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Fashion's emergency: Designers and retail executives sign open letter to transform industry practices

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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An open letter to the fashion community, signed by the industry’s leading creative directors, CEO’s, retail executives and brand owners, calls for transformation and a reset of its arduous calendar.

Led by Belgian designer Dries van Noten and Lane Crawford chief executive Andrew Keith, the letter, published on Tuesday, appeals to bring about fundamental changes highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis, and to face the endemic challenges businesses are facing season after season, many of which seem no longer viable: Selling winter coats at the start of summer; discounting before Christmas; delivering new season collections incongruous with current weather and climate: It calls for an end to all the folly of the industry’s contrarian practices.

Van Noten and Keith organized an unofficial forum that led to this letter, with van Noten telling the New York Times: “When you try to explain how fashion works to people not in fashion, it’s impossible. Nobody can understand it.” “None of these things we are talking about are crazy or outrageous,” Shira Sue Carmi, chief executive of Altuzarra, echoed in the same article. “They are common sense. We know what we need to do.”

The coronavirus set the revolt in motion

Whether the pandemic is the final drop that overflowed the bucket, retail executives from Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Holt Renfrew, KaDeWe, Liberty, Nordsrom and La Rinascente amongst others, all signed the open letter. Despite these very stores demanding earlier deliveries (pre fall in April, pre spring in November) and a flow of constant newness, there is a unanimous need to service customers in-season and aligning the fashion calendar with the calendar of Real Life.

In fashion, cooperation is rarely synchronised,

But changes in fashion are often short-lived and cooperation between brands, retailers and independent players is rarely synchronized. Take the highly overrated See Now Buy Now experiment that was widely trumped but failed to be globally adopted. It was subsequently dropped by Tom Ford after one season and no leading luxury brand is championing this sales and operational model. While van Noten’s brand is owned by Puig, the Spanish luxury group, executives and creatives from LVMH, Kering and Richemont have remained quiet and to date have not signed. Neither have Prada, Armani, Ralph Lauren and plethora of leading global brands. If they will come on board remains to be seen.

The letter states: 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’ needs.

We hope to achieve this by adjusting the seasonality and flow of both womenswear and menswear goods, starting with the Autumn/Winter 2020 season:

  • Put the Autumn/Winter season back in winter (August/January) and Spring/Summer season back in summer (February/July)
  • Create a more balanced flow of deliveries through the season to provide newness but also time for products to create desire
  • Discount at the end of the season in order to allow for more full-price selling – January for Autumn/Winter and July for Spring/Summer

  • We will also work to increase sustainability throughout the supply chain and sales calendar through:
  • Less unnecessary product
  • Less waste in fabrics and inventory
  • Less travel
  • Make use of digital showrooms in addition to personal creative interactions
  • Review and adapt fashion shows

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.

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Image: Modepalijs via Dries van Noten

Dries van Noten
Lane Crawford