'The fashion system must change': BFC and CFDA call for an industry reset

Ellie Violet Bramley

The fashion community is urging the industry to use the hiatus brought about by the global pandemic as a time to rethink and reset, with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council on Thursday issuing a joint message calling for change.

It comes at a time when the industry is facing what some see as an existential threatsome estimates predict that half of the entire British industry could cease to exist by the end of 2020 – with many shops shutting and clothing sales plummeting.

The joint message, an unusual move from the US and UK trade bodies, sets out recommendations intended to encourage greater creativity for designers hampered by the constant need to deliver new collections, as well as recommendations to help limit the industry’s environmental impact.

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The message encourages “brands, designers and retailers, who are used to fashion’s fast, unforgiving pace, to slow down”, and the delivery of clothes to stores to better match “when the customer actually needs them”, so “closer to the season for which it is intended”. One of the quirks of the industry is that winter clothes are often delivered to shops in summer season and vice versa.

With cruise or pre-collections that fall in between the two main annual collections fairly commonplace, often debuted in lavish locations such as palaces in Marrakech or on the Great Wall of China, it also recommends that “designers focus on no more than two main collections a year”. This, it says, will “provide our talents with the time they need to reconnect to the creativity and craft”.

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While much of the industry has been moving online during the crisis, with virtual fashion weeks and photoshoots, the organisations look to a future in which non-digital events are again possible. It calls on brands to show “in one of the global fashion capitals in order to avoid the strain on buyers and journalists traveling constantly”, which, they point out, has increased the carbon footprints of many individuals working in the industry.

It is hoped that by making the recommended changes, the industry will have a knock-on effect on how consumers view their clothes, too. “We are united in our steadfast belief that the fashion system must change, and it must happen at every level,” the statement says. “These changes have been overdue for a while, and the fallout from coronavirus has forced us all to prioritise the process of rethinking how our industry should function.”

The BFC and CFDA message follows other high profile interventions calling for an industry rethink, in what some are calling a watershed moment. Earlier this month, a group of designers including Dries van Noten, Gabriela Hearst and Thom Browne wrote an open letter to the fashion industry calling for changes that would make their businesses “more environmentally and socially sustainable, and ultimately align them more closely with customers’ needs.” While industry site Business of Fashion also developed a manifesto, which was signed by more than 600 designers and industry executives, calling for a reimagining of the fashion calendar.