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Minimalism at its finest

Kate Glad, Staff Writer

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The fashion world clung to a “more is more,” maximalist mentality, as of early last year. Instagram brows and matte liquid lipstick dominated makeup and every piece of clothing was velvet, embroidered, distressed, or embellished to death. But, toward the end of 2016 clean lines and fresh materials began to emerge in fashion and beauty. While this stripped down aesthetic is not the environmentally minded no-waste minimalism many are familiar with, it is the most simple and green the fashion industry has been in recent years.

Who is pioneering this minimalist renaissance? In the beauty world Glossier CEO Emily Weiss is doing her fair share. In an interview with Into the Gloss, a popular beauty blog, she said, “I like makeup, but I approach it in a different way–I actually think it might be a more mainstream way than it used to be. While I still very much enjoy experimenting and playing, I also find it very reassuring and comforting to know that there are a handful of makeup products that I will use everyday in a routine.”

Her brand’s statement about makeup on the Glossier site echoes her sentiment, “We’re not out to make you into someone else or complicate your routine. We just want to bring you the best makeup products–the ones you’ll reach for every day.” Along with simplicity, Glossier and brands like it promote responsible beauty products made with healthy ingredients and restrain from testing on animals.  This is good for the consumer and the planet but is not a recipe for guaranteed success.

American Apparel seemed to have it all. Simple silhouettes and materials, American made and sweatshop free, and yet the company went bankrupt and was bought by Hanes in January. What went wrong? One explanation is that the brand’s hyper-trendiness and principles actually worked against them. Clothing designs are rarely seen as novel enough to patent and when they are granted, protection for design patents is much weaker than that for utility patents. As a result, there is no reliable way to protect clothing designs. So, when American Apparel started to capitalize on the growing trend of minimalism with the famous AA Tennis Skirt, $54, and Denim Button Front Skirt, $62, there was nothing to stop other retailers from producing those designs and others much cheaper and much less ethically. The items that cost less to make could be sold for less, making American Apparel obsolete. At Forever 21 knock offs of the skirts sell for $14.90 each.

Still, some fashion companies are thriving riding the minimalism wave. Kanye West and Rihanna are leading Adidas and Puma respectively into a minimal, high fashion brandspace. More affordably, early 2000’s maximalist phenomenons Juicy Couture and Nautica recently launched their most simplistic collections to date with Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters also stocks early minimalist brands: Levis, Calvin Klein, and Birkenstock which have enjoyed an increase in popularity recently.

A shining example of the way minimalism and responsibility can serve a brand well is Reformation. Former model Yael Aflalo’s fashion label has been called “Insta-chic and eco-friendly,” by Vogue. Reformation’s tagline is, “We make killer clothes that don’t kill the environment.” On their website, every item is listed with its carbon footprint, its water footprint, and details about the materials. The designs are simple and made in a factory in LA. With only three physical stores and a website, Reformation made $25 million in 2014 alone. The label is set to keep growing with investment from model Karlie Kloss and support from others including Rihanna and Emily Ratajkowski.

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Minimalism at its finest