"Got the red Margiela dress. Doesn't fit right in the back. Return it or slang it on eBay for a profit?"
My girlfriend texted me on her lunch break. It's launch day of Belgian label Martin Margiela's collaboration with fast fashion house H&M. According to media reports, some people have been waiting in line since the previous night without sleeping.
"If it didn't fit properly in the back, why did you buy it in the first place?" I asked myself. (Answer I got later: The line was too long for dressing rooms.)
I told her to return it. Knowing the history of these shopping frenzies, 90% of the customers that day will be taking their goods to eBay as well.
I understood the initial appeal. Both of us work as Fashion Designers. We're fans of Margiela. We follow the high fashion world religiously. Often our tastes are never in line with our bank accounts.
"If you are willing to buy into this collaboration, please do, just don’t think that you are buying ‘fashion’ or a part of Margiela’s legacy — what you are buying are assembly-line knockoffs that you will discard by next year. But if this has become your idea of fashion, I urge you to reconsider."
Fast Fashion collaborations are the cover bands of design. It sort-of, kind-of, sounds and looks like The Beatles. But this cover band is only riding on the coattails of the original band's genius. Make no mistake.
Is good design meant for only those that can afford it? That's part of the problem a designer must solve. Good design that is affordable is a noble goal. But good design is more than just accessibility through price.
Dieter Rams, whose work at Braun is often the source of inspiration for Apple's products, wrote in his 10 Principles for Good Design: "Good design must be useful, long lasting and good for the environment."
Works like this fail on quality, which affect their purpose and lifespan, which mean they are often quickly discarded.
This isn't noble design, this is dishonest design. (Another one of Dieter's design points: "a design must not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really it to manipulate the consumer.")
Why does democratizing good design often mean a reduction in quality?
If a plane is designed to fly from New York to San Francisco faster than any currently available (thus serving more people), we shouldn't expect the quality of the planes construction to go down in contrast.
I am not immune to this paradox. Just yesterday, I put together a dresser I bought from Ikea, composed of particle board. The drawers so fragile, so thin my girlfriend was worried it would break holding her folded up pants. I know this isn't something that will survive to be passed to my grandchildren. But that's ok because it was so cheap. The lifetime value to me is significantly lower. And like many New Yorkers, it will likely find its way to a street corner when I'm done with it. I wouldn't say the same for my Eames side chair.
This holds true with technology, something I'm trying to be mindful of lately.
I blog, Tweet, Facebook and Instagram. An update status of what a celebrity is wearing is junk. And I doubt people that liked my photo of a hamburger I was eating for the 4th day in a row feel like it contributed to our friendship. Technology has given us the ability to connect with people anywhere in the world blindingly fast. We can make new friends and find potential love online. (I actually met my current girlfriend on OkCupid) But the qualities you seek in friends or a partner shouldn't be diminished. Neither should your interactions with the people in your life now. That is an abuse of the system. If you'd like to test this, try updating your social media status every minute with random words and see how quickly people unfollow you.
This isn't an attack on documenting your life. Some people think the internet is to blame for this age of "oversharing". It isn't true. We have been documenting and sharing as long as humans have been able to communicate. We drew on cave walls, we shared oral stories through generations before writing them in books and journals. Our parents lugged around suitcase sized cameras to record us opening Christmas presents. It's just easier to see what people are sharing. We're not stuck at someones house sitting through their vacation slideshow. We're seeing it pop up in real time on Facebook.
And this is our responsibility. We are all creators and designers. And if we want our products, our photos, our stories to be valued by the people that decide to give us their attention (and money), we must never skimp on quality. How we get it to them has already been taken care of.