Let’s Stop Pretending We Need New Clothes Every Season
How going seasonless could save money, save fashion, and also kind of save the world.
By Alyssa Hardy
As we approach what is usually a thriving Fashion Month full of runway shows and street style, many of the biggest brands like Michael Kors and Saint Laurent have removed themselves from the traditional seasonal calendar. Others, like Gucci and Prada have decided to completely cancel their new collections all together. More generally, smaller brands who show at international fashion weeks like Seoul and Copenhagen are taking a step back as well.
Simply put: people aren't buying as much clothing right now because of the pandemic, and brands have to adjust to a coronavirus-induced plunge in sales. But in this radical shift of a cycle that has been spinning and overproducing for decades, fashion consumers — who are all about doing the most — have an opportunity to do so much less.
This doesn't mean just buy less, though. While that is a good and obvious start, it doesn't address the deeper problems that overconsumption in fashion has caused. Not only are landfills filled to the brim with textiles and toxic materials from cheap dyes, but garment factories are also committing labor abuses all around the world to keep up with demand. What's worse, when the pandemic hit, those canceled and discarded seasons-worth of clothing caused hundreds of seamstresses to go without pay for work they already did.
To make meaningful change, the fashion industry and people who buy clothing need to use this moment to completely overhaul the system — and go seasonless.
Let me explain. Seasonality, at its most basic level, makes a lot of sense. In some climates, like in the northeast, the weather can change from blistering heat to below zero in a matter of days, which means going from wearing shorts one day to layering everything you can find to stay warm the next. But on the business side of fashion, that's not what “seasons” are about. Seasonality is a means to sell more products throughout the year. Over the last 30 years, on the luxury side, we've gone from having two seasons to having five or more. In the fast-fashion realm, where brands like Zara and Fashion Nova crank out designer knockoffs at lightning speed and at price points that more consumers can access, the cycle has gone up to 52 seasons. Essentially, a new "collection" of clothing gets designed and produced every single week of the year.
Mara Hoffman, the designer of her eponymous fashion label, which has been lauded for its sustainability practices, explains that for brands, this constant drive for more has less to do with the shopper’s needs and more to do with the bottom line for the companies.
"It's really a production and finance situation. Once you get into the drug of taking money from retailers [like Shopbop or Net-a-Porter] who are buying seasonally, it also helps you build your production number, and thus, makes it less expensive to actually make the clothing," she explains.
Basically, the more clothing that gets designed and ordered, the cheaper it is for everyone, including the shopper. The issue is that unless brands have the resources to track all of the production, they are likely still overproducing in unregulated factories. This forces undesirable discounts and creates "a bigger problem than when you started," she said. It cheapens the brand and perpetuates the idea that our clothing is disposable. To combat this some luxury brands will burn perfectly wearable, additional inventory so it doesn’t flood the market at a discount. Burberry was famously called out for this in 2018, but claims they will no longer continue the practice.
As for the customer, Hoffman adds, "We're constantly being sold to.” She also highlighted that the business side of fashion needs to create an “expectation of newness” to keep selling. She went on: “But part of this movement, really at the core of it, is shifting that perspective and philosophy around consumerism."
Between the combination of readily available trends and the pressure to wear a new outfit for every post on social media, we have been trained to expect and buy new things. This is hurting our wallets, the people making our clothing, and the planet.
Stylist and consultant Rachael Wang tells InStyle that the idea that seasons are necessary permeates throughout the industry. "There is pressure to differentiate last season from this season visually, in order to inspire enough desire in the consumer to [make] a purchase. If season to season, the product looks the same, the consumer feels less urgency to buy the product,” she said. Essentially, Wang explains, sometimes brands use highly stylized advertising to make certain items – like a new pattern on a tank top, or a different hem on a type of pants – seem new and buyable season after season.
Though it is decidedly difficult to picture what a seasonless fashion world would look like in a time where you get an email about a new sale on last season’s collection every week, there are plenty of examples of how it can be done. For starters, the seasonal cycle wasn't always as fast as it is today, and looking at how some brands used to operate is a great example. When I asked Fern Malis, the founder of New York Fashion Week, about the shift on the luxury side, she had an interesting anecdote. "I think about Donna Karan," she said, referring to the ‘90s designer du jour who launched DKNY, but has since left the brand.
"She always built her collections with pieces that you would wear all year round. Her designs were made with real people in mind, and the way we all live and work lends itself more to seasonless fashion," she explained.
The collections consisted of pieces that were both timeless and adjustable. There were boots with dresses and tops made with a light but durable fabric that can be layered in the winter with a sweater, or worn alone in the summer heat. You could buy from one collection and form a wardrobe all year round around it.
Some brands have started to do this already. In the 2020 collections, Prada had boots on its Spring / Summer runways, Chloe showed transitional dresses for Fall / Winter, and Prabal Gurung showed bright sleeveless dresses during his Winter show.
Others, like Pyer Moss, have taken an important step further by only showing once a year at most, and releasing a single collection of versatile pieces.
Outside of the runway and into the retail stores, we need to do more than just skip a season here and there. The longevity of the clothing that does end up for sale needs to adjust. Instead of including one dupe of every single trendy piece that hits the runway, fast-fashion should look at what their customers are actually buying (are skinny-leg jeans selling every season while carrot-leg jeans only had a moment? Stock skinny-leg jeans and make them well, and educate customers on why they are better).
As consumers, we can do the same thing.
Just look at the last six months. Did you wear all twelve of those jeans you shoved in your drawer? How about that impulse buy from February that you just had to have? If you’re like most of us, you likely wore the same two outfits over and over again and lived to tell the tale.
There are dozens of ‘slow-fashion’ brands that are focusing on perfecting well-made pieces that can stand the test of time. Some, such as For Days, have developed recycling systems that essentially buy back the clothing you've worn to make new pieces. Others, like Italic, were created to make seasonless pieces from the leftover, wasteful stock at warehouses used by luxury brands. And a few, like Two Days Off are creating pieces made-to-order to reduce waste.
There will likely never be a world where we let go of our material connection to clothing, but there is a way we can change its impact. There is so much emotion in putting on an outfit that feels uniquely you. These feelings come especially from items in your closet that have special meaning, not necessarily the ones you bought because they were cheap and looked cute at the moment.
If the industry went seasonless by getting rid of the fashion calendar entirely, allowing brands the time and space to make collections that work for their customers and pushing fast fashion to do less, we could change things for the better. Seasonality and trends don't need to define how we dress, and they certainly shouldn't be contributing to a labor and waste crisis.
The harsh reality is, even though there is a rush in buying news clothes every season, none of us really need them. Let’s take a step back and care a little more about what we wear, how we maintain those items to make them last, and more importantly, what happens when we are finished with them. Our dollars are powerful, and hard-earned. We can use them more carefully when it comes to clothing and support a future of fashion that is not only way more exciting, but also good for the planet and the people who live on it.
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