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Cycles of Multiculturalism in Fashion / By: Vidhi Piparia


The Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. As 8.7 million jobs were lost, consumer spending took the biggest hit since World War II (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). With that, non-essential spending went down, causing the fashion industry’s revenues to plummet.

This plummet coincided with a wave of multiculturalism in the fashion industry. For example, the Dior tribal chic fashion show in Paris showcased an “African-inspired” collection which raised Dior’s operating profits by 6% to €1.54 billion in 2008 during the Great Recession (The Guardian). A pattern of globalized stylistic choices following a fluctuation in the economy can also be seen through other economic downturns in history. An example of this was the 1994 bond market crisis which was soon followed by the rise of Eastern influences in fashion.

Why this pattern occurs is multifaceted and often inconclusive. From an economic perspective, some people believe that multiculturalism helps luxury fashion houses appeal to a more diverse clientele - especially during a time when demand is low from their normal consumers. It’s also proven that consumer preferences have a large impact on business strategy. Suellen Ravanas explains that at her time at Marks & Spencer in London, “when the fashion trends in women's clothing turned over faster and faster (meaning the lifecycle of a fashion trend went from 12 months to 6 months and in some cases 3 months), the entire company had to change their… practices to place the fashion production for short lifecycle trends to Ireland in order to be able to stock all of the UK stores quickly.” Therefore, it is plausible for a company to grow their business to appeal to more consumers.

There are also theories that because the fashion the Western world adopts comes from lower-income countries whose quality of life is seen to be lesser than, these clothes are implicitly more justified to be worn only during times of economic difficulty. Multicultural clothes are thus circulated more during economic recessions since that is when people find them most acceptable to wear.

As in 1994 and 2008, today we are seeing Dior fashion shows in Egypt and Chanel in Senegal as a possible result of economic inflation. As we see this pattern cycle, it is up to today’s youth to ponder the social implications of multiculturalism in fashion. Julia Kaiser, a student at Walter Payton College Prep. believes that “when changes are made in the fashion world with cultural inspiration, you can see pieces in collections from large brands losing originality and gaining marketability. This reflects the divide between progress and traditionalism in the real world.” Thus, whether multiculturalism in fashion is immoral, ineffective, or inventive can be examined through a dive into historical economic fluctuations.


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