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19th February 2020

Is the intersection of fast fashion and modern art democratic or exploitative?

Maisie Scott reflects on Uniqlo’s ‘Crossing Lines’ collection and the relationship between contemporary art and fast fashion
Is the intersection of fast fashion and modern art democratic or exploitative?
Keith Haring. Photo: Sharyn Morrow @Flickr

Contemporary art and streetwear have always existed in dialogue with one another. Uniqlo’s recent collection of graphic t-shirts titled ‘Crossing Lines’ celebrates the relationship between art and fashion. The collection of graphic t-shirts features the artwork of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The designs are available in the UK and the Uniqlo store on Market Street stocks several items from the collection.

Modern art is an important part of contemporary streetwear culture. Recent streetwear collaborations, including Supreme x Damien Hirst and Uniqlo x Kaws, portray the popularity of the intersection between art and casual clothing. Uniqlo is not traditionally perceived as a Hypebeast clothing outlet, but under the creative direction of streetwear giant Nigo, the brand has been led in new directions. Nigo took over the brand’s UT line in 2014 which includes its graphic t-shirts. The ‘Crossing Lines’ collection featuring the artwork of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel is the latest release.

Uniqlo’s graphic t-shirt collection makes the artwork of some of the biggest names in modern art accessible to the general public, but at what cost? The tops are available in multiple different colours including baby pink and black and are priced at £12.90.

Uniqlo are committed to rejecting the fast-fashion label that has been pressed upon them in recent years, but they cannot resist competing with fast-fashion prices. The ethical fashion journal Good On You comment that Uniqlo ‘”has a repair and reuse program in place, however, its business is built on fast fashion, constantly changing styles and more or less disposable clothing which is inherently harmful to the environment.”

Fast fashion damages the environment and has the potential to drain the creative energy of modern art. Famous prints are made into novelty designs that get scrapped as soon as they dip in popularity. Online Editor Bec Oakes’ piece,  ‘Fast fashion is destroying the integrity of the fashion industry’ highlights the crux of the issue. Fast fashion has removed the artistry from fashion.

The history of the artists and the pieces of art themselves have the potential to get lost in the translation of art into highstreet fashion. Keith Haring (1958-1990) was a vital voice in AIDs activism in New York. Haring died aged 32 from AIDs related complications. Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat both used graffiti as a medium in order to make their artwork available at street level. Instead of confining their creative talent to galleries, the two radical artists desired for their artwork to be accessible.

Uniqlo’s ‘Crossing Lines’ collection is pocket-friendly and arguments could be advanced that this makes modern art (often still confined to expensive galleries) more democratic. Yet it seems naive to make such a claim as the fast fashion element of the collection obscures the creativity of the original artwork because of the exploitation involved in making the garments. The intersection of modern art and fast fashion streetwear must be carefully considered so as not to commit two-fold damage to the environment, the people making the clothes and the creativity of the original work.

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