Op-ed: Here's What Waka Flocka May Not Understand About The Fashion Industry

The rapper went off earlier this week about "borrowing" vs. "buying."

Historically, the fashion industry has exuded an air of exclusivity bordering on secrecy, and only the wealthy and famous were privy to the inner workings. Of course, now, thanks to the internet, we cannot hope to contain information flow, and we've seen the formerly private become very public. Anyone can become an expert on anything. OK, maybe not anything. (Surprisingly, we're still not doctors despite a very solid amount of time spent on WebMD.) Still, most things, particularly fashion, people seem to know more about than ever. 

This observation comes on the heels of the video that Atlanta rapper Waka Flocka posted, ranting about people borrowing and pulling clothing from department stores, such as Barney’s. The short clip went viral, partly due to fans co-signing his outrage. He says, “If you can’t afford to buy it, stop renting it." 

He has also said that pulling clothes and returning them is "cap sh*t,” translation: people need to stop lying on their riches. We find it hard to believe that the average person knows how to pull clothes from Barneys, or even understands the term "pulling clothes" at all, so he is more than likely speaking about other celebrities who have actual stylists. 

See video below.

He also mentioned that he doesn't want to buy items that other people have worn, which is understandable. 

Being someone who wears something, tucks the tags and takes it back afterward is, of course, dishonest and morally pretty questionable. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, right? However, when it comes to breaking down the relationship between designers and celebrities, borrowing and returning clothes is a critical element of an extremely stringent ecosystem. Waka may think it’s not cool to borrow a look, but we are guessing there is a fundamental lack of understanding that wearing something and affording something, especially in relation to celebrities, is the same. It's not. 

Hiring a powerful stylist can take your image to the next level. We've seen time and time again people go from moderate fame to A-list over a single red carpet appearance or night out. Zendaya has always been beautiful and unique, but when Hollywood stylist Law Roach started working with her, all of a sudden she was serving iconic moment after iconic moment. 

June Ambrose started styling Jay-Z back in the ’90s and is behind his style evolution from street kid to actual CEO. OG stylist Misa Hylton curated all of the iconic looks that the Bad Boy artists wore in the late ’90s and early 2000s. You've probably never seen a pop culture, '90s Halloween costume that wasn't based on a look she made. Our favorite modern day Cinderella, Cardi B, has been literally transformed by working with fairy godfather stylist Kollin Carter. He became a household name after dressing Cardi in four priceless vintage Mugler looks for her appearance and performance at the 2019 Grammy Awards. This feat alone proves just how necessary stylists are. Not just anyone can get access to the couture collections. Plus, how insane would it be for an artist to worry about choreography, performance quality, hitting all of their marks and cues, plus an outfit? We already know image is everything in 2019. And if you need further proof; let's think about the outcome of the fashion of Grammys night on Cardi's career. It was the second time in 25 years that the French fashion house presented looks from the archive to dress a celebrity. The Grammy Award winner was the most talked about artist on music’s biggest night, with a hashtag rounding out at 5.5 million. So, the media impact value alone of Cardi’s Mugler looks is worth millions.

I spoke with New York-based celebrity stylist Mercedes Bass, who said, “I get that borrowing has the connotation of living beyond your means, however 'buying' and 'returning' should not be confused with pulling from designer showrooms. [There is a ] hierarchy of 'borrowing,' especially from luxury designers, archive pieces and couture. Many of times these pieces cannot be purchased, and exposure translates into sales for the designer and greater exposure for the talent and stylist.”

We are well aware that in Black culture, buying designer fashion with prominent logos signifies finally "making it," and we are surrounded by celebrities, especially in hip-hop, who equate wealth with being able to actually purchase Gucci, Fendi or Prada. So, does Waka somehow see borrowing as being broke or not being able to afford luxury fashion? In the fashion industry, this clearly isn't true, since designers are the ones who actually reach out to celebrities they want to wear their pieces.

At times stylists are disregarded or even looked down upon because “they just pick out clothes,” but I can assure you that is the furthest thing from the truth. Stylists do much more than just "pick out" clothing. They have significant roles in making celebrities more successful.

The concept of borrowing clothes is also a way to be more sustainable in terms of reducing waste impact on the planet. As it is, fashion has a devastating carbon footprint. Most clothing ultimately becomes waste. Wearing something one single time and then discarding it produces a staggering amount of clothing that inevitably ends up in landfills. We're all guilty of it. According to NPR, tons of textiles get thrown away and only 15 percent of them are recovered each year. Six percent of trash in NYC alone is clothes and 85 percent of shoes and clothes is just thrown away, and that means people just go out and buy more and more.

But if more celebrities (and people in general) decided to borrow instead of buy, the textiles used, as well as the carbon emissions to manufacture them, would have more use and a longer lifespan. This is not to say that celebrities and other consumers aren’t donating their stuff, but let’s be real, is Waka Flocka, or any other rapper, planning on wearing his designer clothes for the rest of his life? Probably not. This is fine! Clothing is not meant to last forever, but truthfully, to not borrow clothing and give expensive items only one wear, especially as a public figure, is irresponsible. 

Adriane Jefferson, VP of Brands at the Lede company, has been a fashion publicist for over 10 years, sometimes managing more than 20 brands at a time. Here’s her take on the situation: “It is no secret that celebrities move the needle for many brands, particularly celebrities that consumers look to for style inspiration. It’s more of a strategic business transaction when talent 'borrows' clothing. Brands are looking to align with key celebrities and influencers, while these same celebrities and influencers are hoping to align with brands while also evolving their own signature style.”

She also agrees that it is more eco-friendly to borrow vs. buying, mentioning, “It’s also a bit more sustainable if you think about it, celebrities purchasing expensive elaborate clothing that they only plan to wear once vs borrowing from a designer and building a relationship with those particular brands – the smart stylists know to go with the latter, unless it’s something the celebrity truly wants hanging in their closet.”

All in all, we’re not sure what Waka Flocka meant, but as people who are in the fashion industry and who get insight from fashion professionals, we believe the borrowing concept in luxury fashion is a sustainable, smart practice.


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