Because the fashion calendar (Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter, Resort and Pre-Fall) dictates the timing of international fashion shows, where a significant amount of wholesale buying still occurs, fast fashion brands are able to knock off designs before they even land in stores. New collections often feel stale by the time they’re available for purchase, feeding into the discount cycle and shopper fatigue; ultimately, a lot of waste is created.
In mid-May, a group led by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten published an open letter to the fashion industry calling for a new calendar more closely aligned with real-world seasons. Another group led by London-based trade publication Business of Fashion coalesced behind the hashtag #rewiringfashion with a similar aim.
Since then, nearly 3000 designers, buyers, creative directors and CEOs have signed on to one or both of the campaigns.
They include the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Tory Burch and Pete Nordstrom, as well as local luminaries, such as KitX managing and creative director Kit Willow, Viktoria & Woods founder and director Margie Woods, Incu founders Felix Chan and Jonny Wallace and Bridget Veals, David Jones general manager of womenswear and accessories.
The strong show of support is just one reason that people are hopeful the campaigns could lead to real change.
After the global coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for London Fashion Week to proceed in real life, brands were forced to participate virtually or not at all. And it seems to have given some brands permission to make a radical break from the old way of doing things.
At the end of May, Gucci announced it will show two seasonless collections a year going forward, instead of its previous five, which were organised around the traditional fashion calendar.
“[W]e went way too far,” Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director, said of the decision on Instagram on June 1.
“Our reckless actions have burned the house we live in. […] So much haughtiness made us lose our sisterhood with the butterflies, the flowers, the trees and the roots. So much outrageous greed made us lose the harmony and the care, the connection and the belonging.”
Giorgio Armani has also announced the brand’s next Armani Privé collection will be seasonless, while French luxury label Saint Laurent will not participate in Paris Fashion Week this year. Instead, it will follow its own schedule going forward to get “closer” to people around the world “in their own space and lives”.
These decisions are expected to clear the path for smaller brands with less clout to follow suit.
“People still look to labels like Gucci whether it’s on trends or business models because they are incredibly successful,” Dr Emily Brayshaw, honorary research fellow at UTS, told Inside Retail.
“If these guys are rewriting the rules, it takes the pressure off smaller organisations. They don’t have to attend five shows a year with big collections. They don’t have to sell a Resort or Cruise collection six months before anyone’s even thinking of going on a cruise, not that anyone’s thinking of going on a cruise right now. It gives people an opportunity to breathe and to look at sustainability.”
Feeding the beast
This is music to the ears of designers like Charlotte Weingarth (nee Hicks), who started her own seasonless fashion label Esse three years ago after a decade at more traditional fashion brands, including Sass & Bide and Zimmermann.
“For me, it was about taking a step back and focusing on what I love about the industry – my customers, design and product – and avoiding what I don’t like about the industry – mass production, overconsumption, feeding this beast that demands more and more,” Weingarth told Inside Retail.
Weingarth, who won the National Designer Award at the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival this year, creates capsule collections of “timeless” and “trans-seasonal” clothing.
“I try to have clever designs that can be worn anywhere, so that seasons are less of a thing,” Weingarth explained. “I really want to avoid sales and this whole idea of making old pieces redundant. I want to show [my customer] how to reinvigorate her wardrobe and how to wear something new with pieces she purchased before.”
Part of Weingarth’s approach involves educating customers to buy once and buy well. She also encourages them to pre-order clothes, so she doesn’t over produce. But it’s more complicated with wholesale customers. Esse has a small number of international retail partners, including Moda Operandi.
“I’m really big on not just designing for design’s sake, but the hard part is you’re getting into bed with people who have certain expectations about the size of your collection and how often you’re presenting,” Weingarth said.
“They don’t take you seriously unless you have a certain amount on offer, and they’ll skip a season if you don’t show often enough. Why are they doing that? It should come back to what our women want.”
Weingarth, who supports the Rewiring Fashion campaign, said this is beginning to change.
“Designers are in the driver’s seat,” she said.
A coordinated approach
Another local designer supporting the Rewiring Fashion campaign is Sophie Pollitt, who cofounded slow fashion label Good Day Girl with Alexia Spalding in 2013. Like Weingarth, Pollitt and Spalding spent years in the traditional fashion industry before becoming burned out and disillusioned by the pace of production.
“That’s why we both got out of that way of designing and manufacturing, you can never keep up with it,” Pollitt told Inside Retail.
Good Day Girl produces two collections a year (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter) and all items are made to order in Australia. Customers can view samples of upcoming collections online and at trunk shows held in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Pollitt believes making to order is an important way to reduce waste. She would like to see the Rewiring Fashion campaign push for change in manufacturing in addition to the fashion calendar.
“Having a coordinated approach is really important, and that’s something the industry hasn’t had before,” she said. “We need leadership.”
For Weingarth, the real test will come once the threat of Covid-19 is over. Will brands return to the old way of doing things? Or will they realise that virtual showings have been just as effective as in-person runways without the environmental costs.
“I think the next six months will be very telling,” she said.
At the end of June, it was announced that Paris Fashion Week will take place in September, right on schedule.