Fashion Week – digital, in-person, new approach, or not at all?

Against the backdrop of unprecedented store closures, bankruptcy, and excessive inventory throughout the supply chain, is fashion week necessary?  Mckinsey & Company suggest the global industry’s economic profit will fall by 93 percent in 2020 after rising 4 percent in 2019.  In a worst case scenario, the industry won’t get back to 2019 levels until fourth quarter 2023.

The consumption of fashion week is at least twice a year across four major cities, known as the Big Four; New York, London, Paris, and Milan; in four weeks and in some instances twelve hours a day.  This gluttonous approach, called fashion week, came to a screeching halt during the pandemic and forced the industry to reset it’s excessive business model.

Did they?

The #rewiringfashion campaign, facilitated by Business of Fashion, pledged to reset the fashion calendar, particularly the fashion show format that is outdated and seasonally out of sync with the customer’s needs.  2,166 independent designers and well-known brands signed on to support this change, but Fashion Week, for Fall/Winter 2021 collections, will continue.  Whether a live catwalk show, digital, or blended catwalk with digital aspects, the show will go on.

With business as usual, CFDA, Council of Fashion Designers in America, provides the schedule and links to the Big Four [notice ‘seasonally out of sync’]:

Feb 15 -17, 2021 New York Fashion Week: Women’s. Fall-Winter 2021.

Feb 19 – 23, 2021 London Fashion Week:  Fall-Winter 2021.

Feb 23 – Mar 1, 2021 Milan Fashion Week:  Fall-Winter 2021.

Mar 1 – 9, 2021 Paris Fashion Week:  Fall-Winter 2021.

Digital is king everywhere and is the viewing choice at the moment for fashion week.  Besides, using the fashion show in this way is truly what it is, a marketing tool.  The digital engagement levels, however, are not the same as physical shows.  According to Launchmetrics, digital engagement has been approximately 50% less than physical shows.  As a member of the press, I can attest to that, in viewing the September 2020 London Fashion Week digital show.  In sharing feedback to the British Fashion Council [BFC], I found their digital efforts to be cumbersome and difficult to navigate in uncovering talent that are worthy of exposure for the right purpose.  Nothing can replace an in-person traditional runway event.  The success, though, has been a hybrid, or “phygital” show format.  Execution is one thing, but the structure is not relevant and a high price tag for under 20 minutes.  The spectacle, irregardless of the pandemic challenges, is obsolete and has gone beyond its initial purpose which was only for the press and buyers.

A “media alert” release from BFC to the press illustrates this very point of the push to constantly be on a revolving calendar of “new” fashion for us to consume.  We ask the question, again, how necessary is Fashion Week particularly in a global health crisis that sees reduced consumption and shifting habits?

The real mandate for fashion week is not at all, not as often, or a completely new approach and objective.  Less is more. An important value proposition that can offer limited seasonless collections. Scarcity is desirable.  More is more excessive, which the planet can’t afford.  Consumption on all levels is moving in the direction of less is more.  The pandemic has accelerated that.

What does a new approach and objective look like? Sustainable!:

Ukrainian Fashion Week is a “No Season” 2021.

Frankfurt Fashion Week is looking to the future of fashion by positioning itself with a consistently sustainable agenda and propelling the transformation of a modern, resource-efficient fashion industry. The Conscious Fashion Campaign (CFC), working in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP), will be the presenting partner and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be a prerequisite for all exhibitors by 2023.  The Frankfurt Fashion SDG Summit by CFC is set to become the leading international conference for sustainability in the fashion world.  Frankfurst Fashion Week is from 5-9 July 2021.

Fashion Revolution Week happens one time a year in the week coinciding with 24th April, the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh where 1134 factory workers were killed, 2500 people injured, due to a building collapse. Fashion Revolution, a global movement for sustainable fashion, initiated a Fashion Open Studio platform as an alternative to traditional fashion week.  An open studio event, like artist’s open studio tours, provides an exchange of content, conversation, and transparency.  In the Fashion Revolution Week schedule, the public, press, and industry meet individually with designers at their studios to explore the process, the output, with continued dialogue on challenges and opportunities in moving forward to a sustainable fashion system.  Fashion Revolution believes that “the only way forward is to share best practice, open source good ideas, push creativity, but also ensure that fashion weeks collaborate to include and foster alternative solutions and ultimately minimize their collective impact”.  In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fashion Open Studio have converted events to digital workshops, live-streams and interactive virtual events where appropriate.

Feature image: Frieze LA, Backlot Paramount Pictures Studio, Frieze Project artist Sarah Cain installation, 2019, EDGExpo.com

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Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor