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A Proposal for Rewiring the Fashion System

A group of independent designers, CEOs and retail executives, facilitated by BoF, has published a proposal reimagining how the fashion industry could — and should — work.
Close-up of Chanel Spring/Summer 2017 show set design | Source: Getty Images
By
  • Tim Blanks

We were getting calls. I'm sure everyone was. The deadly coronavirus had hit fashion hard. There was a bush telegraph of nervous designers looking for answers, any kind of reassurance against a growing tide of bad news. Shows cancelled in June? Shows cancelled in September, too? We've been taking orders for Autumn/Winter 2020, but what about the season we just shipped, Spring/Summer 2020, now in deep sleep in sealed warehouses and shuttered stores? After the lockdown lifts, will those collections be severely discounted when they hit the shop floor? How do we get paid? Will we get paid? Which isn't even to contemplate autumn orders, retailers changing their minds, cutting orders, demanding discounts…

It was obvious that independent designers were going to be hit hardest. For those on a shoestring, it just got thinner. For those who were more established, querulous retailers and antsy landlords were the challenge. Fashion has traditionally been an industry of secrets, but the virus made a nonsense of that. It was time for people to talk openly to each other. BoF facilitated a conversation, via Zoom, that brought dozens of independent designers together, and independent storeowners, too.

In bi-weekly digital gatherings over the past month — a whole patchwork of faces from all over the world — these designers and retailers hashed out a game plan for the future. In one way, it was purest logic. The fashion calendar — the showing, selling and shipping of clothes — divorced itself from common sense a long while ago. The rhythm of fashion's seasons was surreally disconnected from the seasons as most of the world understood them, and that way lay a madness that came to assert itself as fashion orthodoxy. Hence, you'd go to buy a winter coat when the mercury dropped and all you'd find was bikinis. Irrational this was, but unquestioned, thanks in large part to the commercial might of American department stores whose tune the industry danced to.

So, here were a few screens full of faces prepared to challenge the timetable, to create a new reality out of that old surreality, now turned to ashes by Covid-19.

It hasn’t been easy. How could there be consensus with so many different wants and needs on the table? But, sure enough, a proposal on how to rewire the fashion calendar took shape.

For me, the most important thing has been the communication. People who knew of each other but had never met are now talking across the globe. The future is collaboration not competition. That’s also how revolutions are made. Fashion needed one, and if it took a dreadful virus to create the conditions for change, that is surely just a measure of how great the need for revolution has been.

Read the proposal at rewiringfashion.org

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