New Trends in Fashion Design and Sustainability

Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

CEO and Founder,
440 Industries

Introduction

In recent years, both as consumers and professionals we have noticed how the world of fashion design has evolved because of the influence and impact of two major trends that have affected the industry worldwide. 

  • Fast Fashion. On the one hand, fast fashion has changed the rules of the game, by injecting a dose of the dream factor into the mass market, and by alluring customers to purchase garments at an unparalleled price point. The phenomenon of fast fashion has taken the world by storm and has not only changed consumer behavior but fashion design itself. The role of the designer has changed as a result of a completely supply-chain-oriented approach to creativity, leaving innovation and a “rebellious spirit” out of the fashion equation. We discuss the role of the designer in fast fashion in greater detail in this post.

Moreover, from an environmental point of view, the massive overflow of products and an increase in production has further heightened the sustainability issues in fashion – the second most polluting industry after fossil fuels – and has created the premises for a new wave of nature-inspired design.

  • Fashion sustainability. Sustainability has started evolving from simply being a marketing claim into a business necessity for brands focused on acquiring clients within the younger age groups. Millennials and Generation Zs have been brought up in a world where the nature cost of clothing needs to be accounted for on the price tag.  As a result, many independent brands have started to heavily focus on ways in which fashion sustainability can be incorporated within a garment’s design, by assigning designers with a new, more complex role. We discuss this in further detail in this post. 

In this post, we are going to look at the way in which these two opposing but overlapping tendencies have created new trends in clothing design, whereby creatives need to account for a much wider variety of elements pertaining both to fashion as a form of creative expression, as well as a business. 

Here’s what we are going to discuss:

  1. Defining a fashion product
  2. Identifying what is design innovation
  3. Sustainable fashion trends
  4. Conclusions
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1. Defining a Fashion Product

What are the elements that really define a fashion product, by setting it aside from other types of items?

  • A short renewal cycle, and seasonality. This seasonality has been further accelerated by fast fashion fast shelf turnover, putting items in cycles of six weeks, as opposed to the traditional six months. Fast fashion retailers are therefore market followers, as opposed to market leaders, as they are only able to create such a wide assortment of pieces by looking at their competitors, but without creating a clear stylistic identity.

  • A constraint in production cost, as all products need to be matched the fashion segment they belong to. We analyze the segments of the fashion industry in further detail in this post. All in all, only the haute couture segment of the industry is the one that does not suffer from limitations considering that this segment can be compared to Formula 1 in the automotive industry.

  • A clear style. When it comes to defining the ‘creative element’ of a fashion product we can see how a lot of terminologies can be confused or even overlapped in meaning. We often miss the opportunity to distinguish between brand, style, line, product, and collection.

This latter element of style can be further discussed. When it comes to human creativity, opportunities are endless, and designers need to find ways to put some limitations, in order to create an aesthetic code that can be both meaningful and memorable. As style belongs to this “look code” we can identify four main style typologies:

  • Classic
  • Traditional
  • Modern 
  • Avant-garde

But what if a fashion company creates different collections that relate to all of the previous styles?
In this case, we can see how a fashion company can choose to pick a certain number of brand identifiers that make a product distinguishable based on its product typology, its materials, its brand logo or initials, or the recurring themes used in the design. It is certain, however, that maintaining a clear fashion identity is becoming harder and harder, especially for new and upcoming brands. This challenge calls on developing a more innovative approach to design, as we’ll discuss in the following paragraph.

2. Identifying what is Fashion Innovation

Innovation is a very interesting but complex concept. It can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives, it can put to fruition in a variety of ways. Innovation in fashion can be classified according to:

  • Activities. We can either have innovation as a process or innovation as a product. As a process, innovation relates to creating new, more efficient ways of producing an item, as a product, innovation concern new outputs of the manufacturing process.

  • Extent. We can either have incremental innovation, whereby we improve something that already exists, or we make it better. We could also have radical innovation consisting of a completely new idea, changing the very behavior of consumers.

  • Content. We can innovate a garment, by devising new technical features, we can change its price point, by making it more economical, we can give it a new aesthetic look or we can give it a new symbolic meaning.

However, the viability of these innovation typologies can only be tested in connection to the relationship between fashion as a creative industry, and fashion as a business. Another way to look at innovation is in the dual relationship between action and reaction. A brand should question itself, to understand whether its creative content is an expression of its unique stylistic direction – with no specific intent to interject the market.  In this case, the action of creating a collection is by all means very unique to the firm and can lead to true radical change.

Alternatively, a brand may take into account a variety of industry trends to inform its decisions and think of designs in terms of its reaction.  In this case, the type of innovation will be more likely to be incremental.

What are some trends that fashion firms need to react to?

  • Increasing competition. The digital age has lowered access to entrepreneurship, putting more and more people in the position of competing in the fashion industry by creating a persuasive web presence.
  • Dynamism in the supply chain. This has put companies with an expensive production pipeline in a position of disadvantage, as web-based brands may grow faster, by managing an asset-light organization.
  • Economic Crisis. The 2008 economic crisis has put customers in an austerity mindset, making it harder to sell products that are priced according to a sense of self-gratification, rather than actual functionality or use.
  • Social media. The internet has amplified the opportunities and risks associated with customer service. As a result, firms are always in need to closely monitor any interaction with their customers, to avoid creating issues in public relations.
  • New retail. Fashion firms need to find new ways to interact with the “last segment of the supply chain” while keeping in mind that retail is the “first point of contact” with their customers. The overlap between online and physical distribution is what is inspiring new ways to sell products in creative and innovative ways.

Finally, as we already mentioned, the trend of fashion sustainability is leading the way, and we’ll discuss it in the next paragraph.

3. Sustainable Fashion Trends

There are a variety of sustainable fashion trends that are taken into account by fashion professionals, as they not only design a collection but as they look at ways in which a company can be structured and managed. More than trends, there are some fundamental issues that need to be addressed. Some of these involve:

  • The environmental impact of material sourcing. This relates to the sustainability cost associated with extracting raw materials. Even for natural fibers, like for instance, cotton, the resources necessary for its extraction make is an unsustainable material, unless its farming is conducted through environmentally-sensitive practices.

  • Re-use of discarded garments. Companies need to start thinking about the lifespan of a product by thinking about it as a circle and not as a straight line. In order to limit the overproduction (and over-disposal of used garments into landfills), fashion firms need to take into account how used garments can be re-use and be brought back to a second (and third) life.

  • The hazard posed by chemical processes and tanning of fabrics. The use of chemicals in the manufacturing process has a worrying effect on human health too. In this sense, fashion firms need to make sure that their products are held at the highest safety standards in order to avoid any potential health issues to end consumers.

  • Labour and human resource practices. In order to find economies of efficiency, many fashion firms can be tempted to move production in areas of the world where salaries are extremely low, and no unions are able to safeguard the interest of workers. This is a phenomenon that needs to be countered making fashion firms accountable for their whole supply line.

Nonetheless, sustainability is a very complex issue. At 440 Industries we created some free content for anyone interested in understanding more about is. Here’s a link to our free online course.

As a result, how do companies cope with so many moving parts? 

This is not an easy question to answer. What we can say is that firms are changing their mindset. From thinking about collection design as a stage in production which has a set beginning and a set end, now many firms think about design as a continuous process whereby firms can constantly re-adjust their stylistic and supply-chain management decisions in order to match market trends, both in terms of style, and in terms of manufacturing and distribution processes.

material sourcing fashion sustainability

4. Conclusions

As we’ve discussed in this post, design directions and influences can be better understood by breaking down a variety of different industry trends and looking at the ways in which these can create new directions and concepts for designers to use.  At 440 Industries we focus a lot on the new ideas concerning fashion sustainability as we believe that fashion needs a profound reform. In order to assist our readers and followers to better understand this topic, we’ve created a free online course

This content was created in order to clarify many misconceptions on the way in which business can operate, by respecting the environment and by showing the great rewards available for all of those companies who become pioneers of this age, by championing new initiatives and testing the market for new practices and ways to engage with one’s customers.

Sources and Further Research

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440 Industries New Trends in Fashion Design and Sustainability Are the brands dictating fashion trends, or are business trends impacting creativity? In this post we are going to look at where style comes from.
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Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

I am an Anglo-Italian business consultant and lecturer. In 2017 I started 440 Industries, a consulting company focused the creative industries. Our mission is to help entrepreneurs in fashion, music and technology bring their visions to life.

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