Seasonless success depends on the buyer-supplier relationship
The fashion calendar is traditionally split into four seasons, but the lines are becoming increasingly blurred, with some suggesting fashion is moving into a “seasonless” genre. Hannah Abdulla investigates.
The traditional fashion calendar is dictated by fashion weeks which for decades has meant clothing brands and retailers release drops across four seasons: spring/summer; autumn/winter or fall; resort and pre-fall. As the giants in luxury fashion - Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford – shift increasingly to a “see now buy now model” the lines between seasons are becoming blurred, presenting both challenges and opportunities for mainstream fashion players and their supply chains.
A greener choice
There are several arguments for shifting to a seasonless calendar. First, sustainability.
As consumers seek greener options, they are becoming more switched on to some of fashion’s devastating environmental consequences. According to the UN Fashion Council the industry is responsible for an estimated 2-8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and around 215 trillion litres of water consumption per annum. Textiles account for approximately 9% of annual microplastic losses to the oceans.
M&S Womenswear head of design, Lisa Illis explains that increasingly eco-aware customers are “investing differently” and looking for products that are built to last, made transparently and priced affordably.
Disasters like the Covid-19 pandemic have brought to light just how much of the traditional way of working is not actually working; specifically, the piles of season-specific stock retailers and brands were sitting on, unable to clear as stores remained closed while global governments tried to curb the spread of the outbreak.
Pureplay online fashion retailers have proven the success of having ranges that span several seasons, available to purchase, at any time – essential when populations are travelling more, and the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable.
Jenny Holloway, CEO of Fashion Enter, says rolling ranges are something she has been pushing, along with the need for total flexibility and adaptability to changing weather, travel and external variables. But it has been met with some resistance by the larger retail players, possibly prompted by the complexity of sourcing smaller amounts, more frequently, when your key sourcing markets are located thousands of miles away. Advantages of sourcing overseas include lower prices and easy access to workers that are skilled in apparel production.
Mostafiz Uddin worries what a shift to seasonless fashion might mean for the millions employed in garment sourcing hotspots.
Mostafiz Uddin, CEO of Denim Expert, a Bangladesh-based denim supplier, worries what a shift to seasonless might mean for the millions employed in garment sourcing hotspots that have benefited from the growth of fast fashion and depend on the security of seasonal orders.
He says: “Fast fashion might not be great for the environment, but it is brilliant for job creation. It has provided consistent, reliable work for millions of women in Bangladesh. Getting rid of this seasonal fast fashion and moving to slow fashion will shift from an industry which is employing four million workers to one that is employing, say, one million, perhaps less. These workers are mostly unskilled and uneducated and there is no other viable sector in the country to employ them.”
Transparency and speed
Holloway makes the point, however, that moving to slower fashion means greater supply chain visibility and increased speed-to-market.
With fashion itself being trend-driven and consumers constantly switched on to the latest styles thanks to social media, is seasonless truly something that can be realised? Illis believes the shift is actually toward “timeless” and core pieces over the elimination of seasons.
She says: “These products – seasonless, timeless and essential - become a foundation for a new colour, pattern or style and today they’re the foundation of most customers’ wardrobes.”
This would lead to a core, repeatable range that focuses on a retailer’s point of difference. It would also mean smaller product drops each season.
Beyond staples and predictable ranges such as back-to-school, Holloway says suppliers will need to work toward being able to deliver against retailer expectations of “the right fashion product in the right colour with the latest print in two weeks with drops of little and often to keep the landing page fresh and exciting.”
It could present a real opportunity for local fabric and garment manufacturers, she adds, pointing to Leicester in the UK as an example for good quality, readily available fabrics. It means retailers will see a good overview of the supply chain and will have a greater ability to ensure ethical compliance.
Factories can change a poor seller into a fast seller by having the right tech packs ready
Garment factories will also need to work more closely with retailers for the set-up to be effective. Retailers will also need to work toward a strong supplier base which they value.
Hollway explains: “Factories can change a poor seller into a fast seller by having the right tech packs ready to change, but if communication and trust is not there, this relationship will not work.”
She concludes: “This is a whole new way of working and it's the end of the traditional buying role and garment tech with the emphasis on product development and understanding construction and pricing breakdowns and structures. This is a new age for retailers.”
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