The Genteel
February 26, 2021


Blizzard Nemo disrupted festivities at New York Fashion Week. Source:

As Nemo brought heavy snow, sleet and rain to the Northeastern Seaboard, it also temporarily knocked the wind out of New York Fashion Week festivities. Several out-of-town fashion goers were unable to attend due to cancelled flights and bad roads, while some designers, notably Marc Jacobs, rescheduled their shows.

Despite the conditions, Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, ensured that the show would go on. "Maybe the worst thing about the snow is that it forces people to change their outfits," said Kolb. Which is indeed what happened: the majority of attendees re-styled their wardrobes, swapping extravagance for practicality and resorting to wellies, puffy coats and fur hats.

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Blizzard Nemo snows out NYFW.

Nemo is one of many storms in a pattern of increasingly unstable weather around the world due to climate change, forcing designers and retailers to consider the effects of unstable seasons on their business and on the fashion industry in general.

In 2007, Beppe Modenese, founder of Milan Fashion Week, made somewhat of a premonition to the New York Times, stating that the fashion industry would have to transform dramatically as a result of the "blending" of the seasons. "The whole fashion system will have to change," Modenese said. "You can't have everyone showing four times a year to present the same thing. People are not prepared to invest in these clothes that, from one season to the other, use the same fabrics at the same weight. The fashion system must adapt to the reality that there is no strong difference between summer and winter anymore."

Some designers have gone as far as announcing that seasonal fashion is now obsolete. After 2007 Paris Fashion Week, Canadian designer Rad Hourani noted, "with global warming, I don't believe in four distinct seasons any more." British designer Katherine Hamnett offered similar comments after the event, suggesting that the entire clothing industry has turned upside-down. "I think we may see a move toward more layered clothing in the winter, rather than bulk clothing as we seem to favor now. Layers are both more effective and more adaptable: they show the fashion industry being responsive and innovative at the same time," she told The Independent.

These presentiments have begun to bear weight upon the industry. Designers and retailers are now proactively offering styles that are appropriate for summer temperatures that can also extend into the winter months. For some, adjusting to unpredictable weather has involved seeking advice from experts. Big retailers such as Liz Claiborne, Target and Kohl's have employed the assistance of climatologists to guide them in their collection planning as well as to determine the best times to release their seasonal pieces.

In an era of 'fast fashion' [climate change] leads to an awareness of consumerism and a renewed appreciation of fashion that is carefully crafted, thoughtfully designed and created for longevity.

On a smaller scale, designers are beginning to focus their collections around pieces that are trans-seasonal or all-weather. One designer who has taken the impact of climate change on her work seriously is Julie Tengdahl. Based in Brisbane, Tengdahl faced unexpected disruption to her fashion business after Cyclone Yasi destroyed her hometown in Northwest Queensland in February 2011. Yasi brought floods to an area larger than the size of France and Germany combined, resulting in billions of dollars in damage to the local economy. Then in January, Queenslanders again faced environmental and economic loss as a result of record rainfall, flooding and destruction caused by ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald.

The devastation caused by the floods prompted Tengdahl to transform her label to be more suited to a changing environment. "In an era of 'fast fashion' [climate change] leads to an awareness of consumerism and a renewed appreciation of fashion that is carefully crafted, thoughtfully designed and created for longevity," Tengdahl told The Genteel.

Tengdahl has consciously developed her 2011 and 2012 collections around the themes of renewal, hope and community and has focused on combining light and warm fabrics in her collections to ensure that her styles transcend across the winter and summer seasons. Her A/W 2012 collection offered vibrant coloured prints layered over wearable stretch wool, cotton and silk that could be deconstructed to provide several outfits or layered to offer a warm outfit during the winter months. The collection also extends into the spring and summer seasons through carefully selected colours that inspire warmth and vitality: violet, citrus, lipstick pink and red.

Tengdahl's approach to fashion is one that is gaining popularity in the industry. A call-to-action project from the non-profit Forum for the Future and Levi Strauss and Co. titled Fashion Futures suggests designers need to consider the effects of climate change in their work, make changes in their business operations, as some foreseeable and dire consequences include resource shortages, overflowing landfills and limited colours and dyes.

"For the fashion industry to be sustainable economically, it must be sustainable socially and environmentally too. These provocative scenarios challenge all of us to look beyond the short term and use our collective power to work to create the kind of positive world we'd like to see in 2025," John Anderson, president and CEO of Levi Strauss and Co.

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Julie Tengdahl.

Tengdahl has taken deliberate steps towards reducing the impact her business is having on the environment. "Events [like the Queensland floods] invigorate designers and consumers to prioritise sustainability. Within my business structure, I have streamlined production; relocating my workroom into a space that has a smaller carbon footprint. I have also closed one of my three bricks and mortar stores, to replace it with an online store, which represents a smaller carbon footprint, and reach to a larger market."

According to Danielle Smith, director for online sustainable shopping centre, Eco Bird, the awareness of the ways that fashion is contributing to climate change and the methods, like those used by Tengdahl, of creating eco-friendly fashion have become a feature of fashion in Australia. "Eco-fashion is a trend that is here to stay and is changing the way that fashion is made, sold, brought and worn. Over the last few years there has been a definite shift in the fashion industry towards more sustainable and socially responsible shopping habits," Smith told The Genteel.

Others within the fashion community are more skeptical of the consumer's role in supporting the movement towards a sustainable fashion industry. Jo Paoletti, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, believes that consumers are not ready to spend the money on sustainable, long-lasting clothing. "The uncomfortable truth is that over-consumption is a major factor in climate change," Paoletti said to the Huffington Post. "We buy much more clothing today than we did a generation ago, and too much of it is disposable fashion. If we define 'sustainable fashion' as made of particular [eco-friendly] fibers but still ready for Goodwill in a few months, we are deluding ourselves."

Extreme weather conditions like the Queensland floods and Nemo are growing more frequent and profound. And although sustainable initiatives and concerted efforts are being made by designers, just how well the industry will cope with uncontrollable weather forces in the future remains to be seen.



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