Last fashion week, we armed anonymous industry insiders with wearable tech bracelets that tracked their data, day and night – here’s what we learned
Does fashion move too fast? It’s the question on everyone’s lips right now, brought dramatically to the fore after Raf Simons’ shock exit from Dior and Alber Elbaz’s subsequent departure from Lanvin. Both designers had expressed a sense of frustration with the pace of the industry, and the constant grind that leaves little time for experimentation (at Dior, Simons was creating collections in a mere three weeks). Recent developments – like Jonathan Saunders’ decision to close his label, and Thomas Tait’s choice to cease using the runway as a way of presenting his collections to people – only add weight to the notion that big changes are afoot in the industry, and that something in the system is no longer working.
It’s no secret that fashion, driven by a constant quest for newness, never slows down – it races from season to season, gathering speed through menswear, pre-collections, couture and one-off collaborations. Never is the pace of the industry more keenly felt than over fashion week, the deceptively named, month-long, four-city grand tour throughout which hundreds of designers stage shows and presentations, drawing crowds of A-listers, press, bloggers and celebrity-spotters alike. But while lately the focus has been on the pressure put on the shoulders of designers, there are many more people in different fields whose work is vital to this $1.7tn industry.
At this year’s London Fashion Week, we armed a team of seven insiders (including a make-up artist, freelance writer, photographer, designer and intern) with Jawbone UP3s – subtle wearable tech bracelets that gather data about sleep, activity, nutrition and even heart rate, transmitting it directly to a phone app which uses the user’s own data to deliver personalised insights. We asked them (and a non-industry control subject) to wear a bracelet every day and night over the five days of shows, and then collected the information. So, how many late nights does an event planner log? What happens to a designer’s sleep patterns leading up to a show? And is the humble intern the hardest worker of all? While we’re not claiming this is scientific – of course, every make-up artist or designer has different lifestyles, bodies and routines, and fitness trackers like UP3s aren’t quite the same as rigging someone up with monitoring devices – it’s an interesting look into just how hard people work over fashion week.
According to the NHS, the average person walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day, although 10,000 steps is a widely touted ‘target’ number to aim for. They also advise that adults sleep between six and nine hours a night, so we asked participants to set their targets at the Jawbone-recommended 10,000 steps and eight hours. Click through the individual data in the gallery below to see the stats, and keep scrolling for comparative data and information from each participant.
THE CONTROL SUBJECT
The control subject wore the UP3 consistently. Their sleep was the most regular, with the subject clocking up around seven and a half hours every night except one (where they slept longer), placing them as the third most-rested. Their steps were the second lowest recorded, outpacing the lowest stepper (the intern) by 1,100 strides.
“I work in a client-facing role in the pharmaceutical industry – over fashion week, I was based in the office (so desk work, the odd internal meeting) and had one meeting out of the office. It was about as busy as normal. My working hours are very standard, about nine to six. Hitting the eight-hour sleep target or coming very close to hitting it throughout the days shouldn’t be such a surprise, I suppose, I usually manage to get to bed before midnight. While we do not have anything like fashion week, we do frequently organise client events (these are usually two or three days) when typically it will be four to six hours sleep a night and working until midnight, so energy is low. That’s the closest it gets.”
AVERAGE SLEEP: 7h 38m
AVERAGE STEPS: 6,634
The designer had a runway show on the final day of London Fashion Week, but only wore the UP3 on-and-off for three of the five days, so acknowledges their data isn’t complete. They managed to maintain a decent sleep pattern, with an average per night of just over eight hours – the only participant to achieve that.
“Every day’s work is quite different – there are so many aspects that go into producing a fashion show. Studio visits, finishing the clothes, the styling, the hair, make-up and nail tests, model castings, fittings, organising the press notes, the credits list and the goodie bags, the show music, production (lighting, running orders and boards), post-show interviews and social media... It’s a lot of work put together, and on top I have to make sure the people I’m working with are happy. Fashion designers work bloody hard, but I am surprised I slept quite decently. In general, my team and I are quite organised and well-prepared – we are getting older, so we don’t do sleepless nights and last-minute backstage sewing, we like to be calm and chill. I did find that the UP3 was getting in my way so in the end I didn’t wear it all, therefore the data doesn’t accurately represent my workload.”
AVERAGE SLEEP: 8h 5m
AVERAGE STEPS: 9,275
The writer works on a freelance basis. They attended shows during the day, and raced home in the gaps in their schedule to work on other deadlines. Their daily steps were high, but their average was pulled down by one day when they only moved 641 steps – the second lowest recorded across the board.
“In the evenings and early mornings I was writing show reports and catching up on print deadlines. Going into the shows I was already on week two of sleeping around five hours a night, so Red Bull and I had formed a pretty close bond and I was quite horrified to see the effect that all the late-night caffeine had on my sleep, as my heart rate was quite high and most of my sleep was light. I think the shock of the stats from the days leading up to LFW forced me to cut way back on the caffeine and go to bed a lot earlier than I normally would during the shows. Unlike Milan and Paris, in London you can walk between a lot of the venues (which I much prefer to sitting in the car) and I didn’t realise just how many kilometres I clock up doing that, which was a nice surprise. I miraculously avoided fashion flu this season, which was a first! Maybe forcing myself to bed early helped!”
AVERAGE SLEEP: 6h 46m
AVERAGE STEPS: 8,024
THE MAKE-UP ARTIST
The make-up artist wore the band daily, but took it off to sleep on three nights. Despite being less busy than usual, they logged the highest number of steps altogether, a massive 74,306. They also had the second highest sleep average, outsnoozed only by the designer.
“This fashion week I worked on four shows, so there was lots of running around to make-up tests and then going to a few parties! I was less busy than normal, actually, so I didn’t get to walk as much as I normally do. I slept better, though. Most days you are only required for a maximum of four hours unless you have multiple shows. In terms of the emotional toll of fashion week, I never get overly stressed about shows. I don’t know how that compares with other people in the industry – it depends on the person’s job, I suppose, whether they are a stylist, hair stylist, designer…”
AVERAGE SLEEP: 7h 44m
AVERAGE STEPS: 14,581
The photographer had the second highest number of total steps, logging 67,893 over the five days, beaten only by the make-up artist. Despite the high activity levels, their sleep average placed them as the third least rested.
“I’m a backstage photographer, so that basically means running from one show to another, sometimes editing at a random cafe in between shows and going back home to do more editing after the last show. I tend to walk a lot every day, so I wasn’t that surprised to reach the 10,000-step goal easily. It was interesting to see the actual distance, though. I sometimes walked quite a lot, like 11.5km on the 21st. Details about my sleep were interesting as well, especially noticing the deep and light sleep periods. Fashion week makes me feel quite tired and stressed, although we’re probably all running around all day. Maybe I just tend to walk a bit more as I try to avoid taking the tube as much as I can in between shows.”
AVERAGE SLEEP: 6h 38m
AVERAGE STEPS: 13,578
The intern was the least active participant, only averaging 5,600 steps a day. The also had the lowest step number recorded, at 462 steps. Their sleep average was the second lowest, losing out on the least-rested spot to the event planner.
“I was assisting in the office and out of the office during weekends with daily coverage of shows and any fashion week-related things. Uploading galleries, captioning images, thinking of article titles, keeping the server updated, transcribing some things, looking for news and doing anything I could help with. During fashion week the work is pretty much a constant, given that the shows are happening from morning to night and there’s always something to do. I think what surprised me about wearing the UP3 is how little I usually sleep. I always knew that I wasn’t an eight-hours-a-day kind of girl, but I wasn’t expecting my average throughout the whole season to be five hours. Although honestly, I wasn’t too surprised there wasn’t too much walking going on!”
AVERAGE SLEEP: 5h 47m
AVERAGE STEPS: 5,591
The editor managed to walk more than 10,000 steps every day but one, making them the third most active on average. They got more sleep as the week went on, from four and a half hours on day one to over seven by the final day of LFW.
“Over London Fashion Week my job is a mixture of being at my desk in the office, working from home at weekends and going to shows and presentations, so some days I’ll be super-active rushing about and others stuck more at my computer. Fashion week is our busiest period in terms of content, so there are always articles to write, commission and edit – I also have to oversee the schedules for our photographers and writers, liaise with PRs and forward-plan for the shows in Milan and Paris. I’m usually up late writing, so I’m not surprised that my average sleep was five and a half hours – in fact, that seems like a lot. The previous week, I was really running on empty, so by the end of LFW I think I was catching up on missed sleep. I think you survive fashion week on adrenaline, the pace is relentless for over a month so you just have to buckle up.”
AVERAGE SLEEP: 5h 49m
AVERAGE STEPS: 11,987
THE EVENT PLANNER
The event planner was the only participant to average less than five hours sleep a night – helped by the fact they didn’t sleep at all one night. They also walked the second highest amount of steps in one day – just under 19,500.
“This LFW I was escorting, planning and organising the show and event schedules for the talent we represent as well as organising two events over fashion week. I think everyone is pretty exhausted, regardless of the work they do. Everyone has super-long hours and if people say they don’t feel the pressure during the shows they’re either lying or they’re some weird human specimen I have yet to meet. For designers, fashion week is obviously extra emotional and exhausting. I think we sometimes forget that they’ve worked for months on something and then it’s over so quickly and people either love it or dismiss it.”
AVERAGE SLEEP: 4h 44m
AVERAGE STEPS: 10,363
It won’t come as much of a surprise that it was the desk-bound people – the writer, the intern, the control subject – who took the least amount of steps. Notable is the fact that only two insiders managed more than seven hours of sleep a night – and just one (the designer) hit eight, although they had doubts over the accuracy of their results. In terms of steps and sleep, the control subject scored lowly and highly respectively, a strong case to back up the claims that, yes, fashion is hard work – especially during show season. But of course, it has to be said that our sample was small. There are many other people on the business side of the industry who put in incredible hours, but whose work remains in the background, from ad teams to marketers, accountants and the buyers responsible for choosing the goods that will stock shelves in our favourite stores. That’s not to mention the workers who actually create the clothes – whether couture-level atelier workers or fast-fashion factory employees, this labour is often the hidden, human cost of our obsession with newness.
So, does fashion need to slow down? Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a single consensus. “In one word: YES,” says the writer – “I feel like we never have time to appreciate anything before we’re on to the next thing. Fashion is eating itself up from the inside.” The intern agrees, arguing that, “with the rhythm fashion is in right now there is very little way for anything interesting to develop. Everything becomes too trendy too quickly and just fizzles out insanely fast.” For the photographer, the pace of fashion week adds a constant mental and physical pressure – not helped by the speed at which publications want images. “I was talking to a photographer backstage who was telling me about how everyone used to shoot the shows on film – hard to believe! – and rush to the lab in order to get the pictures as quickly as they could,” they recall. “Now everything’s becoming more and more instant, with more people, more shows. As a photographer I barely have time to think between the moment I enter backstage and when I send the final images.”
The photographer doesn’t think it’s all bad, however, admitting that the pressure can sometimes lead to productivity. “It’s an interesting pace, as you get to produce stuff you probably wouldn’t on a more ‘relaxed’ schedule... you have to do something special and different to be remembered.” Perhaps most surprising, however, is the opinion of the designer – after all, all eyes in the industry are currently trained upon people in their position, wondering who is going to be next to step down or speak out. “No, I don’t think fashion moves too fast!” they assert. “To quote Karl Lagerfeld: ‘If you are not ready to have a non-stop dialogue with fashion, then you should do another job.’”