Reported by Jessica Purver
‘Homeless chic’ is the term for the latest controversial fashion trend to hit the streets of Vancouver.
Kanye West’s fashion line YEEZY Season 3 resulted in a prominence of long sweaters, distressed jeans and shirts riddled with holes. While some consumers have embraced this new fashion trend, others see it as a mockery of an epidemic that is widespread throughout Vancouver.
Jennie Orton, communications and public relations officer of First United Church on East Hastings St., said she believes the trend is in bad taste.
“I felt that back in the 90s when heroin chic was a thing,” said Orton. “Anything trying to make another person’s very legitimate suffering chic and fashionable in any way is distasteful and insensitive.”
Record number of homeless in Vancouver
Orton, who works on the Downtown Eastside, sees first-hand the daily struggles of Vancouver’s growing homeless population. According to the Vancouver Homeless Count 2016 report, the total number of homeless persons counted was 1,847, higher than any previously recorded year.
“If people are going to emulate it, they should at least have some opportunity to understand it and empathize,” she said. “I would hope that there would be some sense of education on the other end of it because this isn’t a lifestyle, this is a significant societal problem.”
Eric Li, assistant professor of marketing at UBCO, said that it may represent the dark side of consumerism, but controversy is a marketing tactic in the fashion world and consumer culture.
Opportunity for discourse
He said that homeless style has two sides to it. “One is more cynical, playing with the designer’s power,” he said. “They’re taking advantage of the poor, so there’s negative criticism. I also think that maybe the designers want to send out a message.”
“High fashion designers are taking their time to show off these vulnerable populations,” he said. “Maybe we need an open dialogue to talk further about this term.”
Vancouver-based model and actress Destiny Millns said the trend allows her to keep her faded, ripped clothes instead of throwing them out.
“The fact that it is so expensive here, it kind of gives you a little bit of an out,” she said. “So, you’re either poking fun and offending people, or you’re making them feel more a part of society.”