Covid-19 may finally reset the fashion industry’s crazy seasonal calendar

Fashion is still struggling with diversity.
Fashion is still struggling with diversity.
Image: Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw
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The calendar followed by much of the fashion industry doesn’t make any sense. In August, when summer is blazing in the northern hemisphere, clothing for cold weather begins to arrive in stores. In February, as much of the world is in a deep freeze, warm-weather outfits start hitting racks. To clear space for the new arrivals, retailers put clothing that’s actually seasonally appropriate on sale, eating into their margins.

A group of fashion heavyweights is looking to use the system reset caused by Covid-19 to change this out-of-whack paradigm, which evolved from the seasonal schedule of Parisian couture houses a century ago.

In an open letter to the fashion industry posted online today, a faction of influential designers, retail executives, and others argue the present calendar is wasteful, bad for business, and needs to change. Even before the pandemic, many within fashion had been calling for a shift. But the group, whose leaders included respected designer Dries Van Noten and Andrew Keith, CEO of Hong Kong-based retailer Lane Crawford, say Covid-19 has offered the moment to make the change.

The pandemic has much of the fashion industry currently on pause. It first hit Europe in February, right in the middle of fashion month, disrupting the usual process of store buyers deciding which designer items to order from the runway collections. Many shops around Europe and the US still remain closed. Designer Marc Jacobs, for one, has said he may not produce the last collection he designed and could skip next season.

This pause, while difficult for many designer businesses, also gives them a moment to reassess. Luxury house Saint Laurent has already said it would depart from the usual fashion calendar and show collections according to its own schedule for the remainder of the year.

In its open letter, the group stated “the current environment although challenging, presents an opportunity for a fundamental and welcome change that will simplify our businesses, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable and ultimately align them more closely with customers’ needs.” It would also offer a better flow of new product deliveries throughout the season.

Importantly, they argue it could reduce the discounting that’s been so harmful to fashion for years by bumping it from the middle of a season to its end. The result would be more time for clothes to sell in their appropriate season, as well as less “unnecessary product” and waste.

While the current calendar may not be ideal, it allows shoppers to buy clothes in preparation for a season, and not just in the midst of it. It’s debatable how valuable that is, however.

The leaders of the group came up with the idea of forming a coalition after a series of Zoom calls. Designers who have so far signed the letter include Joseph Altuzarra, Tory Burch, Craig Green, Erdem Moralioglu, Gabriela Hearst, and Marine Serre. Executives at retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Harvey Nichols, Lane Crawford, Nordstrom, Liberty, Selfridges, and United Arrows have also joined in, as have fashion PR professionals and a Singapore-based investment fund.

As Business of Fashion points out (paywall), some big names are notably missing from the coalition, such as luxury groups LVMH (owner of Louis Vuitton and Dior) and Kering (owner of Gucci and Saint Laurent). Vogue Business notes the group doesn’t have an actionable plan either. It’s just calling for unity. Still, the feeling is that the time for change is now.