Meet Future Garbage, a Label Using Clever Branding to Drag H&M, Beyoncé and Tokenist Casting - Fashionista

Meet Future Garbage, a Label Using Clever Branding to Drag H&M, Beyoncé and Tokenist Casting

The Swedish label has no qualms about calling fashion out.
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Photo: Future Garbage

Photo: Future Garbage

Future Garbage's story starts like that of a handful of small fashion labels with cult followings: Founder David Matthew Olson made a DIY item for himself — a denim jacket featuring part of a vintage Destiny's Child tee — and soon found himself so overwhelmed with compliments and requests to buy the piece off his back that he decided to make more and launch a brand.

But this is where Future Garbage's narrative diverges from labels like Barragán with its Leo DiCaprio tees or Cult Gaia with its pre-Coachella-ruining-them flower crowns. Once Olson actually began the process of making more jackets featuring the '90s-era Notorious B.I.G. or TLC tees he'd thrifted in his hometown of Los Angeles, he found himself pausing.

"I felt kind of gross about it," explains Olson over the phone from Stockholm, where he's been living since 2013. "Just thinking about the ethics of fashion, I was like, do I really want to sell more shit to people?"

The answer, he decided, was no. Rather than giving up the enterprise entirely, Olson decided to use the clothing he was cobbling together for another purpose. After months of work, Future Garbage was born as a project that uses fashion's native languages of garment messaging, advertising and marketing copy to critique the industry's ills.

"I wanted to make political statements more than fashion statements," says Olson. 

The Destiny's Child jacket that started it all now features text that reads "Who runs the world? (First world) girls!" in a move that takes the jacket from harmless '90s nostalgia to barbed commentary on cheap feminism.

"Beyoncé's doing multimillion dollar deals with H&M, who's maybe one of the biggest oppressors of women around the world in terms of third-world sweatshop labor," Olson claims. "Her own line, Ivy Park, was exposed last year for paying extremely unlivable wages to Sri Lankan workers, but then she still sells her clothes with this feminist message. I'm just kind of trying to shine a light on that hypocrisy."

Another of Future Garbage's "ads," which Olson refers to as "propaganda," skewers tokenism in casting that uses trans models to prove a brand's wokeness and ultimately drive profits. A third mocks labels that opportunistically capitalize on the "ethical fashion" narrative as a marketing ploy.

It's not that Olson has a problem with ethical fashion as a movement, but he is frustrated with the way many brands go about participating in it.

"Ethical fashion should be more than just a brand charging a 'feel-good premium' on their products while maintaining the same profit margins," he says. "I'm annoyed by how often it seems to be used as a marketing gimmick."

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In spite of some very clever moments, not all of Future Garbage's critiques land perfectly. A few communicate muddled messages, while others — like a sweatshirt emblazoned with "Help trapped in sweatshop" and a video that depicts a model kissing pictures of artisans and ripping up an image from the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh — almost seem to be making light of the issues Olson claims he's trying to address. 

Olson also admits that his intent to create Future Garbage pieces entirely out of "past garbage," or secondhand clothing, wasn't executed in full accordance with his "true vision for the brand." Some of the pieces to which he added a DIY spin were actually purchased from the sale rack at H&M-owned label Weekday, a choice that he justifies by referencing H&M's record of burning clothing that doesn't sell. He says he hopes to use 100 percent secondhand clothing in Future Garbage's next collection.

Despite Future Garbage's imperfections and a satirical bent that borders on cynicism, Olson himself is disarmingly earnest. 

Photo: Future Garbage

Photo: Future Garbage

"I've been going through this real personal reflection on consumerism as a whole," he explains. He references "The Century of the Self," a documentary detailing the birth of modern marketing, as a major inspiration. "The fashion industry wanted to sell more clothes, so they paid celebrities to go out and say, 'Hey, don't you want to express yourself through your clothes?' And that was kind of the birth of consumer fashion. We've been told your personality is the things you buy."

Though Olson views himself as an outside observer, it's clear that he pays close attention to the worlds of fashion and branding. Everything from the press release he calls "spam" to the voiceovers invoking "Future Garbage by Future Gar-bahj" to his replacement of drop culture with "dump culture" feels like spot-on parody. Not to mention that he himself is an Acne Studios-wearing dude who, after pursuing comedy for a bit, now works in the marketing department at a Swedish corporation.

"It's not only the hypocrisy of fashion that infuriates me, but a lot of the bullshit of marketing," says Olson. 

However personally implicated he is or is not in the narrative he's lambasting, his claim that he's more interested in provoking conversation than in starting a commercially viable brand is vindicated by Future Garbage's intentionally unreasonable price tags. While fashion has a habit of co-opting the aesthetics of the very movements that try to critique it, Future Garbage's $10,000 jackets resist the customer's instinct to buy his products to prove that they "get it."

"I didn't do this for any commercial ambition," he says. "It's just an artistic thing I needed to say. Sometimes you can't sugarcoat it."

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