As we approach what is usually a thriving Fashion Month full of runway shows and street style, many of the biggest brands like Michael Kors and Saint Laurent have removed themselves from the traditional seasonal calendar. Others, like Gucci and Prada have decided to completely cancel their new collections all together. More generally, smaller brands who show at international fashion weeks like Seoul and Copenhagen are taking a step back as well.
Simply put: people aren't buying as much clothing right now because of the pandemic, and brands have to adjust to a coronavirus-induced plunge in sales. But in this radical shift of a cycle that has been spinning and overproducing for decades, fashion consumers - who are all about doing the most - have an opportunity to do so much less.
This doesn't mean just buy less, though. While that is a good and obvious start, it doesn't address the deeper problems that overconsumption in fashion has caused. Not only are landfills filled to the brim with textiles and toxic materials from cheap dyes, but garment factories are also committing labor abuses all around the world to keep up with demand. What's worse, when the pandemic hit, those canceled and discarded seasons-worth of clothing caused hundreds of seamstresses to go without pay for work they already did.
To make meaningful change, the fashion industry and people who buy clothing need to use this moment to completely overhaul the system — and go seasonless.
Let me explain. Seasonality, at its most basic level, makes a lot of sense. In some climates, like in the northeast, the weather can change from blistering heat to below zero in a matter of days, which means going from wearing shorts one day to layering everything you can find to stay warm the next. But on the business side of fashion, that's not what “seasons” are about. Seasonality is a means to sell more products throughout the year. Over the last 30 years, on the luxury side, we've gone from having two seasons to having five or more. In the fast-fashion realm, where brands like Zara and Fashion Nova crank out designer knockoffs at lightning speed and at price points that more consumers can access, the cycle has gone up to 52 seasons. Essentially, a new "collection" of clothing gets designed and produced every single week of the year.
Mara Hoffman, the designer of her eponymous fashion label, which has been lauded for its sustainability practices, explains that for brands, this constant drive for more has less to do with the shopper’s needs and more to do with the bottom line for the companies.
"It's really a production and finance situation. Once you get into the drug of taking money from retailers [like Shopbop or Net-a-Porter] who are buying seasonally, it also helps you build your production number, and thus, makes it less expensive to actually make the clothing," she explains.
Basically, the more clothing that gets designed and ordered, the cheaper it is for everyone, including the shopper. The issue is that unless brands have the resources to track all of the production, they are likely still overproducing in unregulated factories. This forces undesirable discounts and creates "a bigger problem than when you started," she said. It cheapens the brand and perpetuates the idea that our clothing is disposable. To combat this some luxury brands will burn perfectly wearable, additional inventory so it doesn’t flood the market at a discount. Burberry was famously called out for this in 2018, but claims they will no longer continue the practice.
As for the customer, Hoffman adds, "We're constantly being sold to.” She also highlighted that the business side of fashion needs to create an “expectation of newness” to keep selling. She went on: “But part of this movement, really at the core of it, is shifting that perspective and philosophy around consumerism."