The changing state of fashion travel

A woman with her back to the camera stands in a garden in a black dress and looks at a plane in the sky

Slow travel is just what it sounds like: traveling at a slower pace. But what does that mean for the fast-paced fashion industry, where traditionally travel was at the heart of every international fashion week?

By Maggie Laubscher    Sunday 27 September, 2020   Short read

New York Fashion Week has gone forward this month, but with a new digital arm. Named Runway360, it allows designers to present their collections in 30-minute virtual showcases. This is a huge shift for one of the four major fashion weeks in the world. As of 2015, New York Fashion Week generated $887m annually for the city and was attended by more than 230,000 people. 

Similarly, fashion powerhouse Chanel took customers and press virtually to Capri for its Cruise 2021 pre-collection, presenting pre-filmed content. Dior released a short film in July to showcase its couture collection, and livestreamed its cruise collection from Puglia in lieu of an in-person event. The brands that haven’t opted for digital methods have cancelled or postponed events. For instance, the Met Gala and the CFDA Awards have been postponed indefinitely. 

September has always been a time of change; leaves falling, schedules shifting. And this year it may be the sharpest season of change yet, especially in fashion.
A woman makes alterations to a tiny doll dress on a mannequin
Dior Couture
A man holds open the door to a doll's house in the forest
Dior Couture
‘Before, my travel was pretty much a whirlwind,’ says model, fashion influencer and Soho House member, Natasha Ndlovu. She would arrive at a destination, drop her bags in her hotel suite and then push through an over-filled itinerary of sit-down breakfasts, product tutorials, photo shoots, and networking dinners. Now, Ndlovu hops on a Zoom call at a predetermined time to see a new product or listen to a brand’s make-up tutorial. One such example is a Nars industry event she would normally look forward to attending in person. This year, they’ve sent a date and time on a video-sharing platform, along with premixed cocktails to enjoy during the call. ‘I think it’s a good way forward,’ says Ndlovu ‘You think about flying to different countries just to go to shows and it’s a lot of waste.’

What’s interesting about Ndlovu's statement is the positive reaction to a period of inactivity. What started out as a forced slower pace seems to have become a welcome one. At the end of April, Saint Laurent announced a decision to reshape its schedule and lead by its own rhythm: all tenets of slow travel. In May, Gucci’s Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, penned a lengthy Instagram post admonishing fashion’s unrelenting schedule. He wrote, ‘At the end of the day, we were out of breath.’ Michele said the brand would move away from industry deadlines and only show twice a year, rather than the typical six to eight times. His goal is ‘recalibrating time to set the pace at a human level’. Again, he was echoing the tenets of slow travel.
A hand holding a cocktail in front of a dressing table with nail varnish on it

Trishna Goklani

A woman in a leather jacket crouching down in the street

Natasha Ndlovu

And, perhaps most notably, Belgian designer Dries Van Noten published a fashion industry petition to ‘simplify our businesses, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable’. He called for less travel in order to increase sustainability in the supply chain and sales calendar. There are currently 742 signatures and counting, with brands from Chloe and Rodarte to Tory Burch and Gucci, among others. The British Fashion Council and Council of Fashion Designers of America then released a joint statement in favour of the petition. What started as a means of survival in fashion is gaining approval for its human impact. 

‘We are seeing the results of everyone not being everywhere all at the same time,’ says Kellee Edwards, licensed pilot and Travel Channel host, when I show her the myriad statements from some of the largest brands in the industry. ‘The over-tourism is dying down. We’re taking better care of the planet. The fog is disappearing, the waterways are clearing up.’  Trishna Goklani, a UK-based fashion influencer originally from Singapore echoes that sentiment, saying, ‘This could be a good time for the industry to change the way it used to be and move towards a future that’s more sustainable.’ Slow travel has landed in the fashion world.

It’s a sharp left turn for an industry that has historically relied heavily on travel: fashion shows, trade shows, photo shoots and product launches. One influencer talks about the decadence of a cosmetics giant taking a group of influencers to the Maldives on a privately chartered jet simply for a mascara launch. Ndlovu was once flown with full luxury itinerary to Sedona in Arizona for a high-street chain’s collection launch that had a desert theme. ‘That is part of the experience,’ she says. ‘When we travel, it often ties in with the collection. I think brands now will have to be a bit more creative.’ 

For now, Ndlovu has not been travelling for influencer work. She hopes that will change soon, but with a more individualised approach. ‘Maybe this is a chance to make it more personal and narrow the focus,’ she says, hopefully. Time will tell if fashion can learn and grow from what initially felt like a fatal blow.
Interested in becoming a member?