Alessandro Michele, Gucci Fall/Winter 2020/21 fashion show, Milan Fashion Week on February 19, 2020 … [+]
Getty Images for Gucci
Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, announced this week on Instagram that the brand will be reducing from five to two shows per year, citing (at length and in a far more poetic and expansive manner than this) that the “worn out seasonalities and shows to gain new cadence” will be abandoned, and instead there will be two “seasonless” chapters of the evolving Gucci story shown each year. His reasoning was published across six Instagram posts that referred to climate change and sustainability foremost, followed by the struggle to be creative when constrained by “the tyranny of speed” under “imposed deadlines that risk to humiliate creativity.” Gucci declined to comment further on Michele’s posts, so it is unclear what this might mean for the design and production processes, or how this will shape the business and selling seasons.
The announcement was met with widespread admiration, and while the decision is surely a positive step towards reducing waste (and cost, which is no doubt welcome, after parent company Kering posted a 15% revenue drop in the first quarter), it begs many further questions. Does the elimination of three shows mean the elimination of three collections? Typically, luxury brands produce collections for Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, plus the SS and FW fashion show collections at least twice a year. The reason for creating the extra collections is to drive commercial sales (on core and more evergreen type products) and to be able to release fresh product drops every 4-6 weeks. At Gucci, If the shows are cut, but the collections (often referred to internally as markets) are not, then the sustainability benefits may not be extending to the way the business is conducted. Given that the majority of the planetary impact is in the raw material and garment manufacturing phases of fashion creation, a reduction in both raw material use and waste is crucial to reducing climate impact.
Covid-19 has demonstrated the impact of overstock and discounting on fashion industry profits. Michele’s announcement that the future Gucci collections will be seasonless smartly removes the imposed obsolescence of seasons and allows for longer product shelf-life, presumably making discounting by retailers less imperative. Other successful brands selling on high-end sites alongside Gucci are increasing the number of collections, but crucially reducing the number of styles, reducing order volumes, and integrating the use of surplus materials from previous collections, to ensure a more responsive approach to what consumers want and avoid overstock and discounting.
ROME, ITALY – MAY 18: A Gucci employee measures the temperature to a customer at the store entrance … [+]
Ultimately, sustainable transformation is a far more complex and multifaceted task than reducing the number of shows or even the number of collections. It is the transformation of materials, design, development, and production (to virtual instead of physical sampling, for example), organizational processes, and implementation of new business models (including resale and rental) that drives sustainability to ensure operation within the planetary bounds.
Brands adapting quickly to the current Covid-19 and sustainability challenges are undergoing a digital transformation, as confirmed in my earlier pieces examining virtual fashion and steep adoption of 3D design and made-to-order production processes. With Gucci committed in their 10-year Sustainability Plan to “applying technical innovation to improve efficiency in its production and logistics, e.g. setting up an incubator and start-up environment to foster innovation within the company” it appears that digital integration is on the horizon for their product creation and delivery at the very least.
The move to seasonless collections, and a resetting of seasonal calendars, has been supported by brands and buyers alike, and it appears to be a positive step towards a sustainable industry. The caution here though is to avoid the simplification of what this means for production and waste volumes and subsequent sustainability improvements. The fashion industry is in a moment (or rather months) of enforced reflection due to Covid-19. The imperative for many brands is to cut costs and find new ways of driving profitability, and for Gucci, the decision to reduce their shows follows a like-for-like drop in sales of 23.2% in the first three months of 2020. The parallel outcome to fewer shows and abandoned seasonality should be sustainable transformation at the core operations of fashion businesses, not just in the manner and frequency fashion collections are presented.