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What is the Fashion Industry?

By Janis Adams
Updated May 21, 2024
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With its beginnings in the late 17th century, the fashion industry is a globalized sector that works to meet the demand for apparel and dictates the trends for what should be worn. This industry consists of five distinct and separate levels. These levels are haute couture, luxury wear, affordable luxury wear, mainstream clothing, and discount clothing. The production part of the industry, that which takes the concept for a piece of apparel all the way to the hands of those who purchase it, is made up of four basic sectors. These sectors include producers of the goods necessary to make the apparel, those who create the pieces, those who advertise and market the goods, and those who sell the goods.

The industry largely began in Paris, as seamstresses who once made single garments turned to establishing boutiques that catered to those desiring couture clothing. The first and most well-known dressmaker to do this was Charles Frederick Worth. These beginnings are where the foundations of haute couture were laid. It is in this tradition that this level of the fashion industry continues today.

Luxury wear and affordable luxury wear developed from haute couture, but were designed to be marketed to the masses and were not unique creations. These pieces were and continue to be considered high-end apparel that is more costly than the more common ready-to-wear pieces. Luxury wear and affordable luxury are more commonly sold in boutiques and high-end department stores. Oftentimes, the number of pieces available for purchase is limited, which makes the demand greater. While luxury wear and affordable luxury wear are quite similar, their obvious difference is their cost and their availability.

Mainstream clothing is mass marketed. It is set at a decidedly lower price level than designer clothing. It is marketed to the masses. Mainstream clothing is what is known as off the rack clothing. This simply means that the clothing is bought directly from the rack and is entirely a ready-made garment. These ready-made garments vary in quality from one brand to another, but they are decidedly lower in quality than either type of luxury wear.

While obviously falling in the lowest price range of the fashion industry, discount clothing remains an ever popular choice. Admittedly, the quality tends toward the lower-end, but the price proves to be the draw for the buyer. Discount clothing will often include knock-off apparel, which are pieces copied from luxury and designer wear.

As is clearly evident, this field follows a definite hierarchy, but the production part of the industry follows a ladder effect. The production side of the industry is set in a ladder effect in that each level is dependent upon the level below it for maintaining its existence. Without the level below production, each stage would halt. The production part of the industry relies heavily on those purchasing the garments. When demand is high, production continues at a higher rate. When demand is low, production follows accordingly. Admittedly, all aspects of the fashion industry are ultimately controlled by those buying the garments.

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Discussion Comments

By anon991056 — On May 23, 2015

The fashion industry has ignored women over 50 for so long. Many of us cannot wear sleeveless tops or dresses. Please, please provide us with some sleeves. We need sleeves that go either half way down to our elbow or just above the elbow in a dress. Sleeves look so much better on older women. We have the money to buy but there's not much out there for us. Help!

By summing — On Dec 11, 2012

What is the best place to get fashion industry news? I feel like if there is not a major show happening, and it is not fashion week, it is hard to get info on a weekly basis.

By jonrss — On Dec 10, 2012

I am interested in the fashion industry but not in high fashion. I have always been interested in the clothes that show up in major stores like Wal-Mart and Target. These are the clothes that most people wear and by and large they are the substance of "fashion" for most people.

So who designs these clothes and what kind of process goes into designing them? How do you make a hoodie or a pair of pants that will appeal to the largest number of people?

By betterment — On Dec 03, 2012

@JessicaLynn: Have you ever considered thrift store shopping? It's more eco-friendly, and that way you wouldn't be directly supporting the fashion industry. I've managed to find a lot of good stuff at my local thrift stores, including some awesome designer finds. Last summer, I found a dress that would normally be $150 for $4.

By anon306993 — On Dec 03, 2012

I suppose none of you poor helpless consumers ever thought to make your own clothing? I guess that would be too much work. Anyone can do it; they did it for hundreds of years.

By JessicaLynn — On Dec 03, 2012

I read a really disturbing article about the discount clothing industry recently. The article stated that the prices on discount (and a lot of mainstream) clothing are artificially low because most of them are made by factory workers overseas who labor under bad conditions for horrible wages.

I find this really disturbing, but I don't really have the money to shop for more expensive clothing. Now I feel kind of guilty whenever I buy something new, but I have to wear clothes, you know?

By strawCake — On Dec 02, 2012

@KaBoom: My purchasing habits are like yours, pretty much. Sometimes I splurge for the more expensive mainstream clothing if it's for an item that can last many seasons, like a black blazer or button-up shirt. But for trendy items, I go discount shopping all the way.

By KaBoom — On Dec 01, 2012
I'm just an average person, so I usually purchase discount clothes or mainstream clothing. I don't think I own anything that would be considered affordable luxury wear. In my experience, even "affordable" luxury wear is pretty expensive.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder who exactly purchases the high fashion clothing I see in magazines besides celebrities. A lot of high fashion design items seem like they would look absolutely ridiculous worn for an everyday event. Could you imagine seeing someone in the grocery store wearing a high fashion ensemble? I sure couldn't.

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