Discovering Fashion, part 9 – Second Year: Internship At A Department Store
In the fourth period of the second year of design studies us students go of to our first internships. This is exciting because this is the first time some of us get to test the waters in the real world of design and fashion business. Needless to say, that whether the intership was at an independent brand, a small business or at an internationally recognised chain or whether it dealt with enterpreneurship, research skils, commercial material or costumer service etc. they gave us a lot of learnings and skils but, most of all, opened our minds to question the norms the industry as well as forced us to reconsider our own values.
At least, in my case, working at a finnish department store Stockmann for two months gave me so much to think about. Not only were my thoughts circuling around the sustainable practises of the department store but also around the general mindset of consuming, how we approach items and what is our relationship like with buying.
Therefore, in the following I will discourse the most important topics and questions the intership at Stockamn raised in myself. Since the actual work didn't include much designing or creating but was more focused on customer service and selling (which are hugely appreciated learnings as well) I feel like the thoughts provoked were the most fruitful part of my learnings during this intership and something I thought you would like to hear as well. Also please note that the things I will talk about doesn't only consern Stockmann but all department stores of the world and therefore it isn't my intention to ever to pick apart Stockmann since they did a wonderful jobb with handeling the intership and everybody was perfectly lovely and helpful.
Futhermore, please remember that these are only my opinions based on observation and personal experience which you are welcome challenge as well as to offer your opion on in the comments down below.
What is the future of Department Stores?
Are Department Stores the thing of the past? Can a fysical store keep up with the technology advancements of the future as well as the changes demaned by eco-concious consumers? And is the very term "department store" becoming old-fashioned?
I don't know about you but sometimes I get a feeling that department stores aren't that in tune with the times anymore and have lost their touch as the world has changed. At least, the stores in Finland seem to be slowly fading into oblivion for the inability to update the product range and services but also for forgetting important branding elements such as coherent workwear. For example, during my intership, there were times when the customer didn't at first recognise the sales personel because she/he was wearing totally different colors compared to other sales personels. What's more, even the displays, showcase windows and store decor felt a little lackluster and, if I dare say, outdated. So I wonder, if you are going to sell fashion shoudn't every visual element be flawlessly executed?
There are, however, also stores that manages to stay exciting and relevant dispite the changing times but only through bold changes and new ideas balanced with strong tradition and heritage. For example, the infamous department stores Selfridges and Harrods offer so much more than just clothing. Namely, gallery space, spas, a cinema and even tattoo artists can be found inside the walls of these great department stores while still maintainig their status symbol and heritage luxury. After all, fashion is almoust always tied to experience and athmosphere which has to be constantly nurtured and updated which is also something that moves with the times. That is why, it is surely dangerous for a department store to hold on too tightly to the past?
Do you think some department stores are becoming outdated?
How Can Department Stores Become Sustainable?
Is it possible for department stores to become more sustainable? What are the ways to get there? What the consumers wish from department stores nowadays? Here are just few ideas on what could be changed:
Department stores could become the places to take your well loved things for repairs and alterations. Sewing, cobbler, cleaning and styling services would probably intrest many costumers and so would other beauty related services such as hairdressing, makeup artistry, nail salons and skincare help etc. Honestly, if there's a cinema in Selfridges then it seems only your imagination is the limit when it comes to designing services for department stores.
Wouldn't it be revolutionary if you could go to a department store to rent an outfit or a bag for a week or few days? Who knew that the center of materialistic joy could take on another idealistic route: namely, the joy of not having to own it.
Changes In Product Range
Department stores could be more strict on what products and brands they sell. That's why, conscious actions towards the environment as well as sustainable practises and innovation should become criteria of buying in. This might also force older brands to develop their ways of business as the world's and consumers' demants change.
Categorizing Store Space And Using Technology As A Sustainable Guide
Do you struggle finding items that match your sustainable values when shopping at a department store? It can be quite hard to distinguish a difference between two pratically same bags, am I right? But what if you could see right away where the vegan products are or the ones that use new innovations? Of course, handling limited space can also be difficult but what if there was an app or some other form of technology that could tell you what the item's composition is or where it has been produced by scanning bar codes? Would that make making more sustainable decisions easier for you?
It doesn't always have to be about selling items. Sometimes it could be about selling experiences, especially now that we are slowly getting back to some form of normality small scale events might be the thing to consider.
The Problem of Packaging
Fashion industry causes numerous sustainable problems and packaging waste is certainly one them. I am not sure how much department stores can control the amount of packaging coming in with products but something still needs to be done whether it is calling out brands to change their ways or making sure store's recycling process is flawless.
Not only is it important to lesser packaging waste for the environment but also for the workers handling them. I cannot tell you how shocked I was to experience the long hours needed to unpack a cart of new-in products from their packaging. Not to mention carrying laps of tissue paper and plastic into the bins. Everything is wrapped in plastic and everything smells it and all I was able to think was "how did we get here". Needles to say, there has to be a fault in the system somewhere down the production line or else it has to be blamed on ignorance.
What is my place in the fashion industry?
After the internship I must say I felt very unsure, hopeless and even angry about my future place in the fashion industry because it just seemed overwhelmingly difficult in every way. How could I justify creating more stuff into this world? Do I have the right to create more stuff and if I don't then who has and vice versa? Is it possible to do this in a truly sustainable way? Can more meaningful products be made and what are the ways to create them?
Needles to say, the questions are endless and daunting when it comes to sustainability and environmental resposibility in relation to fashion. But what is still worse than creating more stuff is not even trying to be more sustaineble, not believeing in succeeding in it and not caring about the outcome and the effects of your actions.
Therefore, I realised that as a design student you cannot give up on fashion. In fact, it would be highly unprofessional to leave and say I don't want to fix things as soon as the responsibility has been given or realised. After all, it is our task not to give up, to dream about the answers and to find solutions. It is inevitably part of the work we will do in the future. Therefore, at this very moment, I feel like our place in the fashion industry is simply to be honest, open and brave. This is not an easy nor simple industry to be apart of because of the mix of technological, ideological, environmental, cultural, political and artistical fields but I hope it can be a rewarding one and, in the end, something to be proud of.
How do you feel about Department Stores?
What other things Department Stores could do in regards to sustainability?
Have you felt uncomfortable with the amount of packaging your purchase comes with?
If you study or work in the fashion industry how do you see yourself in it from a sustainability point of view?
Thank you so much for reading!