(Re)Think out of the box!

Bikini in the snow: Versace’s SS2016 campaign. Not really so far-fetched!

I am sure many people are as puzzled as I am about the timing of the fashion cycle.

Soon after the post-Christmas sales, winter clothing start appearing in our South African shops, and you cannot find a summer outfit for love nor money. This while the hottest part of the year is January through to March. Similarly, summer wear already graces display windows in middle of winter. Clearly not an ideal situation!

The tradition of showing collections 6 to 8 months prior to shipping, was started by Parisian fashion houses. In the northern hemisphere, Spring/summer collections are shown on the catwalk in September and October and delivered to stores between January and March while the autumn/winter collections are debuted in February and March, arriving in stores between July and September.

This miss-timing results in frustration for consumers, but even worse: it is the driving mechanism behind overconsumption and waste.

The fact is that the weather influences our shopping patterns. People are not psychologically disposed to try on or buy sweaters in 30° temperatures, nor skimpy summer clothes when it is cold and rainy. On average, merchandise remains on the racks for fewer than 12 weeks before going on sale. This means that stock is often marked down before customers have had a need to purchase it, leading to lower margins for both brands and retailers. Furthermore, because of the low price, people easily buy more than they intended to. This is when those “impulse buys” happen, much of which is subsequently discarded.

Fortunately, key players in the fashion industry are becoming aware of the issues, and starting to rethink the way things are being done.

Larger retailers are beginning to display merchandise closer to the actual season. Designers such as Stefano Pilati have opted not to show on the catwalks ahead of season, rather having presentations at which customers can shop the pieces immediately.

Presentation by Stefano Pilati

Some brands, notably Warby Parker and Everlane, and designers such as Tara St James of Study NY, are creating products that are seasonless and long-lasting. St James notes that the switch has enabled her to provide constant and predictable work to her factory during “off-season” when they are less busy and would ordinarily be laying off workers. This addresses the problems of garment workers, and contributes to sustainability in this way.

Designs by Tara St James

Carrie Freiman Parry, sustainable fashion educator, states it clearly:

Ultimately, to make real, long-term, sustainable progress and design great clothes that people want, we need to slow down the pace of fashion. We no longer have to subscribe to an outdated calendar. We no longer need to produce the unwanted and we certainly no longer need to consume at our current rate. If designers and retailers take the lead to improve production habits, consumers will hopefully follow suit. Let’s not abandon the fashion calendar; let’s recreate it, together.