June 4, 2023


We Bring Good Things to Life

How Designers Are Making Their Spring 2021 Collections With Sustainability in Mind

Resort has always been a weird season, an incongruous mash-up of “takeaway clothes” for the St. Tropez set and cozy sweaters for the rest of us. This year, the collections we saw in June and July were particularly dissonant: Designers who make party dresses tried their hand at jeans and T-shirts; tailored suits were replaced by their quarantine counterparts—sweatshirts and joggers. There was still the odd gown or nipped trouser, items likely completed in the ignorant bliss of “pre-quar.” As a result, resort 2021 became less about trends and holiday dressing and more a study of what we’ll wear after lockdown—though with COVID-19 cases rising in parts of Europe and the U.S., that timeline feels hazier by the day. Still, most of our conversations with designers weren’t about the clothes at all. Instead, we heard about the highs and lows of creating a collection remotely: conducting fittings via Zoom, sending fabric swatches to buyers, and the logistical headaches of lost shipments and furloughed employees.

Suffice it to say, finishing a collection at all was a feat. Consider the number of resort reviews on Vogue Runway: 98, compared to around 250 last year. Beyond the creative challenges, cash flow came to a grinding halt for many designers. Retailers canceled their pre-fall orders, saddling labels with mountains of unsold inventory, and clothing sales hit record lows in the spring. For those who wanted to show something new, the only option was to get resourceful: They used leftover materials from seasons past, revived old patterns, and relied on working with their hands, sewing, draping, embellishing, and dyeing garments at home. “I realized through it that I’ve never wanted to make things more, to be more creative,” Jonathan Anderson said at the time. That’s one silver lining of such restraints and limitations: They simultaneously narrow your focus and unlock ideas you may not have had in the #BeforeTimes, when any fabric or silhouette or trim was at your disposal.

The other silver lining, of course, is that all of these methods are more sustainable: making do with what you have, repurposing materials, and designing only what feels truly necessary. As Gabriela Hearst puts it, designers “skimmed the fat,” the fat being superfluous items made to appease retailers or fill a look book. It’s difficult to concisely express just how significant a change this is; for decades, the mantra from retailers and press was that “more” is always better: more collections, more SKUs, more colors, more exclusives, more collaborations, and ultimately more waste. In comparison, what seems like common sense—producing smaller collections of items people will actually buy, wear, and keep forever—sounds radical.

It also feels like déjà vu for most of us. For years, designers, retailers, and editors have complained about the pace, the excess, and the toll it takes on creativity, not to mention the environment. It took a global pandemic to turn the conversation into action. Similar to the lifestyle changes we adopted in March—social distancing, working from home, wearing a mask—the shifts fashion needs sound insurmountable at first, but they aren’t mind-bendingly difficult. They’re changes that, taken together, would have a massive impact.