Fast fashion: A constant search for the latest thing

Young women who spend all their spare time shopping. Lost, superficial souls with no purpose in life? Or creative and productive people? Emma Samsioe, who has spent several years studying their behaviour, wants to show a more nuanced picture of the phenomenon.

Emma Samsioe LITEN

Emma Samsioe.

It all started when Emma Samsioe was out shopping and noticed the young girls who mostly seemed to be just hanging out in the large clothing chain stores. They aroused her interest and she wondered what they were really up to. In order to find out, she started hanging out in clothes shops herself, which gave her the idea of writing her doctoral thesis about the shopping girls.

“Once I had decided to research the young girls and their behaviour, I was initially worried that I wouldn’t find enough of them to form a basis for my research”, explained Emma Samsioe. “But that fear turned out to be unfounded. On the contrary, it is surprising just how many girls spend a large part of their spare time shopping and checking out the range on offer in the large clothing chain stores.”

In fact , the phenomenon of young women who spend more time in shopping centres than in their own living rooms is neither new nor unknown. Not so long ago, an article in the New York Times drew attention to them, describing them as lost, superficial and with no purpose in life.
“There are a lot of preconceptions; conversations about these girls often end up as a discussion of class”, said Emma Samsioe, who wanted to look beyond the prejudice.

She conducted in-depth interviews of around 40 young women aged between 21 and 35 with only one major interest – clothes and fashion. That she didn’t include younger age groups depends on the fact that younger girls often do not have the money to fully realise their interest in clothes.

What surprised Emma Samsioe most was the women’s systematic approach to shopping; every day, they drop by to look at the window diplays of the major fashion chains. They know exactly which days are delivery days, and they have learnt to read the signage in the shops so that they know when something new has arrived. They are constantly looking for inspiration for new combinations of clothes, which they think of as creative work.

“For example, they would never buy an outfit straight out, the way it is presented in the shop window”, said Emma Samsioe. That would mean it was ‘made by H&M, not by me,’ as the girls put it.

On the days they don’t find the time to drop in to H&M, Zara or some other fashion chain, they might look at what are known as haul films, i.e. YouTube videos of other more or less familiar shoppers showing off their latest purchases.
According to Emma Samsioe, the women’s aim is to become experts at putting together their own outfits, to acquire the perfect wardrobe. They are aware that many people look down on their interest and think that their lifestyle is superficial and reprehensible. This is why several of them were initially unwilling to participate in Emma Samsioe’s research project. In order to gain their trust and get them to open up about their interest, all the interviews were held in a home environment over a meal.

“We get together at the home of one of the girls and, to get the conversation going, I ask them to bring their recently purchased clothes and other paraphernalia to show”, explained Emma Samsioe. A normal straightforward interview situation would probably not have provided the desired result.

It is a kind of expertise that the girls demonstrate through their clothes. This expertise includes never using the same outfit twice, at least not in the same combination. In order to remember what they wore, they often have an ingenious storage system in which boxes and clothes hangers are marked. Facebook pictures also help them to remember. Contrary to what one might believe, not a lot gets thrown away. The girls sell things on the second hand market to be able to afford to keep shopping.

Emma Samsioe explained that her informants are often surprised to find out that they are not alone in living the way they do.
“Many believe that their systematic shopping behaviour is unique to their particular group, but it isn’t. So they often get curious and want to hear more about how other girls approach the acquisition of a unique and ‘expert’ outfit”.

Emma Samsioe thinks a lot about what drives the girls. Some of them have jobs in which their expertise is put to use. They are personal shoppers, stylists, key account managers or work with store checks for large clothing retailers. Those who are in higher education are often studying economics and writing their degree projects on H&M or another large clothing chain. However, most of them have no higher education, but more of a creative background.

“I would have expected many of them to have blogs but only one of my informants does”, said Emma Samsioe. “I think blogging is too slow a medium for them”.

Emma Samsioe calls her research project Fast Fashion, as nowadays everything that has to do with fashion has to go very fast. Previously things went much slower; the newspapers reported from the major fashion shows in Milan and Paris. Then it took a couple of years before you could find copies inspired from those shows in the chain store collections.

Today, according to Emma Samsioe, the process takes two weeks from idea to shop. Everything goes at top speed, including clothing consumption. The thing is to be the first to snap up the latest trend.

Issues such as sustainability and fair trade are not high on the girls’ list of priorities.

“They often don’t reflect on the problematic aspects of their way of life”, said Emma Samsioe. “Of course they have heard of eco-fashion, but it’s not something for them. They need a greater range of choices, they believe, and can therefore not be limited to eco-fashion”.

“On the one hand, one can be horrified at their unsustainable consumption”, thinks Emma Samsioe, “but on the other hand these girls are living exactly as consumer society dictates. They often get praised by friends and shop assistants for their purchases and their outfits. This becomes a sort of confirmation that they are good at what they do and that their knowledge is not worthless”.

Above all, Emma Samsioe believes that creativity and playfulness are the main drivers of the behaviour of these young women.

“The most common response I get when I ask why they spend so much time on their outfits is: because it’s fun!”

Text: Ulrika Oredsson

Photo: Gunnar Menander

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