CNN  — 

London Fashion Week will become gender neutral for 12 months as the British Fashion Council abandons binary shows starting this June.

The move, announced by the council in a news statement Tuesday, effectively presses pause on London Fashion Week Men’s, which started in 2012 to give designers a distinct platform to grow the industry.

The combined menswear and womenswear format comes as the global fashion industry contends with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut stores worldwide, forcing retailers to cancel orders and find other savings as sales fall.

The first combined London Fashion Week starts on June 12 and will be digital-only due to strict UK lockdown rules that prevent public gatherings of more than two people. The UK has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, recording more than 16,000 deaths as of Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In the statement, the British Fashion Council said the combined London Fashion Week would give designers more flexibility and reflect the event’s role as a platform for the city’s “influence on society, identity and culture.”

“The current pandemic is leading us all to reflect more poignantly on the society we live in and how we want to live our lives and build businesses when we get through this,” said Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council.

“The other side of this crisis, we hope will be about sustainability, creativity and product that you value, respect, cherish.”

Fashion had already been moving toward gender-neutral and more sustainable practices, so it’s possible the women’s and menswear shows would have eventually combined, even without the pandemic.

Models present creations from British designer Bethany Williams during a catwalk show on the first day of the Autumn/Winter 2020 London Fashion Week Men's, in London on January 4, 2020. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
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A growing number of brands are promoting themselves as non-binary to a younger crowd, particularly Generation Z, that increasingly doesn’t want to be defined by gender.

In the past, designers who didn’t want to be categorized as binary gravitated toward the womenswear shows, which traditionally attracted more attention from buyers and the press.

In 2018, the Council of Fashion Designers added a new category of “unisex/nonbinary” to New York Fashion Week, featuring gender neutral brands such as Vaquera and Telfar.

The consolidation of shows reflects a broader consciousness of how we use our resources. Androgynous dressing has become fashionable not only as a statement of fluidity, but because it signifies a conscious effort to be less wasteful.

The move to a digital format fits the same theme of using resources wisely, though worldwide travel bans and lockdowns gave organizers little choice during the pandemic.

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Earlier this month, Moscow Fashion Week was staged solely online, featuring mini films, lookbooks and mood boards, which were viewed online by more than 800,000 people. The organizers had planned to stream presentations and runway shows, but they were canceled due to fears that even small gatherings could spread the virus.

The British Fashion Council says its digital-only London Fashion Week will include designer diaries, webinars, digital showrooms, interviews and podcasts, which will be made available to the public as well as retailers.

“We hope that as well as personal perspectives on this difficult time, there will be inspiration in bucketloads. It is what British fashion is known for,” Rush said.