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Fashion, with its social gloss of being the most transient of commodities in postmodern Western capitalistic societies, undergirds the hunt for the next “it” item in our modern liquid worlds (Bauman 2006). In fashion, as post-Marxist socialist Zygmunt Bauman argues, there is a perpetuum mobile, or social dynamic, in which progress is articulated as each individual’s avoidance of exclusion (Marx 2015 : 85). As individuals fear exclusion, the individual’s relation to fashion fulfills a continuous cycle of becoming, a hedonic treadmill with temporary happiness, via materialistic consumption, as its constant goal (Bauman 2010). However, the rise of secondhand markets in the liquid West and consumers’ engagement in both the brick-and-mortar and ecommerce varieties thereof undercut dialectical revolutions of consumption habits for the newest and shiniest of baubles. Taking a new materialist approach to lives and values of clothes, I show how females are oriented toward a particular type of (in)vestment that is underrecognized and undervalued under the lights that cast the pursuit of fashion as superficial. In other words, at the root of the term investment is vestire, to clothe, already suggesting that popular (mis)conceptions about fashion’s frivolity lacks material evidence. Using auto-ethnography as my primary method and the Buffalo Exchange secondhand chain of stores and particularly the East Village, Manhattan location as my primary field site, I illustrate the cycling through of clothing and the changes in these commodities’ value. I complicate the easy narratives that Western political economists have used to explain away Marx’s theory on value and commodity fetishism. The lifecycle of commodities, as symptomized in the classic macroeconomic example of guns versus butter, shows a production possibility frontier circumscribed by the assumption that consumption is a one-time deal. Yet, consuming and wearing secondhand clothing can be upheld by new materialism as a socially impactful (in)vestment. As I show in this case study, in the secondhand market for luxe designer garments, the concept of value changes quickly as it moves through hands in the handed-down, preowned, preloved nebulas that make value itself amorphous. Moreover, as shown by the entrepreneurial example of Brass, alternative extra-industry solutions to accessing such (in)vestments can close the wardrobe gap for women.
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I have regularly sold and shopped at Buffalo Exchange since late 2010, starting with the Boston, Massachusetts area locations. Between 2010 and 2016, I suspect that I have spent roughly equal times at both the Coolidge Corner, Allston location as well as the Davis Square, Somerville location. Since moving to New York City in August 2016, I have visited and purchased items from four of the five Buffalo Exchange locations (East Village and Chelsea in Manhattan as well as Williamsburg and Boerum Hill, Brooklyn locations but not the Astoria, Queens location) in the New York City area. I have sold my wares at the East Village, Williamsburg, and Boerum Hill locations.
Given the space allotted in this paper, it would not be possible to provide a full account of Marxian economics. Rather, I endeavor to provide an overview of Marx’s view on the commodity and commodity fetishism, as it is relevant to the discussion and analysis provided in this paper.
To wit, Kawanishi does not design under a R.K. label but rather under the label Landlord.
This is so ubiquitous that notwithstanding my being an avid patron of Buffalo Exchange, I was not even granted an interview when I applied for a side gig at the Allston location after college graduation.
“Brands We Love”: Abercrombie and Fitch, Universal Standard, Lane Bryant, Johnny Was, Kate Spade, Anthropologie, Bloomingdale’s, Urban Outfitters, Ralph Lauren, Eileen Fisher, Bryn Walker, Marc Jacobs, The North Face, Barney’s NY, Lululemon, Free People, Lucky Brand, Banana Republic, Topshop, Rag & Bone, ASOS Curve, Michael Kors, Nordstrom, Patagonia, Calvin Klein, ModCloth, Cole Haan, Madewell, Loft, Gap, Zara, Torrid, ASOS, AG, Vince, Nike, PAIGE, Adidas, Eloquii, J.Crew, Zara Man, Topman, Supreme, Coach, Vans, Boden, Stussy, Levi’s.
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Biron B (2017) ‘The wardrobe gap’: clothing brand Brass is out to change officewear for women. Digiday. https://digiday.com/marketing/wardrobe-gap-clothing-brand-brass-change-officewear-women/. Retrieved from November 13, 2017.
Brass (2015) 3 reasons we chose Kickstarter over venture capital. Medium. https://medium.com/@BrassClo/3-reasons-we-chose-kickstarter-over-venture-capital-ec1d899980b7. Retrieved from November 13, 2017.
Brass (2017) The wardrobe gap. Medium. https://medium.com/the-workroom-by-brass/the-wardrobe-gap-d50dc1e7a837. Retrieved from November 13, 2017.
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- Vestire: Social Divesting and Impact Investing in New Materialism
Kalina Yingnan Deng
- Springer Singapore