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How Hotter Weather Is Creating Uncertainty for Fashion Brands

Climate change is making shopping behaviour harder to predict, adding to inventory management challenges for brands and retailers.
People carrying shopping bags stand outside Macy's on Black Friday in New York.
People carrying shopping bags stand outside Macy's on Black Friday in New York. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Image)

Key insights

  • Weather has always influenced consumer spending, but now manmade climate change is making weather patterns more unpredictable.
  • That’s compounding the challenges retailers face when merchandising seasonal products and managing inventory.
  • Retailers are looking to more sophisticated data analytics, seasonless products and more flexible supply chains to help navigate the challenge.

The first day of 2023 was a record breaker.

Across Europe, many countries experienced their warmest-ever New Year’s Day, with pictures of Alpine ski slopes denuded of snow making headlines. In the US, a Christmas cold snap gave way to an unseasonably warm start to January in many states.

The unusual temperature swings in key western markets are bad news for purveyors of puffy jackets and cosy winter boots. Warmer-than-normal temperatures and a lack of snow in New York this month are expected to drag down demand for outerwear, hats and gloves by 15 percent compared to an average January, according to Planalytics, a company that measures the impact of weather on consumer behaviour.

It’s easy to overlook the impact of such weather-induced fluctuations in spending when confronted with the headline challenges currently facing retailers. Big brands’ financial reports this month have been dominated by warnings of falling sales as inflation squeezes consumers. Last week, Nordstrom slashed its annual profit forecast, while UK-based Boohoo Group forecast a double-digit decline in revenue. Meanwhile, China’s battle with Covid-19 has dampened growth at luxury giants like Richemont and Burberry Group.


But while weather may not be the dominant force shaping the industry’s fortunes, it has always had a big impact on how consumers spend. “I have scars from this conversation,” said Ken Pucker, a senior lecturer at Tufts Business School and former chief operating officer at Timberland. For the heavy-duty boots brand, whether it snowed in the run-up to Thanksgiving was always a big indicator of how its biggest sale period of the year was likely to go. “Weather does make a big difference,” he said.

Now, the way weather impacts quarterly spending patterns is getting more unusual and unpredictable because of the effects of manmade climate change. In contrast to the unseasonable warmth seen in parts of the US and Europe at the start of the month, countries including Korea, Japan and China in northeast Asia are in the grips of a deadly and disruptive cold snap.

Though scientists have not yet analysed the specific ways in which the climate crisis may have influenced this month’s unusual temperatures, extreme weather events last year — from Europe’s deadly heat waves to flooding in Pakistan — have been directly linked to global heating.

With every fraction of a degree of warming, weather extremes are expected to become more regular and intense, scientists have warned. Last year was the fifth-warmest since records began, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. This year could be even hotter.

To be sure, this impacts all parts of the industry, from raw material production to shopping habits. But in consumer markets, unusual weather patterns are playing havoc with brands’ and retailers’ ability to predict what people will buy and when, playing into hot-button conversations around inventory management.

A warm October meant footwear company Dr. Martens had a “fantastic” month for sandals, but its core offering of boots suffered, the company told analysts in November. The last two years have seen wild swings in the timing of demand for seasonal products like shorts because of changes in the weather and consumers’ travel habits, said Amy Williams, chief executive at Citizens of Humanity. Similarly, knitwear sales at e-commerce giant Zalando have fluctuated in line with fall temperatures, the company said.

“No other external variable shifts store-level sales trends as immediately, frequently and meaningfully,” said David Frieberg, Planalytics’ marketing vice president.

Managing the Weather

Though many brands may not yet think about it this way, climate change is increasingly an inventory management challenge. And it’s compounding a broader market shift away from fashion’s traditional seasonal business model, fuelled by modern shopping habits that tend towards more instant “buy now, wear now” gratification and a more globalised customer base that is harder to fit within the neat box of the traditional fashion calendar.


“The majority [of buyers] don’t think about climate change,” said Julie Gilhart, an industry veteran and Tomorrow Group executive. “But they may be attracted to things that are much more transitional, or things that have more advanced fabric technology that can accommodate extreme weather patterns, whether it’s too hot or too cold.”

Denim group Citizens of Humanity’s strategy is to focus on keeping tight control over inventory levels, while building nimbleness into its supply chain to enable it to react swiftly to fluctuations in demand, whether related to weather or other factors. It helps that the group owns most of its own manufacturing. Assortment matters too. While denim is typically popular year-round, the company has tried to ensure an upcoming outerwear collaboration between group-brand Agolde and UK-based Shoreditch Ski Club features items that can be styled whatever the weather.

“The smart thing to do from a brand and retailer perspective is to have a product that can be versatile,” said Jessica Ramirez, a senior research analyst at Jane Hali & Associates, pointing to moves by companies like Nike, Lululemon and PVH to promote more trans-seasonal products that consumers might want to buy year-round.

Brands are also turning to data-analytics services, designed to help improve inventory planning and match the products on shelves and pushed through digital ads to the kind of weather consumers are experiencing in real-time.

Planalytics estimates it can help retailers increase revenue by up to two percent by using data to make smarter choices about what to make, when to stock and where. Targeting ad campaigns based on “weather context” can boost the return on advertising spend by up to four times, according to the data analytics company.

Of course, brands should also be looking to address the causes of shifting weather patterns by taking steps to curb their emissions and reduce their environmental impact. But even for companies who don’t make efforts to address climate change, its effects are inescapable.

“Our system hasn’t adapted as fast as climate change is moving,” said Gilhart. “Probably the best solution is not to buy anything, but nobody wants to hear that.”

For more BoF sustainability coverage, sign up now for our Weekly Sustainability Briefing by Sarah Kent.

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Further Reading

What Are Fashion’s Climate Risks?

Efforts to stave off catastrophic climate change are failing, reports from the UN’s COP27 climate summit show. From cotton yields to forced labour, here’s what that means for fashion.

About the author
Sarah Kent
Sarah Kent

Sarah Kent is Chief Sustainability Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. She is based in London and drives BoF's coverage of critical environmental and labour issues.

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