July 13, 2024

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Crafting Fashion Trends

Debunking the dream: Can fashion cool its burnout culture?

5 min read

This story is part of ‘Debunking the dream’, a series based on an exclusive survey of over 600 fashion professionals, which sought to answer two key questions: what does it take to reach a certain level of success in fashion, and what does it take to stay happy at that level? Read part one, which summarises the findings; part two on how a person’s background impacts their success; and part three on the lifestyle that a successful career in fashion demands.

During the pandemic, a former fashion journalist decided to retrain as a software engineer. Working in fashion was knocking her confidence and triggering her anxiety, she says. After seven years of living in a “depressed and anxious state”, she was burnt out.

“Since leaving fashion, I’ve been able to find and follow obsessions that feel completely personal to me and develop my own perspective rather than be dominated by trends or afraid of being seen as irrelevant. In fashion, I was commercialising my interests, turning everything I enjoyed into a monetisable opportunity, which didn’t work for me,” says the former reporter, who asked to remain anonymous. Her new job gives her stability and financial security, and — crucially — is separate from her sense of self, something she said she couldn’t achieve while working in fashion.

As overproduction pushes the fashion industry into overdrive and the global economic downturn squeezes teams, the gap between employees’ expectations and reality is growing, and many depict a pattern of disillusionment and unsustainable pressure. The Vogue Business ‘Success in Fashion’ survey sought to answer two key questions: what does it take to reach a certain level of success in fashion, and what does it take to stay happy at that level? The responses revealed three main factors that make a person more susceptible to burnout: the way your identity intersects with the pressures you experience at work, the sense of purpose or impact you derive from your job, and the way you structure your time and lifestyle around your work. The years since the onset of the pandemic have only heightened burnout rates, as calls for fashion to maintain a more realistic pace have fallen to the wayside, and the fashion calendar has resumed in full force.

Read More

Debunking the dream: Is working in fashion going out of style?

An exclusive Vogue Business survey of more than 600 fashion professionals reveals that systemic discrimination, unsustainable lifestyles and a widespread burnout culture are spurring dissatisfaction. Without real change, the industry risks a mass talent exodus.

A white woman wearing green, blue and pink glittery eyeshadow looks at many reflections of herself.

There is a difference between being run-down and being burnt out, although the two often get conflated, says Subira Jones, founder of consultancy The Fireproof Career. “You get run-down when you’re exposed to acute stress with a defined end-point. You just need to rest, recharge and reset,” she explains. “Burnout is the chronic exposure to stress over a longer period. No matter how long you try to recharge, you often can’t switch back on or perform at your optimum. Success is not sustainable in burnout, and it comes at a detrimental cost to your physical and mental health.”

Fashion needs to find a way to address its burnout culture, or it risks alienating talent, capping people’s capacity to deliver, and slowing progress on big-picture agendas such as sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). But how?

Burnout happens when a lifestyle lacks balance, and this often means work is playing too big a role or adding unnecessary stress. For fashion, this stress is systemic, but there are everyday habits that can slowly form solutions. Adopted on a wider scale, experts say these could slowly bring fashion back from the brink of a mass exodus.

Burnout doesn’t discriminate, but fashion does

People from marginalised backgrounds are more vulnerable to the power dynamics at play in the industry and, therefore, more likely to experience burnout. “Being a Black person working in a high-pressure environment, there’s more demanded of you and [your flaws or errors] are less accommodated than your colleagues’, which leads to a sense of burnout,” says Wangu Chafuwa, changemaker at inclusive workplace consultancy Utopia.

Representation can be an added burden for the individuals who break through first. “The pressure is that I’m not meeting people’s expectations of what success could be, that I’m not doing well enough to represent people [from my community] that look up to me and show them that you can reach the top while still being yourself,” says plus-size model James Corbin, who is Black and grew up working-class.

Read More

Debunking the dream: Who is allowed to succeed in fashion?

The Vogue Business ‘Success in Fashion’ survey reveals an industry obsessed with keeping up appearances, excluding marginalised groups and limiting their progression. The fantasy of fashion — which lures many of these groups in with the promise of belonging — remains elusive.

 A close-up image of three people of colour wearing glittery makeup.

When you also have a public profile — which is commonly coupled with success in fashion — the pressure grows. “Early on, the bar was low. People didn’t have high expectations for my output because I’m a woman of colour with a squeaky little voice, but now the bar is a lot higher, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that,” says Aurora James, founder of fashion label Brother Vellies — which preserves and creates jobs for artisans in the Global South — and non-profit 15 Percent Pledge, created in 2020 to support Black-owned businesses.

Some struggle with feeling tokenised when representing a marginalised group. Gender-fluid designer Fabian Kis-Juhasz started her brand in 2019, around the time when highlighting marginalised identities was becoming more common in fashion media, she observed. “In theory, this sounds nice, but it also sounds like some weird mutually beneficial thing where you get attention and they get something to write about. I think, in a lot of ways, I got to where I did because it seemed like a novel cause. I don’t know if representation in that way really achieves that much,” she says.


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