Burberry is radically upending the way fashion collections are shown and sold

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Image: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
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Burberry just fired a shot at the whole fashion system. The British label announced that it’s radically changing the way it presents and sells runway collections, making them seasonless, showing men’s and women’s lines together, and—perhaps most importantly—making the new designs available for purchase in-store and online immediately following the runway event.

Instead of four collections a year—divided up between men’s and women’s, winter and summer—Burberry will show just two all-encompassing collections, starting in September 2016.

What Burberry is ultimately doing is offering shoppers what they want as soon as they want it.

Like many brands, Burberry has customers around the globe, meaning shoppers in different regions may be experiencing different weather and entirely different seasons when a collection hits stores. It makes little sense, in that context, to release whole sets of garments that don’t match the current needs of a number of potential customers.

Traditionally, there’s also been a gap of several months between the time a collection debuts and when it actually goes up for sale in stores, preventing brands from capitalizing on the excitement that expensive runway shows are meant to create. Eliminating that gap could give Burberry a needed boost, as its sales have slowed.

The old system may not seem logical to the average onlooker now, but it dates back to when runway shows were held primarily for editors and store buyers. It made sense for brands to find out what people were going to buy and then make it. But the internet opened up those once-closed events—and now that anyone with an internet connection can see every runway look within minutes of it debuting, the shows have become increasingly customer-facing. The shift is especially clear when you look at how brands are now using social media to reach shoppers directly.

With all that information bombarding customers, labels face an ever greater risk that shoppers will lose interest in their collections in the time between the runway show and the clothing’s arrival at stores. While fashion labels have previously toyed with ways to address the issue, Burberry is now by far the largest label to go all-in.

It’s going to bring some challenges, notably in the production process. “You normally design the full show, then you show the show, and then your supply chain starts to kick in,” Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s CEO, told Business of Fashion. “Now, we will be designing the show and, as we’re doing that, we will be passing things over immediately to our supply chain partners to say: let’s look at the lead times on this; how can we work with this factory to get this on the date that we need it?”

But it seems to be a change many feel is necessary. In December, the Council of Fashion Designers of America hired a research firm to look into whether New York Fashion Week should become a direct-to-consumer event. Its report is due this month.

And WWD reports (paywall) that designer Tom Ford has also announced that he will go the direct-to-consumer route, saying the current system is an “antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense.”