Fashion Fordism as a Result of the Austerity Period in Britain

free essayIn a layman’s language, austerity can be defined as a situation in which living standards of people are reduced as a result of economic problems. In most governments, austerity policies are normally used in order to cut down the government deficit spending. According to Attfield (1999), these policies may be combined with increase in taxes so as to demonstrate long-term fiscal creditworthiness to creditors. Austerity measures are of great disadvantage to governments as they always lower the quantity and quality of services and benefits provided by states.

The commonly known term “Age of austerity” was made common by the British Conservative leader known as David Cameron in his speech to the Conservative party forum in Cheltenham on 26th April 2009. David was a man who was devoted to put an end to what he referred to as excessive government spending. Austerity may lead to Fordism in order to cut costs. Fordism is a manufacturing policy whose main goal is to yield high production by standardizing output. It can be described in four main principles. First is standardization; the main aim of this standardization was to produce output that was same in quality and design. The jobs performed by the workers could also be standardized (Attfield, 1999). Secondly, the tasks performed could be mechanized as they were the same. Machines could not be switched from product to product as each had its specific function. Thirdly, Taylorism also known as scientific management, was used to reduce the manufacturing process into a simple one that could be accomplished by a single person. Fourthly, conveyer belt systems were used instead of machines, they were put in a central place in the factory, workers remained in fixed positions and products flowed past them. Under Fordism, mass consumption is coupled with mass production resulting into sustained economic growth. Fordism was mainly practiced in the highly developed states in 1940s-1960s, Britain being included. Fordism recognized workers as potential consumers in that they were part of the potential market for the product.

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According to Zweininger-Bargielowska (2002), rationing, price controls, and subsidies were introduced in Britain during the World War II so as to make sure clothing, food and other specific products were circulated in an unbiased way and that the prices were fair. This system was to a big extent fruitful as it curbed unfairness. However, some people did not like the repetitive meal which mainly composed of potatoes bread and vegetable pies. Although this meal was highly nutritious most people protested as it had become too monotonous. This meal acted as a God sent gift to the poor because before the war, since they could not afford it themselves. This resulted in improvements in physical health, mostly in poor kids who were in urban areas.

In Britain, the Second World War had a great impact on British dress. At that time, women undertook jobs that had been customarily known to be for men. As a result, they had to make clothes, such as trousers and overalls that were suitable for these jobs. However, as the war came to an end, dresses were of important value because they were used to redefine women not only as mothers, but as honorable wives rather than workers employed to do chores at home. Additionally, it distinguished the woman as the consumer of the new household appliances. World War II saw “a degree of solid prosperity, previously unknown, to the industry and, in this way, provided the necessary foundation for technical progress and developments in marketing” (Wray 1957, p.44).

The British utility system was in effect between 1942 and 1952. The Utility Clothing Scheme was a rationing system introduced in 1941 and used in helping the British economy during the war. According to Bartlett (2004), the wartime austerity dictated the number of new clothes that an individual could buy and the quantity of fabric that producers could use. Clothing was limited with a system of points and the board in charge of trade released a list of regulations for utility clothes. Examples of aspects that were regulated are design, quality, price, manufacturer and also the design of clothes being produced. The time in which this utility scheme was being enforced can be divided into two periods: period of wartime stringency and period of aftermath up to 1948. During this period, rationing of materials was the order of the day. Rationing in this case refers to the act of limiting the amount of the materials that manufacturers were allowed to use in the state of shortage of materials. This was controlled by a body known as the Board of Trade.

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The Utility Scheme was based on a number of Acts and Government Orders. They include the limitations of supply (Cloth and Apparel Orders), The Goods and Services Act (Price Control), The Utility Cloth Order and Utility Apparel, and lastly The Price Controlled Goods Order. In the limitations of supply, the production and output of all utility cloth was highly controlled by the government. Firm rules for the quality specifications had been laid down by the British Standards Institution. This was mainly to take care of durability in the material and production. The Price Control Act was to administer the price structures and put any producers and sellers who failed to follow the rule to trial. Given set prices were set by the Board’s Central Price Regulation Committee. The Utility Cloth and Utility Apparel orders made sure that profits of all business people were very minimal. Lastly, the Price Controlled Goods Order enacted firm rules stating that all utility goods had to be numbered and invoiced as they exchanged hands. It was mandatory for the utility mark and the specification to be fixed on the cloth (Bartlett, 2004).

There was a growing tension between the British government design policies and the public. According to Ewing (2001), women were unwilling to surrender their valuable items such as silk stockings, lingerie, lipstick, and nail varnish. As a result of their unwillingness, the government had no option but to set aside rare materials for the production of women stuff such as corsets and hats that were of great importance in the women’s principles. According to McNeill (1993), the government had a different objective other than making the woman contended by complying with the women’s beauty needs. He feels that the government wanted discharge thoughts on the “masculinization” of women.

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According to Sladen (1995), tension is also felt between the Board of Trade design guidelines and women’s culture. The main purpose of the scheme was to manufacture new clothing, but using minimal power, labor and fabric. As per her article, Sladen’s perception on the government control over the clothing business was distinctive in the history of the Britons. Before the war erupted, much of clothing in Britain was produced by small dressmakers and tailors as opposed to mass production implemented by the Board of Trade during and after the war. This significantly led to a decrease in small firms. After the war, the government did not stop mass production; on the contrary, it was expanded instead of going back to new designs that were simple. But to the producers in the lower end of fashion market, they went back to the ornate designs of the prewar period, which resulted in the stability of fashion industry in Britain.

Pros and Cons of Fordism in the Fashion Industry

Fordism has both advantages and shortcomings. Of great advantage is the fact that in Fordism, there is a less wastage of material as all operations are organized and optimal use of material is achieved. This leads to environmental conservation as there is no waste to dispose which will pollute the environment (Sladen, 1995). Fordism is also an easy way for manufacturers as the manufacturing process is not complicated. This may also mean that companies will employ fewer workers, hence saving on costs. Moreover, Fordism allows the fashion industry to be more stable because consumers have no option but to buy the available products.

Considering that the fashion market keeps changing as well as the consumers tastes , it is hard to forecast the demand. In situations where too little is produced, companies are prone to lose market share. On the other hand, when too much goods are produced as compared to demand, the products have to be stored in warehouses for future use. However, in some instances, the storage charges are high and the only option producers are left with is to sell their products at discounted prices (McNeill, 1993). This definitely leads to reduction in profits if not to losses. Moreover, seeing the nature of the working day and the working conditions of the workers which are hard, it is possible that workers may get bored and feel like there are no challenges involved in their kind of job.

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In addition, in most cases there are little chances that a worker will go up the hierarchy ladder resulting in lack of motivation in the workers. Similarly, since the managers and the supervisors control the speed and operation of the assembly line, workers are required to have very high levels of concentration (McNeill, 1993). Lack of concentration may result in fatal accidents. This would mean that the organization incurs more expenses in handling the accidents, thus resulting to losses.

According to Wilson & Taylor (1989), another disadvantage is that consumers have no freedom to choose what they want as they have no right to express themselves. This forces them to wear what is available in the market even if the fashion is not ornate. Moreover in Fordism productions, the sizing of the clothes is standard. This is one of the greatest drawbacks as the consumers are of different sizes so most of them many be locked out because the garments do not fit them. Since the Fordism products are standardized, small firms may easily compete with them as they have more customized products and in varying sizes. Most customers may easily go to purchase their products from the small firms because of the availability of variety in products.

A good case study to show that fashion is not Fordist is looking at French fashion designer Christian Dior. In 1947, Dior released the New Look; a design of women’s clothing that is mainly defined by long thickened skirts with very thin waistlines commonly referred to as wasp-like waistlines. This fashion recalled that one of the Victorian era. According to Dior, this look was ideal to the women during the postwar period as it offered them a stylish and ladylike look. Some people embraced the style wholeheartedly while others did not. Some felt like the dress was too heavy and its undergarments such as the bodices corsets restricted women from freedom of movement. Moreover, the wasp waistlines were only suitable for women who had small waists (Wilson & Taylor, 1989). Therefore, ‘New-Look’ was dovetailed to incorporate a design that was suitable for women of all sizes and shapes. Moreover, some women felt that the ‘New-Look’ design was too conservative so the design was redesigned to suit their preferences. This example clearly shows that fashion is not fordist as the style keeps changing according to customers needs. Another example would be that some of the fashions used to impress our grandparents may not be the same fashions embraced by the current young generation. Things change and good fashion designers have to adjust these changes.

The aim of any fashion designer is to satisfy all his or her customers. There is need to produce only what the market wants in order to avoid loss. Fordism does not allow such kind of flexibility in production. If Dior production was Fordist, it means that he would go at a loss as some customers wanted some few alterations on the design. It is important to note that different designs need different sewing machines. Unfortunately, Fordism does not allow using of different machines for different designs as their designs are standardized (Wilson & Taylor, 1989). This implies that some designs are not perfectly done because not all designs would need the same kind of machines.

Markets normally have disaggregated demand. Disaggregated demand is the kind of demand where consumers have different preferences in products depending on their cultural beliefs, style, taste and their means of living. For example, we do not expect a woman aged 50 to dress in the same way as a young woman of 25 years. Some consumers are conservative and, therefore, keen to wear designs that are not revealing while others are fashion hungry and therefore feel comfortable in designs that reveal their figures. In addition, competition in the market is a key factor when it comes to demand in a market situation. In order to keep with the changing demand, producers need to continue producing items that are of good quality and at affordable prices (Wray, 1957). Otherwise, the customers will leave them in search for better items. As a person’s income rises, so does their lifestyle. In most cases it is evident that a consumer who used to buy cheap items will now go for one that is slightly more expensive. Rise in income changes the demands of an individual. For instance, some prominent persons, like the first lady of the US, prefer putting on designer clothes even though they are expensive while ordinary men and women prefer buying affordable clothes.

Fashion has its own rules that regulate the style of dressing. Let us consider color as an example; different people wear different colors that go well with them. Choosing an appropriate color of an outfit is measured as a tool to good taste: “taste is most obvious in choice of colors” (Wray, 1957, p.32). The fashion world demands that a woman should be able to know which colors are good for her in relation to her hair and complexion. Colors are divided into three main groups: warm, cool and neutral. Cool tend to exaggerate the slenderness of an individual while warm ones make one to look a little bit bigger. Blonde women are more likely to look good in warm colors whereas brunettes would look good in cold ones.

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Consequences of Fordism Urban Spaces

In Fordism, the most important issue to deal with, was the economic importance of mass production. The main interest of the company was how many products they could make and much less money was going to be involved. Mass production concept had effects on urban space. Rural regions had very little workspaces and this made them not to be in a strong position to fight with the large companies (Zweiniger-Bargielowska, 1999). This resulted in many cases of unemployment in the rural areas. Therefore, people in rural areas began to migrate to the cities resulting to rapid growth of the latter. This fortifies the right decision to build factories in the cities. The situation has remained the same up to this moment, especially in developing countries, because most of the industries are found in urban areas.

Examples of Fordism

In Netherlands, the city of Eindhoven was developed so much by Philips Company. Two brothers, Gerard and Anton, developed a glow lamp factory (Ewing, 2001). They decided to develop in this area because of the availability of workers to work in their factory. Their company manufactured several other products such as radios, vacuum cleaners and television sets. The second example is development of car industry in Detroit. Ford began his car factory here, after some time; the place became a big city with a workers district. Before the car industry began in Detroit, it had been known to be an industry of wooden carts. The shape of the city is like that one of a cartwheel. The development in the city was easy as manufacturers were not dependent on transportation of iron to other places. This development has to date made Eindhoven to be the 4th city of the Netherlands. These two examples are good cases that show Fordism was actually practiced and it resulted into the development of many companies. Important to note is that even great companies such as Philips came into existence as a result of Fordism.

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As it has been demonstrated, Fordism has both good and bad aspects. Countries should address issues concerning recession, unemployment and debts as this is the only way in which austerity can be avoided. Fordism can be used as a political and a social tool. This method was used as a tool of transition from the old methods of labor to modern methods. It combines scientific, welfare and personal management methods of production (Zweiniger-Bargielowska, 2002). Before Fordism was embraced, there was no system that was organized as workers would be given many roles in the workplace. The only way in which mass production can survive is when there is mass consumption. Fordism makes globalization of manufacturing and cultures.

Austerity periods make the rich and the poor people to lead the same kind of life as the governments control everything. During such periods, it is the poor or the economically unstable that benefit most. Fashion is greatly affected during austerity times as designers are restricted from making clothes that they wish to make. Application of austerity programs can be counter-productive when the state has an economy that is struggling (Zweiniger-Bargielowska, 1999). Economists advice that when an economy is faced with a huge private debt level, public debts can be used in exchange for those private ones. Next step is to apply austerity program as soon as the economy is up on its feet. In most states, austerity periods exist in two scenarios: after a war or when the economy of the country is collapsing due to huge government debts.