Could Going Seasonless Help to Solve Fashion’s Waste Problem?

When COVID-19 was just beginning, the fashion and retail industry took a major hit. Retail stores closed, orders were cancelled, and production came to a complete stop. No one knew when stores would be able to open again, which meant there was no prediction of when new collections would be needed or wanted by customers. A lot of stores had to focus all their energy on their online retail sites and work with the merchandise they already had. Many brands were offering huge sales and major discounts in order to get rid of this merchandise and be able to get the new orders online that had been put on hold after already being produced.


The majority of production happens overseas in places like China, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, which were also some of the first places to go into quarantine due to COVID-19. As a result, fashion delivery schedules were completely pushed back, since these factories couldn’t open and get started on orders. Typically, there are four to six selling seasons per year in the traditional fashion calendar for women’s apparel. These consist of Spring 1, Spring 2/Summer, Pre-Fall or Fall 1, Fall 2, Holiday, Resort/Cruise. These can vary depending on things like location and type of market. That means that new collections are being cranked out multiple times a year, months ahead of when they’re actually going to be bought.


For example, I once worked for a major retail manufacturing company during the months of June through August, and was able to see the production process of Spring lines that wouldn’t be hitting the stores until the end of March or beginning of April. That’s almost 6 months in advance that all these decisions were being made for a line that isn’t yet needed by the consumer.


COVID-19 made the fashion industry take a step back and realize that this traditional fashion calendar is no longer working. It’s not feasible to plan and produce almost 6 months in advance when we don’t know what could happen in that period of time. It also contributes to fashion’s huge waste problem when so many items are being produced with not much time in between collections. Only about 1 or 2 months will pass between Fall 1 and Fall 2 delivery, which means that soon enough whatever didn’t sell from Fall 1 will be hitting the sale racks.


But not everything from the sale racks gets completely sold, either. Some options that retailers will take is selling the remaining goods to discount stores like TJ Maxx or Marshalls. Or they have their own outlet stores where they can still sell these items at discounted prices. But for other brands, the rest of their clothing ends up destroyed or burned. In 2018, Burberry admitted to burning and destroying $37 million worth of unsold clothing and cosmetics. Many luxury brands have been caught doing this because they want to maintain the idea of exclusivity of their products and don’t want their items getting in the hands of people who can then produce counterfeits.


But even less exclusive and less expensive brands like Nike, Victoria’s Secret, Urban Outfitters, and JC Penney have been revealed to destroy or throw out their own unsold merchandise. Store associates have reported having to be the ones to destroy these items by cutting them up, putting holes in them, or tearing them apart. This was all so these brands wouldn’t have to sell at lower prices or prevent people from taking them from the trash. Already 80% of clothing ends up in the landfill or is incinerated and if retailers continue to do this with their unsold merchandise, they are contributing to the problem.


In May, a major statement was released from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council titled The Fashion Industry’s Reset. This joint message called out the need for the fashion industry to slow down and take a serious look at practices that are clearly outdated and no longer working if they want to build a better future. On the subject of merchandise, they thought that “for a long time, there have been too many deliveries and too much merchandise generated”, and designers should now only focus on the making of two collections a year. This will help to give everyone the time to create and not overwhelm the retail stores with shipments of every new collection. Customers will be able to recognize that brands are taking their time to carefully create their collections which makes the clothing that much more valuable.


Another suggestion was to change up the delivery times, “There is a clear disconnect from when things arrive in-store to when the customer actually needs them.” These organizations think it’s more important for the consumer to receive the product when it’s needed than to constantly see new collections in the store. The CFDA and BFC clearly want designers to go back to making clothes because the customer will enjoy it, rather than meeting some kind of deadline or drop for that season, “through the creation of less product, with higher levels of creativity and quality, products will be valued and their shelf life will increase.”


For so long, fashion brands have limited themselves by making sure they can meet strict deadlines for every season. Designers have overworked themselves, retail stores are overfilled with merchandise, and customers are overwhelmed from all this new product. Going seasonless could mean that people can carefully pick out pieces for their own closet from the stores they love, and not have to worry about it being out of season. Shoppers will be encouraged to buy items they can always use and just replace them when needed, rather than buying every time there’s a new collection. In the end, there will be less waste because there’s less product being produced, and everyone can cherish and appreciate the pieces they buy because they’re timeless.


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