I visited London Fashion Week yesterday at Somerset House, and of course Esthetica. It was glaringly obvious that ethical designer had dropped considerably in numbers from previous seasons. Is this the reason? or the fact that to exhibit at LFW is so expensive? It was also mentioned that buyers visiting the London shows never write orders and that most of the business savvy exhibitors had decided to show in Paris, broadening their exposure and garnering new business.
A band of designers are opting out of the mainstream diary to spend time focusing on supply chains and waste prevention
Amy DuFault Guardian Professional, Monday 16 September 2013 12.44 BST
Bora Asku show at London Fashion Week. Some designers are opting out of the fashion calendar to gain more flexibility. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A band of independent, sustainable designers tired of keeping pace with mainstream fashion are opting off the traditional fashion calendar this season. Many designers who have routinely shown at New York fashion week in the past, have this year declined paying thousands for an opportunity they say doesn’t help generate sales.
Still presenting themselves to the buying public and boutique owners, these designers are now relying on multimedia catalogues, pop-up shops, film and creative collaborations, and are going on record declaring that by venturing away from the traditional fashion route, they are finally turning a small profit after years of barely breaking even.
Carrie Parry, a Brooklyn-based designer of an eponymous womenswear label and recipient of the Eileen Fisher 2012 business grant for women entrepreneurs, says she decided to recreate her fashion model this year, putting a stop to shows in order to spend more time exploring her supply chain.
“Consumers want to buy pieces that can be worn when they see them in the media. The fashion industry’s system of showing collections six months prior to shipment and selling collections out of season is no longer applicable to today’s culture,” says Parry.
Parry adds that by delivering meaningful design with quality workmanship and fabrication, her fashion business model no longer needs to sacrifice these points for pace. She explains that getting off the fashion calendar makes for increased flexibility in production time, more time to develop and produce during the off-season, giving her factories consistent work and managing inventory better to prevent waste.
Known for pioneering zero-waste garments, Tara St James, founder of Study NY, has shown during New York fashion week for the past three seasons but has also opted out of the spring/summer 2014 showing to take a closer look at her business model.
When St James started Study in 2009 with the Square Project, a collection of zero waste garments made using squares, it was intended to be more of a research project than a collection – hence the name of her line.
“I was quickly absorbed into the fashion system and therefore the calendar by buyers and press. It took until now for me to realise that I didn’t have to subscribe to anything, and I could create my own calendar,” says St James.
She says it has become increasingly obvious that not only do the production methods used by fast fashion companies and designers have a huge impact on the environment and the socio-economic wellbeing of other human beings, but our consumption has got so out of control that a statement needs to be made.
“My goal is to limit the availability of the brand to customers and hope they will carry these consumption values to other items. I only produce what I believe is beautiful and wanted,” she says.
But when it comes to creating limited quantities of cherished garments, the public might be scratching their heads wondering how that model equates to profit. St James says that her boutiques have been incredibly supportive of her changes and it has allowed her to learn more about their needs.
“If I’m being completely honest, not all designers – including myself – are good at all seasons or all commodities, and by eliminating those weaker points, changing the business model accordingly allows designers to focus their time, energy and money where it will be most beneficial and least wasteful,” says St James.
Adrienne Antonson of State draws parallels to St James and says she sees opting off the fashion calendar as not so much a re-creation of a fashion model, but more so charting her own course.
Coming to fashion from a background in art allowed Antonson a different path from the beginning. Whereas many fashion designers are taught to design on the calendar, Antonson realised early on that the frantic fashion pace never felt right.
“At the end of the day we’re just making clothes – it doesn’t need to be so stressful. I try to remind myself of that every day, though it’s difficult in New York. The pace is contagious,” says Antonson.
Antonson recently created a printed Secret Summer catalogue, which served as a fashion meets multimedia art project bringing together her favourite designers, photographers, and friends. More than a collaboration, she says it was a way to reach customers and get them excited about new ways of shopping.
“We’re all so over-saturated as consumers that as a brand it’s key to think of new, sideways approaches that get people engaged,” she says.
While interacting and selling directly to customers might seem only for the lucky or “in the know,” designers like Antonson see the relationship as vital.
“There’s a lot of talk in the design community about the ‘broken system’ and wasteful industry. But, ultimately, the calendar is how the money flows,” says Antonson, adding that stores buy on the calendar, and designers also need stores.
“A fellow designer recently told me I was brave for not doing market this season, and instead opting to slow down, take better care of myself, and focus on the online shop. I’m taking that as a compliment, and seeing where it leads.”
Amy DuFault is a writer and sustainable fashion consultant. In addition to being a former co-owner of an eco-boutique and a rep for sustainable designers, she coaches and connects the sustainable fashion community