New York Fashion Week 2020 Trends: Sustainability, Made-to-Order and Off-Runway

New York Fashion Week 2020 Trends: Sustainability, Made-to-Order and Off-Runway

The biggest trends of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) were cognizant of fashion’s global reach and responsibility, made-to-order innovations, and also designers distinguishing themselves by stepping away from the traditional runway. 

In every trend, all signs at NYFW 2020 pointed to the future for retailers and brands: The message is what's important, and designers and houses can make a splash without spending massively on traditional paths.

Which raises the question: Is fashion week going out of vogue

Probably not yet. The six-day event still highlights the most important design trends for the upcoming fall/winter season, and started vital conversations around fashion consumerism. Here’s what drove NYFW 2020:

Taking sustainable steps

It’s hard to imagine designers and retailers not addressing sustainability and climate change when the fashion industry contributes 4 percent to global waste annually. How designers showed up and showed out for the earth varied at NYFW. Australian brand Zimmermann, showing at this week’s event, acknowledged the devastation that the bush fires earlier this year had on the country, announcing that the brand donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery in an effort to help.

Meanwhile, Collina Strada founder Hillary Taymour provided her audience with pamphlets on eco-friendly food choices. As she told GQTaymour says “sustainable" can be a very difficult thing to do top to bottom for a fashion brand. Instead, Taymour says the brand strives for responsible designing and purchasing. The Collina Strada show’s decor, comprised of soil and grass and emphasizing the natural fibres found in its clothes, was donated afterward. 

For Gabriela Hearst’s fall/winter 2020 collection, the theme was waste. Models passed by shredded paper bales brought in from Brooklyn. Hearst told The Guardian, “Maybe it doesn’t sound so glamorous, but it’s what we should all care about, no?”

By minimizing the label’s carbon footprint last year and reusing materials for its luxurious new clothes, Hearst’s goal is to upcycle unused fabric into heirlooms. Because heirlooms don’t end up in the landfill.

These were only a few examples of how brands were shouting their commitments to sustainability from the rooftops, but it’s reflective of a rapidly growing, industry-wide movement: Designers are taking responsibility for the waste they create, and getting vocal. As we see more fashion retailers address this in different ways, it’s clear that sustainability is no longer a competitive message—clearly, it’s here to stay. And retailers will need to be part of the action.

Making to order

This year, NYFW saw an evolution of personalized buying with made-to-order fashion.

Made-to-order allows for the luxurious feeling of personalization, ultimately working to ensure garments fit a person’s body and not an arbitrary industry standard. It also works to be a bit more of a sustainable solution since the garments don’t need to be tailored—cutting out the middleman and fabric waste.

During NYFW last year in September, viewers glimpsed Rebecca Minkoff’s collaboration with Stitch Fix, a personal styling service that sends individually picked clothes to buyers who fill out a survey on what they’re looking for. The partnership leveraged consumer data to create a capsule collection for plus-size consumers. 

Incorporating strategies and technologies that personalize buying is nothing but a benefit for customers, designers and retailers alike. This year, NYFW saw an evolution of this strategy with made-to-order. 

Minkoff partnered with Julia Haart of modelling agency Elite World Group to launch their new made-to-order brand e1972 at NYFW. Because of the small and nimble ateliers working for the new brand, each bespoke order only takes four to six weeks from purchase to delivery of perfectly-fitting clothing.

Of course, not every brand can easily offer made-to-order. But it’s a sign of things to come—if a brand can land on a viable business model for it, retailers and consumers will see the benefit. Plus, it has the potential to cut down on inventory waste if a certain style or color isn’t moving as fast as a designer or retailer had hoped. 

Ditching the runway

In many ways, the atmosphere of a runway show has been as important as the actual clothes it’s meant to showcase. And for years at NYFW, designers have been playing with unexpected locations, themes, and presentations for their shows that take audiences well beyond the runway to grab attention: In the not-so-distant past, Alexander Wang took to the literal streets of New York to showcase his decidedly cool collection. Kanye West’s Yeezy presentation in Madison Square Garden four years ago to coincide with The Life of Pablo release was, and still is, a revelation.

But times are changing. By and large, designers are no longer looking to plan and execute a daunting presentation. And it appears that consumers aren't looking for them—instead, they want to participate. Innovation now looks like pop-up shops and see now, buy now events.

For his 15th year, Phillip Lim opted out of a traditional runway show and instead invited people to an intimate, cozy house party-like presentation at the flagship location in New York. Here, the mood was joyful, relaxed, and absent of the hurried energy that often comes with bouncing around shows and location for NYFW. The ready-to-wear show highlighting the brand’s love affair with New York was—notably—open to the public, since presentations are usually invite-only. It was an effort to reinvigorate both the designer and presentation with spontaneity and creativity. (Not to mention: Lim’s collection is 50% sustainable.) 

This year, Rihanna went a little quieter for Fenty tha 2019's luxury lingerie spectacle Savage x Fenty. Partnering with the iconic department store Bergdorf Goodman, Rihanna’s Fenty had a mirrored activation in the store’s windows to accompany the release of her latest collection, in lieu of a runway show. Here, too, Rihanna changed the game of what goes into a shop’s window display, an almost archaic part of shopping’s past. 

Along with the installation, Fenty temporarily took over Bergdorf’s online store, giving consumers but a small glimpse of what it’s like to be the effervescent Rihanna—even if it’s just a look in the mirror. 

The buzz that surrounded these efforts was a clear sign that while there’s certainly still a place for exclusive, invite-only events at NYFW, brands don’t necessarily need to invest in an exorbitant runway show. There are lots of new ways to make a splash. 

Reconsidering New York

There were many examples this year of the pillars of the American fashion community either heading west to Los Angeles—or skipping the event altogether. 

CFDA chair Tom Ford held his fashion show in L.A., citing that, because the Academy Awards unfortunately shared the same weekend with NYFW, it was an opportunity for fashion and cinema to foster a closer relationship. Other giants of New York fashion, like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, opted out of the event this year, too. Even trendy Batsheva didn’t show up. 

Whether NYFW undergoes a transformation in L.A. or elsewhere, the fact is that American fashion is simply much too spread out for one event to holistically represent the industry anymore. Texas has pockets of fashion-savvy buyers and designers, and bustling shoe factories to boot. Mid-western cities and states like Chicago and Wisconsin are vibrant, up-and-coming fashion hubs. 

So now, with designers like Ford flocking to L.A., and other cities in America growing their fashion bases, the question becomes: what about New York? 

If the spotlight on NYFW dims, brands may need to rethink the best ways to showcase their designs. As Naeem Khan told Glossy recently, the return on a fashion week show is changing. “It doesn’t have the same value it once did because of social media. The pictures on social media are what everyone’s looking for.”

But, he added, “I still love it… My clothes need to be seen up close,” and “I like that I can bring all those customers in for an intimate affair.”

Much like the Empire State building itself, New York City, its history, and influence that towers over North America will never be diminished. It’s still home to powerhouse fashion magazines, groundbreaking designers, and limitless imagination, so maybe re-thinking New York may end up being good for New York. But only time will tell.

About the author

Sarah MacDonald

Sarah MacDonald is a culture writer and editor based in Toronto. Her words can be found in the Globe and MailHazlitt, The Walrus, CBC Arts, Elle Canada, VICE, and many more. She currently works as a content writer at Shopify Plus.

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