Does Global Warming Impact Fashion?


We’ve been enjoying the winter season so far. The mild temperatures and absence of snow have cheered our spirits and meant we’ve been able to be ever-so much more stylish this winter.

We have El Nino to thank for the soaring temperatures that made December one of the warmest on record. The weather phenomenon that occurs in the tropical Pacific Ocean is not the only cause of these mild winters. The controversial topic of global warming and shifting environmental temperatures has been resulting in unpredictable weather patterns and unseasonal climates. Whether you want to label it as the controversial man-made global warming or simply as climate change, one thing is certain – the times they are a-changing.


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195 nations met at the UN Climate Conference in Paris recently to create a pact to tackle the problematic issue of the rapidly changing climate. Although we may think of this as an abstract concept that doesn’t quite affect us yet or celebrate the warmer temperatures that it has sent our way, the crisis is already beginning to impact industry and fashion is vulnerable in this wave of change.

The fashion industry has suffered major losses so far this winter, and that number is anticipated to worsen based on the continuing trend for mild temperatures throughout the remainder of the season. Uniqlo, H&M, and the Gap announced major seasonal shortfalls. Macy’s announced that they were cutting more than 4 500 jobs and closing 40 stores by spring following their slumped holiday sales. CEO Terry Lundgren said in a press release on January 6th that he blames “…80% of our company’s year-over-year declines in comparable sales…to shortfalls in cold-weather goods such as coats, sweaters, boots, hats, gloves, and scarves.”

CNN Money states that sales of outerwear in the US are down 10%, while the sale of hats, gloves, and scarves in the UK plunged by 32%. Planalytics, a retail consultancy firm, estimates that apparel retailers in the US have lost about $572 million. The UK’s loss is estimated at around $120 million.


“It’s tough to recover from this. Winter clothing sales in November and December are the most important.”    ~ Dairo Murata, analyst at JP Morgan Securities Japan


So how can the weather impact sales of fashion so negatively? Consumers simply don’t need to bundle up in those cold-weather items. The psychology of shopping dictates that unless it is an item that we need currently (appropriate for the season and our needs), we are less likely to purchase it. This also calls into question the current practice of ridiculous lead times that see fall apparel hitting stores in the summer.


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So what is the solution?

First, using shorter production times would allow companies to reassess how much stock is required at any given time. It would allow retailers and companies to better determine the needs of consumers based on weather patterns, etc. These shorter production times would prevent situations like this season where the typical stock of heavy winter apparel is simply not moving out the door.

Building further off that concept, releasing garments in the appropriate season would be a logical step towards adapting the industry to the current climate (both consumer and weather). Rebecca Minkoff has firmly established themselves as a company that is able to break away from traditional practices, adapt to the current environment, and look towards the future. In addition to embracing fashion and retail technology, they have also challenged the current buying system by switching to consumer-facing fashion shows. This means that Rebecca Minkoff is now showing garments in the season that they are intended for. This means that all orders from the company are placed closer to the actual shipping dates to retail.

Many retailers are also switching their buying habits for stores. Instead of investing in high-risk garments such as heavy-weight clothes (like Polar Fleece) that can only be worn in very cold temperatures, retailers are bulking up on mid-weight textiles. Mid-weight items are more versatile as they can be layered for added warmth. The idea of breaking away from season-specific clothes would have a rippling impact across many aspects of the industry that would be of environmental benefit but would require a significant marketing adjustment.

In addition to adjusting the way that the fashion industry currently does business, looking towards the future of garments is of great importance. This past season highlights the need to evaluate what clothing needs to deliver to us as consumers. Trans-seasonal garments that can take cues from the environment to become warmer or cooler are an exciting concept that is in the early days of exploration.

We won’t know until the end of the first quarter of 2016 how much climate change has impacted the fashion industry this season. What is clear though is the need to revaluate our current practices and set in place better systems to reflect the needs of the industry.