Over the last 2 decades, the fashion calendar has gone from 2 buying seasons to 4 and more recently to almost a new collection every month. This shift to fast fashion and multiple buying/sourcing seasons in a year has given wings to already existing challenges in the fashion supply chain such as overproduction and waste. The sad reality is that over 80 per cent of fashion/textile items end up in landfills each year! Do we really need so many clothes in the name of seasonal trends? Is it not time to take a reality check and on-point ask whether ‘season model’ within the industry is outdated and more importantly, unsustainable?
Season-fluid clothing collections intend to have a longer shelf life, and can be both sold and worn throughout the year. The trend serves three important and immediate purposes – 1) reduction in clothing waste, 2) simplified sourcing requirements with a balanced supply chain and 3) eases the burden faced by manufacturers of producing large quantities in short time frames.
Every market is different and the weather conditions around the year determine the clothing needs of each market. Countries falling under the Tropical Zone do not have very distinctive seasons and are already following consistency of trends in their local fashion market all through the year, but they are still buying multiply times as they have a strong influence of the multi-season fashion concept followed in the West, even though there is no climate push for the same
The USA, which is the largest apparel retail market in the world, one of the leading sourcing shows for the region ‘Sourcing at Magic’ doesn’t just happen on the basis of typical four seasons – Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter – rather it endorses the idea of a continuous flow of apparel merchandise throughout the year which is way better than a plethora of design collections specific to a season; the focus is not on seasonal buying but on trend-related buying.
Another fact supporting the idea of season-fluid fashion is the rise in festivals or occasions for celebration (all thanks to rapidly increasing use of social media) that has become synonymous to the conventional fashion season. Every month, one can see a festival being celebrated in countries across the globe and, a larger segment of consumers, would want to go for a type of sustainable clothing that is fit for all occasions.
Apparel trade data suggested that same product categories work throughout the year
Let’s talk about the apparel import data of USA of 2019, as 2020 was a year of pandemic so sourcing was obviously reduced. The country – which is the largest importer and retail market of apparels in the world – imported 13,414 million SME of garments in H1 which is precisely the period of Spring/Summer season buying, while the next half – the sourcing for Fall/Winter season – saw USA importing 14,316 million SME of garments which is just 900 million SME more than H1 data. Here the imported volumes are more in H2 than H1 because of the holiday season that falls in the second half in the US. So, technically, the sourcing of apparels both in summers and winters remains more or less the same.
It’s a fact that, in a country that remains warm in most of the time in a year, the office goers prefer purchasing regular products like T-shirts, skirts, shirts etc., as once they enter the office premises, they remove coats, jackets or heavy sweaters. Similar trend can be seen in the USA which noted a clear surge in its import of T-shirts (both in values and volumes), legwear (in value terms) and ladies skirts (both in values and volumes) during 2019. This means the US consumers chose to stick with these categories throughout the year as these could be worn both in summers and winters. Plus, T-shirt and leggings fall under athleisure category too which is poised to grow even bigger in coming years.
What is significant is that key product categories like T-shirts, skirts and legwear, when analysed on a quarterly bases coinciding with specific seasons, don’t see any decline, in fact the UVRs increase. This clearly indicates that the type of inputs being used is of higher value within the same product category, but the basic categories popular in retail remain the same.
Taking the Indian apparel export industry, which is the 4th largest apparel supplier to USA, as a sample country, we find that Q3 (July-September) – when buyers place orders for winter season – is a period in a year when Indian exporters get best value of the products they ship to the US, despite shipping slightly lesser volumes of apparels as compared to Q1 and Q2.
To substantiate the above analysis with statistics, let’s talk about Q3 ’19 export data of India (2020 is a bad year to take as base data, hence 2019 is more reflective of reality in the long run). The apparel volumes were way less than what India shipped in Q1 ’19 and Q2 ’19 period, but unit prices valued US $ 3.78 per SME, as against US $ 3.56 in Q1, US $ 3.55 in Q2 and US $ 3.55 in Q4. Added to this is the fact that the products like T-shirts, skirts and legwear didn’t see any declining trend in Q3 ’19. Not just 2019, the same trend (Q3 being the most profitable quarter for exporters) has been in continuation for years.
So, if data is anything to go by, it’s presumably the enhancement in the fabric quality and design that a buyer demands while sourcing them for autumn and winter season which add value in these products rather than changing the product category itself. For colder weather, heavier yarns like fleece and more synthetic yarns that reserve heat are used, while in summer the preference is for cotton yarn. The difference also comes from specialty yarns with various performance properties.
COVID-19 is further accelerating the season-fluid fashion trend…
It took a devastating pandemic for the fashion industry to go back and think upon the prevailing challenges that always existed in supply chain and the product categories that are looked upon by buyers in a year. Ever since COVID-19 happened, the businesses have gone remote and workforce across industries all around the globe has opted for ‘Work From Home’ (WFH) model. Travelling has become redundant for a while, and social distancing protocols are being followed.
Amidst all this, knitwear category is seeing huge demand as ‘New Normal’ has changed the clothing business landscape. Global fashion brands are expanding Work From Home collections by innovating knitwear product categories that can be worn both in summers and winters, and are also promoting ‘business casuals’ for those who are busy making appearances for online meetings.
This trend has been continuing for the past one-and-a-half years, and if retail research is any indication, the trend will continue for indefinite time, hence it strongly goes with the idea of season-fluid clothing. It’s high time the buyers start thinking about outdated seasonal clothing trend and build a new sourcing arena that will benefit them, end-consumers, environment and the players in the entire supply chain.