The biggest trends of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) centered around fashion’s global reach and responsibility, made-to-order innovations and partnerships and also designers distinguishing themselves by stepping away from the traditional runway. 

In every trend, all signs at NYFW 2020 pointed to the future for retailers and brands: The message is what’s important, and designers and houses can make a splash without spending massively on traditional paths. 

And this of course raises the question: Is fashion week going out of vogue? 

Probably not yet. The six-day event still highlights the most important design trends for the upcoming fall/winter season, at the same time starting vital conversations around fashion consumerism. Read on for a deeper look at the talking points that drove NYFW 2020.

Taking sustainable steps

It’s hard to imagine designers and retailers not addressing sustainability and climate change when the fashion industry contributes four percent to global waste annually. How designers showed up and showed out for the earth varied at NYFW. Australian brand Zimmermann, showing at this week’s event, acknowledged the devastation that bushfires earlier this year had on Australia, announcing that the brand donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery in an effort to help.

Meanwhile, Collina Strada founder Hillary Taymour provided her audience with pamphlets on eco-friendly food choices. As she told GQ, Taymour says “sustainable”  can be a very difficult thing to do top to bottom for a fashion brand. Instead, Taymour says, the brand strives for responsible designing and purchasing. The Collina Strada show’s decor, comprised of soil and grass and emphasizing the natural fibers found in its clothes, was donated afterward. 

For Gabriela Hearst’s fall/winter 2020 collection, the theme was waste. Models moved among shredded paper bales brought in from Brooklyn. As Hearst told The Guardian, “Maybe it doesn’t sound so glamorous but it’s what we should all care about, no?” By minimizing the label’s carbon footprint last year and reusing materials for its luxurious new clothes, Hearst’s goal is to upcycle unused fabric into heirlooms. That way, they don’t end up in a landfill.

These steps, this year are reflective of a rapidly growing, industry-wide movement: Designers are taking responsibility for the waste they create, and getting vocal about it. As more fashion retailers address sustainability in different ways, it’s clear that in order for the sustainability movement to succeed, retailers will need to be part of the action, too.

Making to order

This year, NYFW saw an evolution of personalized buying via made-to-order fashion. 

During NYFW last year in September, viewers glimpsed Rebecca Minkoff’s collaboration with Stitch Fix, a personal styling service that sends individually picked clothes to buyers who fill out a survey on what they’re looking for.

Minkoff partnered with Julia Haart of modelling agency Elite World Group to launch their new made-to-order brand e1972 at NYFW. Because of the small and nimble ateliers working for the new brand, each bespoke order only takes four to six weeks from purchase to delivery of perfectly-fitting clothing. 

Not every brand can easily offer made-to-order, but collaborations like Minkoff’s with Stitch Fix are a sign of things to come. If a brand can land on a viable business model for it, retailers and consumers will see the benefits of personalization. Plus, it has the potential to cut down on inventory waste if a certain style or color isn’t moving as fast as a designer or retailer had hoped. 

Ditching the runway

In many ways, the atmosphere of a runway show has been as important as the clothes it’s meant to showcase. For years at NYFW, designers have been playing with unexpected locations, themes and presentations for their shows. In the not-so-distant past, Alexander Wang took to the literal streets of New York to showcase his decidedly cool collection, and Kanye West’s Yeezy presentation in Madison Square Garden four years ago was, and still is, a revelation. 

But times are changing. By and large, designers are no longer looking to plan and execute a daunting presentation. And it appears that consumers aren’t looking for them either — instead, they want to participate. Innovation now looks like pop-up shops and see-now-buy-now events. 

For his 15th year, Phillip Lim opted out of a traditional runway show and instead invited people to an intimate, cozy house-party style presentation at the brand’s flagship location in New York. Here, the mood was joyful, relaxed and absent of the hurried energy that often comes with bouncing around shows and location for NYFW. The ready-to-wear show — highlighting the brand’s love affair with New York — was notably open to the public, since presentations are usually invite-only. It was an effort to reinvigorate both the designer and presentation with spontaneity and creativity. (Not to mention: Lim’s collection is 50 percent sustainable.) 

This year, Rihanna went a little quieter for Fenty than 2019’s luxury lingerie spectacle for Savage x Fenty. Partnering with the iconic department store Bergdorf Goodman, Rihanna’s Fenty brand had a mirrored activation in the store’s windows. In lieu of a runway show, she further changed the NYFW game. 

The buzz that surrounded these efforts was a sign that, while there’s still a place for exclusive, invite-only events at NYFW, brands don’t necessarily need to invest in an exorbitant runway show. There are many new ways to make a splash. 

Reconsidering New York

There were many examples this year of the pillars of the American fashion community either heading west to Los Angeles — or skipping the event altogether. 

CFDA chair Tom Ford held his fashion show in L.A., citing that, because the Academy Awards unfortunately shared the same weekend with NYFW, it was an opportunity for fashion and cinema to foster a closer relationship. Other giants of New York fashion, like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, opted out of the event this year, too. Even trendy Batsheva didn’t show up. 

Whether NYFW undergoes a transformation in L.A. or elsewhere, the fact is that American fashion is probably much too spread out for one event to holistically represent the industry. Texas has pockets of fashion-savvy buyers and designers, while mid-western cities and states like Chicago and Wisconsin are vibrant, up-and-coming fashion hubs. 

With iconic designers like Ford flocking to L.A., and other cities in America growing their fashion bases, the question becomes: what about New York? 

If the spotlight on NYFW dims, brands may need to rethink the best ways to showcase their designs. As Naeem Khan told us recently, the return on a fashion week show is changing. “It doesn’t have the same value it once did because of social media. The pictures on social media are what everyone’s looking for.” But, he added, “I still love it … My clothes need to be seen up close…I like that I can bring all those customers in for an intimate affair.”