According to the people who attend it professionally, is fashion week pointless? That's the question we sought out an answer for in our latest survey, prompted by what has felt like a growing disillusionment with the whole thing. Nearly 500 people working in the fashion industry, from editors to buyers to influencers, gave us their perspective on the biannual event. (If you participated, THANK YOU!) Looking solely at the numbers, respondents were divided.
Asked how much they agree with the statement "Fashion week is pointless," the biggest group of respondents, 36%, said they "somewhat agree," while an only slightly smaller cohort of 33% said they "somewhat disagree." On top of that, the majority of respondents — about 73% — said they personally enjoy fashion week, even if nearly the same amount said it took too much of their time and resources.
What became clear is that, of course, it's not that simple. While, yes, some people believe that fashion week should entirely cease to exist, others see value in specific aspects of it, or see potential in it if the format were to change.
Read on for the biggest takeaways.
A waste of time, resources and environmental impact
Is a full week — or month if you're traveling to Europe — trekking from show to show from morning 'til night really necessary? The vast majority of respondents said fashion week takes up too much of their time and resources. (38% strongly agreed while 36% somewhat agreed.) This was especially true of fashion editors, beauty editors and critics: Over half of each group strongly agreed with that statement
"It all seems like a waste of money and time that just leaves you feeling bad about yourself at the end of the week," commented an editor.
"If I'm not writing, I'm not earning," said a fashion critic, "and it's tough getting the work done when you’re running around Milan, Paris and London for a month."
A lot of respondents also reported feeling guilt about the toll their fashion week travel, and fashion shows themselves, takes on the environment: 34% somewhat agreed and 27% strongly agreed. Beauty editors appeared most cognizant of this issue, with 80% of them agreeing in some capacity. Stylists, meanwhile, were pretty evenly split on the issue.
"There are too many people attending the shows who don't need to be there and causing too much waste and unsustainable environmental damage," one Australia-based editor wrote. "I don't think fashion shows are the most responsible option for fashion brands these days."
"If fashion shows didn't already exist, would ANYONE be calling for fashion week?" posited one freelancer. "No. It's inefficient, expensive for all involved, and the ROI is low. Plus, again, Australia is on fire, the ice caps are melting, and this industry is the #2 polluter. WE NEED TO CHANGE."
"Our planet is actually on fire," echoed another. "We all need to take a look at the world and stop being so selfish. I don't think that I can continue to support fashion until it finds a way to exist responsibly."
"The logic behind using up so many resources to make four collections a year and to stage fashion shows which hundreds of people must fly around the world to see needs to be examined," said another respondent. "No matter how many trees you plant or carbon off-sets you buy, fashion shows are not sustainable."
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A toll on mental health
CBD, anyone? The majority of respondents said fashion week is damaging to their mental health with 36.5% somewhat agreeing and 22% strongly agreeing. This seemed especially true for fashion editors, critics, beauty editors and freelancers, while buyers are apparently pretty chill about the whole thing: Nearly 40% strongly disagreed with this statement. (Stylists and influencers were both pretty evenly split.)
And it's not just about the stress of running around to shows and fulfilling responsibilities. For many, fashion week creates an environment that breeds insecurity and pressure to appear a certain way.
"From an industry perspective, it's useful to get all our up-close beauty reporting, model interviews etc. out of the way in a concentrated week," wrote one freelancer. "But every show and event feels like a very perverse version of the Harry Potter sorting hat, like, where do I belong or did I not even get a Hogwarts owl?"
"Fashion week has become a bi-annual stress and anxiety fest, making it one of the hardest times of year both mentally and physically," wrote on editor. "It feels silly to complain about it, but all of the comparisons about which invite you got or didn’t get and figuring out if you look chic enough, can totally be damaging."
"I should just look at the clothes and take in the moment, but instead I'm looking at everyone else, mentally drained and feeling like I'm never good enough," said another.
"The cost and pressure to 'keep up' have taken a toll on my health," said one respondent. "This year, I'm only attending the bigger shows and not doing full weeks."
"You can feel so worthless so easily at fashion week, and it can be kind of defeating," said another.
The rare magic of a live runway show
It doesn't happen often, but every season there are a few special shows that you feel lucky to witness IRL. Most respondents (30.6%) strongly disagreed that there was nothing they get out of a live runway show that they couldn't get from looking at the photos online or attending a showroom appointment on their schedule; and only 4% of respondents said fashion shows have no value. And this brings us back to the division there was over whether fashion week is pointless. When asked what value, exactly, live runway shows do provide, most respondents (66.57%) indicated it was a "better understanding of the designer's vision."
"If we are going to respect and understand the clothing we put on our bodies, we need to see it in-person," wrote an editor. "Yes, the shows have become a circus, but amidst the chaos there are still real designers making important garments who deserve our time and attention."
"When a designer presents a collection that is stunning, thought-provoking and truly inclusive, there's nothing like the feeling of being in the room to witness that firsthand," wrote another. "That leaves an impression much stronger than a photograph in my inbox."
One respondent even went so far as to describe fashion shows as "an escape from the mundane world."
Another feels this type of show no longer exists. "McQueen is dead and so is my interest for fashion shows," they wrote.
Some respondents voiced their support for live runway shows with caveats.
"The energy, inspiration, and feeling of a whole community coming together is amazing," wrote an influencer. "The excessive amount of events, unsustainable traveling, and ridiculous street style outfits that people don't actually ever wear is really silly and not worth it."
"If the overall brand concept and/or brand identity isn't shifting the culture like Pyer Moss, Christopher John Rogers and Telfar what's the point," said a freelancer.
"Some shows could stand to be relegated to just virtual, but others are works of art that need to be seen in person," wrote another respondent. "The problem is hardly any designers/brands will acknowledge their work falls in the former category."
"I do think it's worth it (for some designers) because you get a better vision, it's the atmosphere, and getting to know great designers and artists," wrote another. "But now it's turned into a contest of clout and followers, and a game of 'who can mask their anxiety' with the most expensive clothes." That brings us to our next topic...
A networking and social media opportunity
If you've been feeling like fashion shows have become all about the 'gram, you're not alone. The second-most popular answer selected for the question of what value live runway shows provide was: a social media content opportunity. But in the comments, we learned that, for many, the fact that shows are often geared towards social media isn't a positive.
"Fashion week is not designed for people who are reporting on it but only for social media content," wrote a beauty editor.
"These spectacles are made for Instagram and are unnecessary," added a freelancer.
An editor wrote, "Apart from the obvious costs to the environment, fashion shows now have less to do with the clothes and more to do with celebs, influencers and social media ops."
Meanwhile, "networking" was one of the most common write-in answers. For many industry professionals, fashion week is the only time of year they see and interact with others in their field on a regular basis, and this socializing can create or strengthen valuable connections that ultimately lead to jobs or other professional opportunities.
"Fashion week gives the increasingly fragmented industry some sense of (a chaotic!) community," wrote a freelancer.
"I think it's vital to be at fashion shows because so much networking and inter-publication bonding goes on during Fashion Month," said another. "Relationships develop that can truly further your career, or even change your friend group."
One respondent wrote, "It's worth to attend shows to strengthen your relationship with the designers, brands and PR agencies."
Circling back to the topic of social media, many of our respondents seem frustrated with the growing presence of influencers at fashion shows, and the ways brands cater to them, drumming back up a seasons-old argument.
"Fashion week was worth attending before it became a spectacle," wrote an editor. "It used to be focused on the clothes, the buyers, the models, now it's focused on everything AROUND fashion week. I blame influencers. I understand that brands want social media presence, however, when a fashion influencer is sitting front row over a Macy's buyer (someone who can actually support sales for the designer), it's problematic."
A freelancer wrote, "It often feels like a bunch of influencers and even thirstier aspiring influencers jockeying for the best IG Stories content, selfies, etc instead of an essential live experience for people that actually work in, and hold power in different respects, in the fashion industry."
"I don't feel anything about not being seated front row, but stylists, buyers, and editors are definitely getting worse placements versus buzzy influencers and random celebrities," noted a stylist.
A few respondents, frustrated with the disorganization and chaos of Fashion Week, attempted to offer ideas for what a better-functioning version might look like.
"I think there are too many shows and it goes on for far too long," wrote an editor. "Maybe if they happened in shorter amounts of time in more central locations so there's less flying and driving?"
"I wish it was all in one central location so it would actually be easy to get to things," wrote a freelancer.
"I think fashion month has value as an industry-facing 'conference,' but the consumer-facing models and influencer-saturated FROWs are beyond irritating at this point," added a critic.
Wrote one respondent, "I don’t know what the solution is entirely - perhaps a 'salon viewing' with models, music, celeb or rich people can attend but us working girls + companies with budgets, an 'in salon' show would be lovely, reduce costs for everyone, and reduce major major carbon footprint for the world."
"I think we need to reframe the purpose of Fashion Week," wrote on influencer. "The world and industry has changed a lot since the idea of Fashion Week was introduced and since its heyday. We no longer need to preview collections in this way to style, edit, buy for the upcoming season. But instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, we can actually restructure the purpose of coming together for a common goal. We can build community, tell stories, support creativity, encourage responsible manufacturing, and be a connector for the industry."