Although the fashion industry developed first in Europe and America, as of 2017, it is an international and highly globalized industry, with clothing often designed in one country, manufactured in another, and sold worldwide. For example, an American fashion company might source fabric in China and have the clothes manufactured in Vietnam, finished in Italy, and shipped to a warehouse in the United States for distribution to retail outlets internationally. The fashion industry has long been one of the largest employers in the United States, and it remains so in the 21st century. However, U.S. employment declined considerably as production increasingly moved overseas, especially to China. Because data on the fashion industry typically are reported for national economies and expressed in terms of the industry's many separate sectors, aggregate figures for world production of textiles and clothing are difficult to obtain. However, by any measure, the clothing industry accounts for a significant share of world economic output. The fashion industry consists of four levels:
Often consumers need to be told what they want. Fashion companies have to do their research to ensure they know their customers' needs before developing solutions. Steve Jobs said, "You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You cannot start with the technology and try to figure out where you are going to sell it".
With increasing environmental awareness, the economic imperative to "Spend now, think later" is getting increasingly scrutinized. Today's consumer tends to be more mindful about consumption, looking for just enough and better, more durable options. People have also become more conscious of the impact their everyday consumption has on the environment and society, and these initiatives are often described as a move towards sustainable fashion, yet critics argue a circular economy based on growth is an oxymoron, or an increasing spiral of consumption, rather than a utopian cradle-to-cradle circular solution.
In the 16th century, national differences were at their most pronounced. Ten 16th century portraits of German or Italian gentlemen may show ten entirely different hats. Albrecht Dürer illustrated the differences in his actual (or composite) contrast of Nuremberg and Venetian fashions at the close of the 15th century (illustration, right). The "Spanish style" of the late 16th century began the move back to synchronicity among upper-class Europeans, and after a struggle in the mid-17th century, French styles decisively took over leadership, a process completed in the 18th century.
Fashion is a popular aesthetic expression in a certain time and context, especially in clothing, footwear, lifestyle, accessories, makeup, hairstyle and body proportions. Whereas, a trend often connotes a very specific aesthetic expression, and often lasting shorter than a season, fashion is a distinctive and industry-supported expression traditionally tied to the fashion season and collections. Style is an expression that lasts over many seasons, and is often connected to cultural movements and social markers, symbols, class and culture (ex. Baroque, Rococo, etc). According to sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, fashion connotes “the latest fashion, the latest difference.”
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There has been great debate about politics' place in fashion and traditionally, the fashion industry has maintained a rather apolitical stance. Considering the U.S.'s political climate in the surrounding months of the 2016 presidential election, during 2017 fashion weeks in London, Milan, New York, Paris and São Paulo amongst others, many designers took the opportunity to take political stances leveraging their platforms and influence to reach the masses.