What Rethinking Fashion Weeks as We Knew Them Means
By Sarah Carlson
Like the rest of the world, the fashion industry hangs by a thread as it faces an uncertain future amid COVID-19: an unprecedented accelerant that is reshaping a global economy once reliant on robust production and consumption. With the declining business and disrupted supply chains, the fashion industry questions how it will survive the long-term repercussions of this crisis. COVID-19 has revealed the imbalance in our nonsensical fashion calendars, such that the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council have recently addressed the urgent need for us to reset ourselves. What seemed unimaginable turned into a reality, as we now rely on virtual platforms in place of in-person gatherings and travel; moving forward, we must collaborate to devise long-term plans for a slower, purposeful industry.
The fashion industry is proposing ways to restore balance in our living systems – one of which includes rethinking fashion shows. As designers pull back from presenting September 2020 collections, we see more people holding each other accountable and asking what the changes in Fashion Weeks mean for a post-crisis industry. Now more than ever, we should use this opportunity to realign fashion to maximize the realm of sustainability.
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Today, we focus on CONDITIONS of the fashion industry and demand justice for the people who make our clothes. There are about 60 to 75 million people who are employed in the textile, clothing and footwear sector worldwide (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2014). They are present in all parts of the supply chain, from farmers to factory workers. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ — ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ "In order to stand up for human rights, fair wages and safe conditions for these millions of people around the world, we first need to demand transparency so that we can hold brands and factories accountable. When the Rana Plaza building collapsed 7 years ago, most of the big brands producing in Bangladesh had no idea whether or not they were producing at Rana Plaza – there was no traceability. In some cases, labels found in the rubble held brands accountable for their failure to protect all those workers who lost their lives that day.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Years on, the fashion industry still exploits too many, from child labour in cotton fields to bonded labour in garment factories, the global fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to modern slavery.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We’re calling on our community to ask #WhoMadeMyClothes? And demand that all of the people around the world who make the clothes we wear are seen, and their stories heard."⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ? @fash_rev⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #FashionRevolution #WhoMadeMyClothes #WhatsInMyClothes #FashionRevolutionWeek2020 #FairTrade #IMadeYourClothes
Efforts to offset carbon emissions fall flat when buyers traditionally gather in-person to witness extravagant fashion shows. Fashion technology company Zero to Market and climate change consulting industry Carbon Trust measured the carbon emissions of travel and transportation throughout four women’s wear and two men’s wear seasons. Starting with the 2018 spring season, the study quantified “241,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year. That figure, said the report, is equivalent to the annual emissions of a small country — say, Saint Kitts and Nevis — or enough energy to light up Times Square for 58 years”. Many buyers had to make use of digital streaming channels amid the coronavirus outbreak. Goals aiming toward “carbon neutral” or “net zero”, however, become more feasible if reducing Fashion Week’s international flights and car usage. With the recent decline in international travel, we are now faced with the challenge of innovating alternatives for visiting the fashion capitals.
Fewer Fashion Weeks additionally attenuate the need for traditional timelines. Pre-COVID, fashion seasons included spring/summer, fall/winter, pre-fall, and resort. In response to the pandemic, designer Michael Kors announced his decision to show only spring/summer and fall/winter 2021 collections–a decision that questions the merits of over saturating markets that exceed the demand and thus lead to wasting unsold inventory. Kors notes that it is “imperative that we give the consumer time to absorb the fall deliveries, which will just be arriving in September, and not confuse them with an overabundance of additional ideas, new seasons, products, and images”. Trying to align themselves with seasonal shopping behavior, designers now see the disconnect between ostentatious shows and consumer demand. As Vanessa Friedman of the NY Times wrote, “This is Not the End of fashion”; rather, it is the beginning of the end of our aspirational values that mitigate the needs of the people and planet.
Emerging from COVID-19 as a circular fashion industry starts with open, honest conversations. Unsubstantiated claims about sustainability, however, are not enough. Moving forward, the global way forward for recovery requires everyone to take actionable steps for reducing our carbon footprint. How we will emerge after COVID-19 depends on our commitment to changing human behavior, which includes shifting our approach to Fashion Weeks, perhaps with hybrid digital and in-person models. However, rethinking Fashion Weeks is just the start of long-term changes for sustainable initiatives, in which we must keep asking how we can both reconcile our environmental footprint and advance our goals as creators.