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Fashion warms to reality of climate change

Rachel Wells
October 7, 2007

LEADING international fashion designers and industry experts say unpredictable and typically warmer weather worldwide is wreaking havoc on the industry.

It is forcing fashion houses to ditch traditional seasonal collections for transeasonal garments that may lead to a drastic overhaul of fashion show schedules and retail delivery dates.

"The whole fashion system will have to change," Beppe Modenese, founder of Milan Fashion Week, told The New York Times last week.

"The fashion system must adapt to the reality that there is no strong difference between summer and winter any more… You can't have everyone showing four times a year to present the same thing. People are not prepared to invest in these clothes that, from one season to the other, use the same fabrics at the same weight."

Mr Modenese's comments came as New York fashion retailers blamed a prolonged "Indian summer" for poor autumn sales. Who needs a woollen pea coat when it is 30 degrees-plus?

So worried are some fashion houses about the impact climate change is having on the way we dress and shop, they are calling in the climate experts.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that American retail giant Liz Claiborne Inc had enlisted a New York climatologist to speak to 30 of its executives on topics ranging from the types of fabrics they should be using to the timing of retail deliveries and seasonal markdowns.

Other US fashion retailer giants, including Target and Kohl's, have also started using climate experts to plan their collections and schedule end-of-season sales. And from January, Target will sell swimwear year-round.

Closer to home, fashion designers say they are increasingly designing transeasonal collections using lighter- weight fabrics for a more temperate climate and readjusting their in-store delivery dates in line with the unpredictable seasons.

"There's really no such thing as defined autumn/winter and spring/summer collections any more," says Margaret Porritt, of Melbourne fashion label Feathers.

"A lot of my garments are more transeasonal and rather than dropping them into store twice a year like I used to, I tend to move things in and out of store every couple of weeks, depending on the weather."

Things were different when she started the business 35 years ago.

"Back then winter went into store in mid-January and summer in mid-June and that was it. There was nothing in between. I also used a lot more heavier wools and made great big heavy coats. I can't do that anymore; it just doesn't get cold enough, even here in Melbourne. They just don't sell."

Mrs Porritt says she now uses cashmere and cotton blends instead of heavy wools. "It's all about lightweight garments that you can wear all year round and layering now… and it's something I think we are only going to see more of."

If Mrs Porritt is correct, woollen pea coats could join polar bears as the latest casualties of global warming. And just who knows what will become of our beloved ugg boots?


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