cultural diversity in trends, according to Achterberg et al., is conceptualized under the second view of globalization: multiculturalization.

This view represents a cultural “salad bowl” where different cultural forms and products originating from various parts of the world, co-exist within a single cultural space (Crane, 2002). The theory of multiculturalization diminishes the distinction between the “core” and the “periphery” thus creating an ideal space for different trends to thrive and succeed economically without one overwhelming the other. An example of multiculturalization in the fashion industry would the shopping mall in any major city, where brands from all over the world co-exist to drive the purpose of profit and expansion of cultural goods through consumption. Glocalization, as explained in the Achterberg et al. article, is the last theory of globalization, which hypothesizes a dynamic in which cultural forms are not imposed universally as in the case of hegemonization, but are instead adapted by a local culture based on contextual circumstances (Achterberg et al., 2011). That is, localized versions of successful global trends and brands will transpire in order to represent and increase the prosperity of local cultures and economies.

Glocalization can also occur when international trends are personified in order to fit the mold of the consumer demands in a particular nation-state. An example of glocalization in the fashion industry is the way in which fashion retailer H&M changed its product range in the United States, due to the observation that US male customers were less fashion conscious than their European counterparts (Levitt, 1983). Thus reflecting the nuanced integration of one nation’s brand into the societal cultures of other nations, through the act of consumption. The three distinctions of globalization as explained in Achterberg et al., allow further conceptualization of a globalizing cultural trend such as music, and in the case of this study, fashion. It seems patent that the globalization of fashion has occurred within the past few decades, but it is important to consider which distinction of globalization is occurring.

With consideration to the 1.) Achterberg’s three distinctions of globalization, 2.) Lash and Urry’s theory of reflexive subjectivity and the notion of post-modern economy being inseparably intertwined with cultural production and consumption, along with 3.)David Harvey’s theory of time-space compression, I have developed the following hypotheses regarding my research question of, whether and how, fashion, a major facet of culture in society, has globalized. 1.) The fashion industry is globalizing due to the ethnic diversity of brands and their consumption in several nation-states. 2.)

The globalization of fashion can be explained predominantly by the view of multiculturalization Methodology

I will test my first hypotheses by using data collection and the method of coding in three malls in the four major cosmopolitan cities that are known to be “fashion conscious”: Berlin, Paris, New York and Amsterdam. The three malls will be chosen based on their popularity and size. I will then look at the mall index and research the nationality of each clothing brand store that is listed. Department stores or stores that are not brands will not be considered. For example, “Hollister” would qualify as a store and a brand because it is both. However, “Sears” or “Wal Mart” would not qualify as brands because they are stores that carry multiple brands.

Therefore, to simplify the research only stores that are both brands and shops will be considered for the purposes of this study. The national or internationality of each shop will be then coded. For example, if the American brand Hollister is seen in a mall in New York it will be coded under “0”, since it would be under national boundaries. If however, Hollister is seen in a mall in Amsterdam, it would be coded under “1”. If the number of 1’s exceeds the number of 0’s in a particular nation-state, we can conclude that the dominance of international brands is greater than that of national brands, thus indicating a globalization in fashion brands and their consumption across borders.

In order to test my second hypothesis regarding whether globalization of fashion can be conceptualized by the view of multiculturalization, I will take the stores that have been coded as 1’s and research their origin. I will then compare the variability of nations reflected by each brand in order to see the diversity of fashion in a particular country. For example, if I have 12 1’s for mall number 1 in Amsterdam, then I will look at the origin of each “1”. If there is a variability of origin in the 1’s of each mall, and collectively nation, it can be inferred that the globalization of fashion, if occurring, is multiculturalized.

Achterberg, P. (2006). Class Voting in the New Political Culture. Economic, Cultural and Environmental Voting in 20 Western Countries. International Sociology, 21, 237-261. Crane, D. (2002). Culture and globalization: Theoretical models and emerging trends. In D. Crane, N. Kamashima, & K. Kawasaki (Eds.), Global culture (pp. 1-28). London, UK: Routledge. Kaiser, S. (1999). Identity,Postmodernity,and the Global Apparel Marketplace. New York: Fairchild. Lash, S., and Urry, J. (1994). Economies of Signs and Space. London: Sage. Levitt, Th., (1983), The Globalization of Markets, Boston: Harvard Business Review Holt, D.B., Quelch, J.A., Taylor, E.L., (2004), How Global Brands Compete, Boston: Harvard Business Review, September Issue Nash, K (2010). Contemporary Political Sociology: Globalization, Politics and Power. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Steiner, N. (2010). Economic globalization and voter turnout in established democracies. Electoral Studies, 29, 444-459 Tomlinson, J. (2000). Globalization and culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

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