Crisis forces change. The pandemic of 2020 seems to be the final straw for fashion to re-examine its selling, presentation, and delivery system, which resulted in heavy discounting. This ailment has existed for many years. The coronavirus has brought both challenges and opportunities to implant change, with several fashion industry-driven initiatives emerging to spell out what change could involve.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the British Fashion Council (BFC) released a statement on Thursday that renewed their call for change. “Covid-19 has impacted the global fashion industry at every level, and we see this as an opportunity to address changes needed in fashion, especially the pace, number of collections, and delivery cadence. The fashion industry always comes together during times of crisis, and we will get through this stronger than before,” said Steven Kolb, president of the CFDA,
The organizations also encouraged the industry to slow down. They maintain that the current model yields a disconnect between the delivery and the customers’ needs. Currently, existing inventory remains dormant thanks to Covid-19, adding to the problem.
They join both #rewiringfashion.org – a group of independent fashion designers working together, facilitated by the Business of Fashion — and Forumletter.org – an initiative kicked off by Dries Van Noten, the designer known more for intellectual designs than as an outspoken voice in the industry, and Lane Crawford’s president Andrew Keith along with Altuzarra’s CEO Shira Sue Carmi — in petitioning for change in the industry.
Altogether, these two initiatives have gathered over 2,100 signatures including fashion brands, CEOs, designers, textile producers, university professors, and others who have signed either one or both. Names such as Chloé, Oscar de la Renta, Tory Burch, Gabriela Hearst, Isabel Marant, and Missoni and stores such as Harvey Nichols, Selfridge’s, Lane Crawford, and The Webster appear on the petitions.
Several points run through each agenda: deliver and show clothes closer to the actual season to avoid non-stop discounting and address environmental concerns.
Though fashion is hardly alone in trade-show related travel, each approach reduces the industry’s carbon footprint via airplanes. It avoids it all together in some cases by using digital showrooms where stores can place orders. Sustainability was proposed by having less waste and fewer products but with a higher level of creativity and quality, resulting in more value in those items.
#rewiringfashion.org states three clear goals: Reset the fashion calendar, reimagine shows and break fashion’s “addiction” to discounting. The plan looks further down the road to 2021 and beyond, omitting any suggestion for the remainder of 2020, which is unlikely to involve in-person buying appointments and fashion shows.
Starting in June 2021 for the Spring/Summer 2022 and Resort 2022 buying period, the plan suggests combining the show for press, buyers, and other industry of one collection timed closer to hitting the sales floor – with the selling of another. For instance, Spring/Summer 2022 would be shown in January/February of 2021, while at the same time, a ‘top-up’ collection to hit retail in November of that year would wholesale.
The plan points out that ironically, fashion shows are ‘outmoded’ and ‘labels should be free to reimagine’ collection presentations to target the consumer better. While they don’t mention the specific weeks of each city currently in place, presumably, they support the current order of New York, London, Milan, and Paris.
The problem of the industry discounting is faced head-on with this group suggesting fashion retailers stop the discounting compulsion by holding end-of-season markdowns later and stopping mid-season sales. They note designers discontinued in-season markdowns, including Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Singles Day. These measures have trained the customer to anticipate the yearly sales period and shop accordingly.
The Forumletter.org core message is similar: realign deliveries so that Autumn/Winter sells in-store from August to January, and Spring/Summer is in-store from February to July. They suggest staggering the delivery to allow ‘newness’ and ‘time to create desire.’ The former is more aligned with current contemporary delivery schedules, though those clothes are also currently off-kilter when it comes to seasonality.
The CFDA and BFC announcement goes further to suggest no more than two main collections shown yearly. Pre-collections, which have lost their raison d’etre, should return to deliver a commercial offering sans the extravagant spectacles that recent resort shows have produced instead returning to showroom presentations. Designers are suggested to show main collections within the fashion calendar in one of the global fashion capitals once in-person shows can resume. The two bodies pledged support in organizing the Spring/Summer 2021 presentations slated between early September and early October of this year with virtual presentations.
Gary Wassner, CEO of Hilldun Corporation, couldn’t agree more with the discounting issue and has been a proponent of changes needed. He recently hosted a Zoom call with major retailers discussing how the industry can adapt. Stressing the need for the industry to work as one, Wassner suggests it may take legislation to change the discounting schemes that retailers follow, noting that these discussions were not able to take place while on the call for legal reasons.
“My attention is fixed on organizing the industry to appeal for a legislative solution beginning with developing a proposal to overcome American antitrust laws, even temporarily. This way, retailers most affected by price wars can coordinate receiving merchandise and planning promotions and markdowns,” he noted.
“Without Congress’s help, price wars continue to hurt brands and stores in the short term and consumers in the long run. The Senate Judiciary Committee is the place to start, and particularly the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights.” Wassner is also confident “the consumer will adjust; If they know that it won’t go on sale until Mother Nature’s season is over, they’ll pay more for it to wear it now.”
August delivery of Fall merchandise displays a compromise to retail’s needs as mosT Northern-hemisphere countries are experiencing yearly high temperatures and a population on vacation as does the February delivery for Spring clothes when most are still in a deep freeze.
With the talk of togetherness in the industry right now, one thing remains, how these three plans can work together.