Can Dries Van Noten and friends slow the fashion industry?

Written by Adam Bryce

In 2018, Adidas finally started to close the gap on their longtime competitor Nike who had, for some time, dominated a scene that was heavily influenced by a rapidly growing sportswear market. Subsequently, with Adidas’ staggering rise, the marketing world became obsessed with finding the key to the German sportswear giant’s success.

Adidas CEO, Kasper Rørsted, wasn’t shy in coming forward and quick to share his marketing idea in interviews. Why? The strategy itself wasn’t new, it just hadn’t been used on that scale before and, thus, probably the reason as to why Rørsted was so forthcoming. And he knew the mostly insurmountable effort it would take their competitors to implement it.

The strategy, named ‘creating the new’, simply meant that Adidas ensured that they always had the newest product on the market. Media were driven by reporting on the new and, if Adidas could guarantee to produce new product more often than any of their competitors, the result was simple. They would be more present in the media landscape and therefore sell more product. It seemed so simple but, whilst the idea was, it was an enormous task to change their production, distribution, media and marketing schedules to enable more-than-weekly global releases.

And now the question was, on every fashion executive’s lips, how do we inject speed into our model? The fashion world was gradually releasing product faster and faster, but this was the financial proof that companies needed to substantially invest in being the first and fastest. 

The fashion world had, for years, been under the pressure of ‘fast fashion’ brands who had entered the market with the sole purpose of replicating high-fashion trends quicker and cheaper than what any genuine high-fashion brand could do themselves.

Zara’s founder once said that they could get a product to market globally, from inception to point of sale, within a three-week period and the success of Zara, H&M and the like was starting to weigh heavily on the minds of fashion’s leading execs. And for good reasons too.

They would design garments, produce them to the highest of standards, present them in the best possible way with impeccable service and, while all of this was happening, a giant fast fashion brand would breeze in and beat them to the sale. The pressure from the bean counters was mounting and Adidas had just given them the fuel for their fire.

In the same year as Adidas’ meteoric rise, fashion hero, Raf Simons, announced his departure from Calvin Klein, a mere two years after he took the role as creative director in a very high-profile move from Dior. In that previous role, he had brought a heightened level of relevance to Dior and, in turn, that had afforded the Belgian designer mainstream popularity.

What quickly became apparent upon Simons’ arrival at Calvin Klein, was the increase in sub labels under his guidance, which essentially meant Calvin Klein’s investment in Simons was matched with a strategy that would see them ‘creating more new’. And the usually reserved Simons wasn’t quiet about leaving the American super brand — loudly proclaiming that the increasingly fast fashion schedule was to blame for his departure.

Thanks to Simons’ now-mainstream voice, his words were not ignored and, for many, it may have been the first time that they had acknowledged the issues with the industry’s schedule. Finally, there were anti-establishment murmurings within the industry about the excessive speed in which collections were produced and the overabundance of garments and collections. At the same time though, those in positions of real power didn’t ‘see’ a problem if it meant more sales and more profit.

Less than two years on, again, and the world’s been hit by a pandemic unlike anything we’ll hopefully ever witness again in our lives. While fashion may seem a trivial matter to consider at a time like this, the global fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar player in the world economy. Culturally, its significance is unchallenged and, to those in the industry it’s their livelihood. Covid-19 will impact the world as we move on, giving many within the industry a chance to evaluate how they operates.

Many a question has been posed. Is fashion week still relevant? Can sustainability remain an important issue within the industry? These issues, that were already on the industry’s agenda have been brought to the fore, with a real opportunity for reset.

Is the fashion schedule sustainable? is it ethical?

This week, while most New Zealanders deep in thought about their pending Level 2 adventures, a very important Zoom meeting took place. Orchestrated by fellow Belgian fashion designer, Dries Van Noten, which included the CEOs of Lane Crawford and Altuzarra. The result was the penning an open letter which Van Noten called a “statement of intent from a number of people across industry” in which the members vowed not to continue with the current schedule of deliveries and discounts, often leaving a space of just six weeks between new product dropping in stores and discount sales. A schedule which the group believe is simply unfair on customers and will be exasperated by the impact of Covid-19.

Van Noten also announced that the group, which includes brands such as Burberry, Acne Studios, Jil Sander, Marine Serre, Craig Green, were not naive to believe that their actions would impact the way that Zara and others would operate. And that the exclusion of any representatives from fashion powerhouses LVMH or Kering was noted.

However, what we can see coming from this movement, is something that’s just big enough to make others stop and think. Could it be enough to push the industry into change? One thing we can be sure of, is that there will be less chance of discovering that the new, full-priced Jil Sander top purchased on sale mere weeks later. Which is a great thing.

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