The grassroots movement to better align fashion deliveries with seasons and snuff out early markdowns is gathering steam.
“It is not normal to buy winter clothes in May. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Dries Van Noten told a small Zoom gathering Tuesday to unveil a new industry effort to fix a broken fashion system. “And it’s not respectful to the customer who buys at full price to see it marked down 50 percent six weeks later.”
Operating under the generic web site forumletter.org, the loose-knit group has already gathered signatures from a host of luxury retailers and designers committed to slower fashion in the name of greater sustainability and respect for the creative process.
Joining Van Noten on the teleconference were Andrew Keith, president of Lane Crawford and Joyce, and Altuzarra chief executive officer Shira Sue Carmi, who unveiled its initial proposals, the fruit of several weeks of discussions and outreach.
The signatories are hoping to seize on circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic — later deliveries for fall 2020 collections due to factory shutdowns in Europe — and make that the new normal.
Giorgio Armani and Saks Fifth Avenue have also been urging a slowdown in the pace of fashion, with deliveries better timed to consumer needs and discounts only at the end of seasons.
The forum proposes that men’s and women’s fall collections should be merchandised in stores from August to January, with markdowns in January, with spring collections displayed from February to July, with markdowns in July.
“We agreed that the current environment, although challenging, presents an opportunity for a fundamental and welcome change that will simplify our businesses, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable and ultimately align them more closely with customers,” the group said in a statement.
It also vowed to “increase sustainability throughout the supply chain and sales calendar” via “less unnecessary product, less waste in fabrics and inventory, less travel” and through the increased use of digital showrooms.
It plans to “review and adapt fashion shows” should a new delivery cadence take hold.
“Working together, we hope these steps will allow our industry to become more responsible for our impact on our customers, on the planet and on the fashion community, and bring back the magic and creativity that has made fashion such an important part of our world,” the forum said.
Among those who have signed the online petition are executives from the retailers Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey and Nordstrom in the U.S.; Holt Renfrew in Canada; Beymen in Turkey; KaDeWe in Germany; La Rinascente and Antonioli in Italy; David Jones in Australia; Liberty and Selfridges in the U.K.; United Arrows in Japan; Illum in Denmark, and Shinsegae in South Korea. Participating designers include Tory Burch, Thom Browne, Craig Green, Erdem Moralioglu, Gabriela Hearst, Mary Katrantzou and Marine Serre.
Public relations executive Sylvie Piquet of New York-based PR Consulting organized Tuesday’s unveiling, and hosted a question-and-answer session for journalists.
Particulars were scarce; convictions not.
“What we have now is a statement of intent from a number of people across the industry,” said Keith, who was inspired to rally the industry when an online platform approached him in early March and offered to sell “super relevant” spring inventory at discounts online while the majority of stores worldwide were closed. “For me, it was one of those galvanizing moments. This has been endemic in the industry for so long. Why is it that we have we been resorting to discounting as our way out of trouble?”
He wrote to Van Noten and the conversation widened.
Van Noten stressed that the goal of the initiative is not to impose rules, but to inspire more creativity across the industry, including at the retail level. “There are other ways to attract customers other than giving discounts,” he said.
“It’s really about how we tell the stories of our industry that celebrates the humanity and diversity that creates it,” Keith suggested. “We all have a responsibility to engage in a way that is meaningful.”
Carmi was adamant that the industry “should not let this crisis go to waste” and should use the forced pause of lockdowns to recalibrate according to “common sense. Everyone aligned very quickly around a couple of key ideas.
“The goal is to be as inclusive as possible. We want as many people as possible to sign the letter,” she said, noting that the group was open to joining forces with other online forums pursuing the same change agenda.
“We didn’t achieve to have every signature of every retailer and every designer,” Van Noten added. “We have been growing in an organic way, and what we tried to achieve is a cross-section of the industry.
“This is not the end of it. This is the middle of it,” he stressed. “I just got the message that Proenza Schouler will join. The bigger the group gets, the easier it will be get people to sign.”
Keith said the forum cannot hold signatories accountable for their actions.
“That would be counter to antitrust regulations in many countries,” he said. “It is really about an intent to be able to get the seasonal calendar back on schedule, get buying back in line with production flows, get customers clear on what products and what seasons are in store, and hopefully get designers inspired about how they can work with deliveries in season with products that are appropriate.”
Keith suggested each signatory could make decisions, according to the principles, with the goal of engaging customers “in a way that’s meaningful to them,” making its associates travel less and discounting at the right time.
Participants agreed it was too soon to evaluate the impact on fashion shows.
For his part, Van Noten said he would not do any men’s show this summer and likely not a women’s show in September. He plans to revisit what to do in spring 2021, not ruling out the possibility of a see-now-buy-now showcase. “That’s an open discussion,” he said. “Maybe that can be for another Zoom group.”
Van Noten recalled how difficult it was to get fashion’s organizing bodies to organize pre-collection showrooms, spread over a long period, obliging buyers to make multiple trips to Paris and Milan. He suggested pre-collections will become less important in future if deliveries of main collections are timed later.
Several online luxury retailers have already been discounting spring 2020 collections. As early as mid-March, when lockdowns were just coming into force starting in France and the U.K., Italian sites LuisaViaRoma, Antonia and Modes, plus British players including Fenwick, were already marking down spring collections by from 15 to 50 percent.
Van Noten said online retailers are being invited to join, with Mytheresa the only one signed on so far. “We are talking to other e-commerce players, some are saying maybe, maybe some are going to say no,” he allowed.
While the forum is focused on luxury and designer fashion, Van Noted held out hope that if the initiatives take hold, they could trickle down to the wider retail industry.
He noted the Zoom gathering has opened up conversation between once estranged players, and has become a forum for information-sharing and best practices on reopening stores after lockdown, for example. “We are not only competitors, we are also colleagues,” he said.