While countless businesses were closed and the world was in lockdown, a group of independent fashion designers connected virtually to try to reshape their industry into something more interactive, creative, sustainable, and better in sync with both fashion seasons and consumers. Enter the forces behind Rewiring Fashion.
Created and fueled through the use of the messaging app WhatsApp, Rewiring Fashion could help shift consumer thinking away from the ideas that clothing is plentiful and disposable and reduce the waves of textiles flooding the market.
Critics of the industry have long been vocal about their belief that the fashion world needs a reset. A 2019 New York Times profile of the fast-fashion sector suggested that up to 85 percent of textile waste in the U.S. goes to landfills or is incinerated. Add the fact that about 60 percent of fabrics are synthetics, and a little math would show how much fossil fuels are wasted in the process. Francois Souchet of the Ellen MacArthur foundation also made the point last year that, overall, the amount of time garments are worn before they are disposed has decreased 40 percent over a 15-year period.
And with today being World Oceans Day, it’s worth a reminder that fashion’s impact is everywhere. That includes the oceans: The U.N. Environment Program estimates that 1.4 million trillion plastic fibers have ended up in the ocean. Put another way, doing laundry alone results in the flow of half a million metric tons of plastic fibers into oceans each year, equal to 3 billion polyester shirts.
Rewiring Fashion’s most compelling recommendation involves revamping the fashion calendar so there is less time between when fashions make their debut on runways and then arrive in stores. The end result, these designers believe, would include the extension of the full-price shopping period, while matching clothes on the racks with the actual season, which would eliminate the disconnect of a shopper seeking a winter coat in January and finding bathing suits.
Such a shift would also avoid copycat designers producing less expensive versions of certain pieces after seeing them in fashion shows and getting them into stores first, which often cuts into sales while leading to surplus inventory.
Rewiring Fashion seeks goals beyond tamping down copycat designs. The group’s goals include:
Consolidation: Rewiring Fashion seeks to cut down on the number of men’s and women’s fashion weeks in January, February and June. The outcome would be cutting back on the flights dozens of people would need take while they attend multiple fashion shows in various cities, often as many as eight per designer, per season. A compressed calendar would also save money and resources. A fashion show lasting between 10 and 15 minutes can cost $200,000 to more than $1 million.
More direct contact: Abandoning the current format for fashion shows was also proposed, replaced by more interaction with consumers and digital fashion presentations designed to engage customers right before new items land in stores so designers can decide how to show off their products.
Cutting back on discounts. The organizers behind Rewiring Fashion argue that the holding of sales too early and too often motivates shoppers to delay buying, which reduces the number of full-price sales and, in the end, affects the profits of retailers and designers.
Rethinking big sales. Should retailers postpone their largest sales until January or July — and even eliminate Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales? Many retailers would reply that the fashion industry will have little choice but to deeply mark down this year’s spring and summer wear because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a rethink of those big quarterly sales begs for a reset, Rewiring Fashion says.
The fashion industry has long been in need of a makeover, as it is one of the most environmentally taxing when it comes to using resources, generating pollution and waste. The sector is also among the largest consumers of water and produces 10 percent of all carbon emissions — more than the combination of all international flights and maritime shipping. If the fashion sector continues as if it’s business as usual, its share of the carbon budget could be as high as 26 percent by 2050, notes a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Greenpeace reached a similar conclusion in September 2019.
Nevertheless, numerous sustainability measures and groups are already working and evolving, the newest of which includes the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which is working across various stakeholder groups to help push the industry to become more environmentally-friendly.
“This is a proposal for the global fashion industry, the product of ongoing conversations between a growing group of independent designers, CEOs and retail executives from around the world who have come together in this challenging time to rethink how the fashion industry could — and should — work,” reads Rewiring Fashion’s statement.
“This statement captures our collective thinking about the actions we must take to preserve the beauty, creativity, and craft of our industry, while building solid, sustainable businesses that can survive the current storm — and beyond,” concludes the group.
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