The (un)sustainability of fashion seasons
Jun 2020

In the 21st century, we have gotten so used to fashion seasons, seasonal sales and the ‘must-have’ marketing tactics that accompany them and make us feel like this is the only chance to ever buy a certain item of clothing. It is not only the wasteful fast fashion model that is guilty of this, it concerns high-street brands and even some slow fashion labels.

But do we really need fashion seasons, or are they just another construct promoting overconsumption and waste? There is no denying that fashion seasons and seasonal sales are environmentally and socially problematic, but how deep do these issues go and how does one build a wardrobe without seasonal clothing.

Do we need fashion seasons?

Fashion has always had seasons. First, we had two a year, then that turned into four and now many fast fashion labels roll out a new season every single week. Wouldn’t it be more sustainable if we went back to two seasons, or ditched them altogether? 

"Must have" marketing

Part of the seasonality of clothing is the ‘must have’ mindset which many fashion labels apply. They want their potential customers to feel like this is the one last chance to buy the item. To further intensify this tactic, fast fashion labels further divide the seasons into 52 microseasons a year, so that every time you walk into the store, you see a new offering and know that it will be gone soon.

This prompts people to impulse buy, without thinking about whether they actually need the item they are buying. There won’t be another chance to buy it. You have to buy it now. The fear of missing out intensifies.

But what does that mean for our homes and the environment? Out wardrobes get cluttered with items we don’t wear because we purchased them on an impulse. The clothes we do not use then often end up in landfills even if we donate them, because donation centres struggle to cope with the amounts of donations they receive – only 20% of all clothing actually gets reused or recycled.

Seasonal sales

What makes people buy seasonal clothes even faster are seasonal sales – not only are they only going to be in the store for a limited time, but the red ‘25% off’ is making us feel like we are saving money by making the purchase. However, if you buy something you don’t need for £15 instead of £20, you are still spending £15 more then you intended to.

Not only do our bank accounts suffer from this, but so does nature and the workers making all the clothes that are piling up in landfills. If we are to make fashion sustainable, will it even be possible with seasonal sales?

Clothes go to waste

As I mentioned before, large portions of our closets end up in the landfill. However, that is not the only way that perfectly usable clothing is turning into waste. Brands have to work with an estimated demand when designing their collections and more often than not, they have to throw out many pieces at the end of each season because they were not bought and now have become ‘last season’. Sometimes, these pieces get sold to other stores (further encouraging overproduction), but brands have actually been found burning leftover stock. Besides already made clothing, leftover fabrics also get thrown away once they are out of season.

In seasonless fashion, this would never happen – there would be no need to throw dresses out in the fall because flower prints are a last season’s trend.

How can ditching seasonal clothing help you build a more sustainable wardrobe

If you’ve been working on building a sustainable wardrobe, you probably focused on buying durable pieces from ethical brands and looking through second-hand stores for vintage finds. To me personally, it didn’t occur how unsustainable seasonal clothing is until quite late in my sustainable wardrobe journey.

Speaking from experience...

For example, think about dresses. I would keep around 10 dresses in my closet, all of which were seasonal – how could I wear a strapless sundress in the middle of February? This meant that the 5 sundresses I owned could only be used for four to five months out of the whole year, for the rest of which they were sitting in a box collecting dust. The same was true for my winter and fall appropriate dresses, just reverse. This meant that even though I had 10 dresses in my wardrobe, I could only ever choose from 5 or so at any given time of the year.

However, if I had chosen to buy 5 universal dresses which I could wear with sandals in the summer and layer with a turtleneck in the winter, I would have cut the impact of my wardrobe on the environment in half!

The benefits of a seasonless wardrobe

As that realisation hit me, I started researching other ways in which having a seasonless wardrobe could benefit me and the environment. I was surprised by how many of them I found.

I found that I started bringing better designed and higher quality pieces into my wardrobe. When brands are not rushed to fulfil certain quota for each season or include current trends, they can focus on actually creating long-lasting quality items. This also puts less pressure on the workers making the clothing, since they are not being rushed either.

Besides combating the obvious problems of the wastefulness of fashion seasons and pressure to buy items now or never, I found that it benefited me personally much more than I expected. It helped me develop my personal style like nothing else since with my seasonless wardrobe, I no longer felt the need to wear what was in season. Last but not least, it reduced the number of my impulse purchases to… well, basically zero.

The problematic nature of fashion seasons and the benefits of creating a seasonless wardrobe are something that is rarely talked about in the sustainable fashion community but it is a crucial part of making your wardrobe more sustainable. If you have not given a thought to the seasonality of your wardrobe yet, I can definitely recommend doing so – it will improve not only your impact on the environment, but also your quality of life.

Lucie Stepankova
A marketing and media student with a passion for all things sustainable and zero waste living. While studying, Lucie also works as a freelancer, writing articles about sustainability and helping eco-businesses with their marketing needs. In her writing, she hopes to inspire people to make small changes that can create a big difference in the world.

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