Is Climate Change Burning Up the Fashion Retailing Industry?

by Joshua Dorman

The impacts of climate change are well and truly numerous, even wreaking adverse effects upon an industry that has outlasted everything from drastic shifts in consumer tastes to epic financial downturns: fashion. Dr. Steven J. Hausman, a data scientist and president of Hausman Technology Presentations, recently observed that the climate of 2016—the hottest year on record according to NASA—has had a “direct effect on fashion and apparel retailing.” And indeed it has, with the effects of the phenomenon being felt by the likes of fashion giants Levi Strauss & Co., VF Corp., L’Oreal, and many others.

One particularly salient ramification of climate change on the fashion industry is that shifts in weather patterns have begun to affect consumer browsing patterns. Owners of boutique fashion houses have started noticing that when temperatures reach between ninety and one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, people tend to remain cooped-up inside their air-conditioned homes. The result: a severe decrease in browsing time and, in response, plummeting sales revenue.

Moreover, producers and suppliers are beginning to anticipate a “retail environment with only two major seasons,” foreseeably a long and scorching summer followed by a temperate winter and a “warmer-than-usual-spring.” The repercussions of such weather patterns have, in effect, already been felt by numerous fashion firms. Most notably, the prolonged summer of 2015 caused a decrease in “sweater weather,” thereby wreaking considerable damage to businesses that sell those long-sleeved knitted garments that so many of us adore and cherish. In the words of Rachel Tabbouche, founder and CEO of UnderCoverWaterWear.com, even though the “calendar might say it is fall, you’re not thinking of down coats and bulky sweaters when it’s 80 degrees out.”

Furthermore, companies who could previously rely on cold winters to support their outerwear businesses are now being forced to adapt to dynamic consumer demands reflecting changing weather patterns. For instance, Saint James, an upscale boutique fashion firm which specializes in wool knitting, has been disconnecting their newest collections from seasonality, relying instead on lighter and airier fabrics to appeal to customers. Additionally, Fruit of the Loom’s recent launch of their menswear line of “cooling boxer briefs” demonstrate that a vast range of clothing companies are pivoting away from seasonal collections and moving toward more flexible garment lines that can accommodate consumers in a warming climate.

However, John Opperman, the executive director of Earth Day Initiative, points to a “silver lining” to these alarming threats: as the world grows more aware of the debilitating effects of climate change, new individuals are beginning to take up the mantel and embrace solutions to combat this ever-increasing danger facing our planet.

 

Zaczkiewicz, Arthur. “Is Climate Change Killing the Seasonality of Fashion Apparel Retailing?” WWD. October 20, 2016. Accessed January 28, 2017. http://wwd.com/business-news/business-features/climate-change-impact-fashion-apparel-10525390/.

 

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