NEW YORK, United States — In an industry predicated on being ahead of the curve, the biannual, multi-city production known as "fashion week" is quickly becoming outdated. The original purpose of fashion week was for retailers operating a wholesale model, such as traditional department stores and boutiques, to see the collections with enough lead time for orders to be placed by buyers and fulfilled by designers before they hit stores. However, as retail practices shift and designers increasingly opt out of the traditional wholesale model in favour of direct-to-consumer strategies, is fashion week becoming outdated?
The fact that we are seeing the disintermediation of middlemen is just the tip of the iceberg. New manufacturing methods are also reducing lead times on production from four to six months to a matter of days. On-demand or “just in time” manufacturing processes, whilst still in their infancy, will surely become the norm in the next couple of years, removing the need for designers to show collections six months prior to when their wares are available for purchase by customers. Instead, products will be made if and when consumers desire them, contributing to business sustainability and reducing environmental waste.
As a boutique design house that was a relatively early adopter of a direct-to-consumer model, I found myself searching for ways in which to minimise end-of-season waste, often created by a retail calendar that means the clothing on shop floors is often out of sync with real-life seasons. The notion that winter coats are sold in August and discounted by the middle of November when it is only just starting to get cold and summer dresses are delivered to stores in early February and discounted by May is nonsensical. Compounded by changing weather patterns and consumers’ preference for buying items for immediate use, the traditional retail calendar has become reliant on discount models and punishing mark down cadences in order to move merchandise.
Full-priced product offered at the right time is often more appealing to customers than discounted items.
In my experience, full-priced product offered at the right time is often more appealing to customers than discounted items. In order to circumnavigate these issues, I have chosen to deploy on-demand manufacturing practices in my business and whilst these efforts are still in their early days, the results have been enormously promising and I believe that the industry at large will soon follow suit.
When it comes to fashion week, directional labels like Proenza Schouler, Rodarte and Thom Browne, who have all moved their New York shows to Paris, still see value in the traditional fashion week platform. Paris, of course, gives their brands a sense of gravitas beyond that of younger fashion capitals such as New York. It’s also more advantageous than New York for reaching international buyers. Yet others, myself amongst them, are choosing social media to show collections in-season.
As media consumption shifts away from monthly magazines and more traditional long lead reportage, young talent is increasingly able to spring from anywhere without having to show at fashion week to sell their product. The reality is that the gatekeepers who once controlled access to the industry are no longer nearly as powerful as they once were, and the people that now populate the front row are often social media sensations with millions of followers who can reach, and have a more meaningful dialogue, with their customer than traditional editors.
The truth is: being anchored in a month-long fashion week parade that is often forgotten by the time the product is available for consumers to buy is no longer effective. Whilst the major fashion houses are willing to pump large budgets into staging extravagant shows as marketing spectacles designed to build brand, generate digital content and ultimately push sales of lipsticks and handbags, it’s worth considering whether those budgets could be better spent. Imagine if the millions of dollars it often takes to stage a top tier fashion show were spent on manufacturing innovation that’s more in sync with the future than the past? When it comes to fashion week, it’s time for change.