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Dries Van Noten Wants To Fix The Fashion Industry, And Here’s How He Wants To Do It

Together with his peers, Van Noten’s open letter outlines a fashion industry that can operate at a more sustainable speed

Dries Van Noten Wants To Fix The Fashion Industry, And Here’s How He Wants To Do It
Dries Van Noten Spring/Summer 2020

Can one man truly reset the fashion industry? Dries Van Noten hopes so.

With an open letter and through three Zoom conferences that included a small group of brand CEOs and major retailers, the Belgian designer wants to get the entire fashion industry to rethink the yearly calendar when it comes to discounts and deliveries.

As it stands currently, luxury fashion has always had a strange way of approaching delivery schedules. To illustrate this point: the Spring/Summer womenswear shows traditionally happen in September, where the majority of the season’s orders are placed within the immediate weeks after a collection is presented.

But given that retailers have always wanted to have next season’s stock arriving in stores before their competitors get them, there is added strain on fashion designers and their supply chains to deliver products earlier and earlier. This puts unnecessary strain on the manpower behind the factories, as well as the resources that power these chains. Remember that scene in The September Issue where ex-CEO of Neiman Marcus Burton Tansky pleading with Anna Wintour to urge designers to speed up their deliveries?

Previously, designers were ready to respond to consumer interest in clothing by delivering goods that are way too early for the seasons and weather patterns they were originally made for. This has resulted in plenty of overstocked product that eventually get marked down.
(Image: Burberry)

What this meant for fashion designers and retailers is that a shipment of lightweight blouses meant for springtime will begin arriving in stores in the dead of winter, and by the time the weather changes and shoppers begin looking for lighter fabrics, these blouses would have already been pushed into the sales section.

Now, repeat that for the Autumn/Winter collections, and you get a clearer picture of the problem.

This cycle of unsynced seasons and weather patterns eventually gave rise to pre-collections — also known as Pre-Fall or Cruise — because they arrived at the exact moment when shoppers were looking for weather-appropriate clothing. Pre-collections often stayed at full-price longer and outshone the main SS and AW collections in terms of sales figures as well.

In the open letter, Van Noten and his coalition outline a key restructuring move: move the Autumn/Winter season to run from August to January, and then Spring/Summer from February to July. Not only would this allow designers to “create a more balanced flow of deliveries through the season to provide newness”, but it also allowed consumers to have a deeper appreciation for their purchases.

In the past, Autumn/Winter pieces would have been removed from the main racks by November to make way for the incoming Cruise collections, while Spring/Summer wares go on sale by May in anticipation of Pre-Fall designs.

By adopting a longer sell-through period for main collections, designers are also allowed to create smaller pre-collections, which in turn addresses the issue of over-producing clothes that might eventually go to waste.

Given that many garment factories and fashion boutiques are still shuttered from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a shift like this will also give fashion houses more time to get their manufacturing chains on the slow path to responsible recovery. To Van Noten, this shutdown offers fashion a rare chance to hit that reset button.

Van Noten wants to change the way shoppers and retailers do business, so as to create a more sustainable retail model that will benefit the industry on all levels. (Image: Marcin Kempa/Unsplash)

His second appeal was specific to retailers, in which he outlined how discounts should run toward the end of the newly-proposed seasons – “January for Autumn/Winter and July for Spring/Summer”. In doing so, he opines that retailers will allow for a longer period of selling full-priced items.

As highlighted by Business of Fashion, American retailers have used frequent and earlier-than-usual discount tactics to entice shoppers to part with cash. However, this has also inadvertently trained consumers to be reliant on discounts and sales, which means that they won’t move product unless there is a sales tag attached.

This new way of creating sales seasons also puts into question major sale holidays such as Black Friday and Singles Day, both of which have proven to be heavy revenue generators in past years.

On top of these two main concepts, this faction of industry players are also proposing lesser travel through the use of digital showrooms, as well as a new approach to fashion shows.

With major European capitals still recovering from months-long lockdowns, Paris, Milan and London have all announced digital alternatives to their menswear shows. Furthermore, brands such as Saint Laurent and Ermenegildo Zegna have announced that they will be showcasing their next collections on their own calendar — a likely result due to factory shutdowns.

The digitised fashion weeks will run in July, and will allow brands to host a gamut of experiences from video Q&A sessions to conceptual videos. A recent success story to this digital format is Shanghai, who generated 11 million views across their various platforms, and more than RMB20 million worth of sales through “see now, buy now” capabilities that public audiences could access.

A model walks a virtual runway, showcasing Angel Chen’s latest collection as part of Shanghai’s digital fashion week. The online platform allowed for designers to experiment with various tech solutions, including VR rooms and special effects. (Image: Angel Chen)

Currently, the letter has signatures from many contemporary and mid-sized fashion brands. CEOs of Acne Studios, Joseph Altuzarra and Jil Sander, as well as designers like Mary Katrantzou and Erdem have all thrown their weight behind this new concept of retail. Even several major retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman and Lane Crawford have co-signed the letter.

Notably missing from the letter are brands from the fashion conglomerate grounds such as LVMH and Kering, as well as any of the fast-fashion labels.

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