This may sound strange for an industry that relies on grand presentations and front row privileges but if there’s something positive that has come out of the pandemic, it is the opportunity for designers to challenge themselves and create pieces that fit several mediums. There’s no doubt that we are moving towards a digital world that is a lot more democratised, especially when it comes to the fashion industry. Digital fashion weeks or virtual shows in the past year allowed young designers to avail themselves of the same platform as veterans and truly create an immersive experience for anybody around the world.
Most importantly, from an environmental perspective, virtual shows can help in significantly reducing fashion’s adverse impact on climate change. Digital fashion weeks have not only democratised consumption, but also helped the industry become seasonless. On May 3rd, in a note from the series titled ppunti dal Silenzio (‘Notes from the Silence’), Alessandro Michele wrote about “the worn-out ritual of seasonalities” and the vision for Gucci to present just two shows every year.
With the climate crisis approaching a point where the damage could be irreversible, we need to really think about prioritising longevity over seasonal trends. Seasonal trends and fashion weeks are one of the primary motivations behind fast fashion. The latter relies completely on trends and ends up producing way too much. According to Slow Factory Foundation, globally the fashion industry produces 150 billion garments per year and 20 per cent of those items go unsold and hence end up becoming waste.
Sustainability is not just limited to products or packaging, brands have to look at long term goals. Virtual shows offer that by boosting a brand’s message and vision beyond borders and demographic barriers. They allow brands to focus on the bigger picture and really innovate with materials and mediums. Pandemic has given brands the time and space to rethink the superfluous use of resources for these seasonal collections and shown how virtual shows can offer a different direction.
And let’s not forget the carbon emissions caused by physical fashion shows. Zero to Market report, jointly released by Ordre.com, a fashion technology company, and the Carbon Trust, a climate change consultancy in 2020 calculated the total travel and transport carbon cost of fashion the season. According to the report, the travel undertaken by buyers and brands resulted in about 241,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year. That figure is evidently equivalent to the annual emissions of a small country like Saint Kitts and Nevis or has enough energy to light up Times Square for 58 years. International air travel tops the list, followed by accommodation (lights, water and electricity in hotels), then cabs and black cars, and then the emissions associated with transporting the fashion collections. All this carbon cost can be cut down drastically if only we choose to go digital.
As stated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the fashion industry is responsible for about 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If that figure continues to grow at current rates, fashion would be responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget by 2050. Moving forward, both brands and consumers will have to approach the concept of fashion weeks with a conscious mindset. We need to realise that while fashion enjoys extravagance and putting forward a show, we are at a stage where we need to actively work towards reversing climate change. The only way to do that is for brands to actually invest in places that matter like climate resilience projects in vulnerable communities, nature-based solutions and ecosystem restoration, and most importantly, reducing their own manufacturing emissions.
It might be difficult considering that the tactile element is a key aspect of fashion but we need to begin somewhere. Phygital shows can provide that start where brands decrease the number of physical shows, saving it only for key milestones and making use of the digital medium to get the message across on other occasions. Moving forward, we will hopefully see a beautiful blend of digital and physical that will create an immersive experience for brands and consumers alike. But one thing is for sure, whatever medium we may choose, our priority should be to value the craftsmanship and environment and hopefully restore the balance that has been long lost.