This is my daughter, Charleston Jane. When it comes to clothing, Charleston is free. She loves her dresses, leopard prints, and hats - not because a magazine told her to, but because she just likes them. She never worries about money, her body, or being trendy. She loves what she wears, and wears what she loves. It’s simple.
This is not just Charleston’s story. This is where all of us start with clothing: totally free. Our clothing starts as a visual representation of our authentic selves - our preferences and our creativity.
But if her story is anything like it is for most women, this freedom will not last. Over time, she'll start to listen to magazines, marketers, and society.
Eventually, the lie creeps in; that you - in your natural state - are not okay and you need to buy something to be accepted. The skill of modern fashion has been to take the things that are unique about you - your height, dimensions, proportions - and neutralize them by buying clothes. If you’re tall, buy flats. If you’re curvy, buy vertical stripes. This leaves our closets entirely too full, resulting in cluttered hearts, minds, and homes.
How The Fashion Industry Creates the Lie
You see, the fashion industry will make over $130,000 off of a woman’s insecurity throughout her lifetime. In fact, as advertising budgets ballooned, the average number of items in American women's closets went from 36 to over 120 (almost 400%), since 1930. Most of these items are ones that we don't actually love and seldom wear.
Just picture yourself walking through the mall. The images you see are excluding you from “the club” unless you buy what they’re selling. They show pictures of people wearing denim jackets who are in bliss and say, “If you buy a denim jacket, you’ll be happy like us!” So we buy it. Then a month later, they’re all wearing leather jackets and saying, “Buy a leather jacket, you’ll be pretty like us!” And we buy it. And then a month or week later, it’s bomber jackets. The lie is incredibly effective at creating lifelong consumption.
Truthfully, there is a well-funded conspiracy to keep women (like my daughter), discontent with themselves and their clothes so that they will buy more and more.
Although my voice is small compared to an industry that benefits from my daughter's insecurity, as Charleston's father, I will continue to fight the lie that tells her to buy more and be someone she's not.
How To Fight The Lie
Here is where I enter the picture: I, Blake Smith, am the CEO of a fashion company. I’ve spent the past 5 years of my life in the industry whose fundamental driver of growth is the exploitation of my daughters.
And this is the core insight that I’ve found about the lie: it is effective and it sells stuff incredibly well.
However, in my five years at this company, I’ve learned something else about the lie: it can be healed. You do not have to keep feeling the way you feel, but, you need a strategy. In my time of working with tens of thousands of women, I’ve found there are two main tools you need to combat the lie, so you have something to fall back on as you walk through the mall. Here they are:
1) You need a better narrative of yourself.
What do I mean by that? Picture yourself back in the mall or looking at an ad. The lie is saying, “We’re okay, you are not.” In order to combat that, you need your own narrative of “No - actually, I am okay. I am already happy.” So how do you develop your own narrative? What worked for me was to sit down with someone I love and ask them, “What makes me good for other people?” Maybe they say something like, “Your sense of humor is helpful in tense circumstances.” Listen to that. That is you. Knowing what makes you valuable stops the lie in its tracks.
2) You need to develop your own taste.
By developing your own taste you create a counter-message to when when the lie says, “You need to buy white ripped jeans now!” How do we do this? Give this a try:
- Hang up all your clothes.
- Turn the hooks around facing you.
- Each day when you wear something, turn the hanger around to face the other way.
What you’ll discover after a month of doing this is that: 1) we only wear about 20% of the clothes in our closets on a regular basis, and 2) those items that you actually wore are the core of your taste. What do you see? Certain colors, cuts, or fabrics? The pattern and rhythm you see within your closet is important. It becomes the filter through how you will make purchases in the future. So, when they say, “You need white ripped jeans,” you can say, “Actually, no, I don't. That’s not me.”
In a sense, it is returning to your inner 3-year old. Figure out what you love, and wear that.
By creating your own narrative, and developing your own taste, you can be equipped to combat the lie when it pops up.
Back to Innocence
The truth is, for most of us we may never get back to the innocence of childhood like my daughter. But, we can combat the lie. We can grow out of it. We can become stronger! We can become people who stand on our own, and we can lead others to a place of freedom.
If this entire industry can spiral out of control with one simple lie, “You are not okay,” then I want to drive home the opposite of this lie - the opposite of the magazines, the opposite of the brands: “You are worthy of love.”