How To Survive After Pandemic
The Fashion Industry Is Going Through Hard Times. What It Needs to Do to Recover From Covid-19 Outbreak?
When 2020 officially took the status of the “leap year”, no one paid much attention to it. At least because there was no one, who expected a global coronavirus outbreak to occur under the concept of the “leap year”, which became a 21st century economic’s plague, and affected millions of people on the planet. While the whole world was gripped by panic, social media escalated the situation, and sanity was replaced by an almost unhealthy idea to stock up with toilet paper for five years ahead, the business owners and CEOs held their heads – a ruthless economical crisis crept up unexpectedly and inevitably.
The fashion industry turned out to be one of the most injured branches of the world economy. In a moment, when life and health became more important than trends and newest collections, meanwhile in the lists of necessities food and medicine took the supremacy, the luxury goods swiftly headed down to the mark “below the bottom”. For the first time in a long time, humanity ended up on the level of two Maslow pyramid steps: physiological and safety needs. Indeed, who needs self-actualisation in a moment, when your own life has never seemed so fragile? A wave of a mass closure of physical points of sales has swept across the world, while thousands of people found themselves out of work – the offline-retail that is already losing its primacy, appeared to be threatened with extinction even more.
However, the offline crisis hasn’t become an advantage for e-commerce: according to Contentsquare data, the drop in traffic to clothing, cosmetics and jewellery sites has reached shocking levels. No matter how much of free time potential customers got for online-shopping and product checking, statistics showcased the shift of their priorities in completely different directions. One of the principal reasons of declining interest in the fashion segment isn’t only the priorities shifts (turning back to Maslow pyramid), but also financial savings: due to the economic crisis many faced cuts and even layoffs. And, in a period of a global financial catastrophe, when the issue of a rational investment pops up: in a rice pack or the latest collection bag, unlikely there will be that hungry, yet from head to toe trendy individual, sucking his finger with sadness in front of the mushroom risotto found in Google Images.
Bain & Co also results in disappointing data in numbers: the global luxury market is expecting a massive fall of €226 billion caused by coronavirus pandemic, which, in turn, has become a ground of a financial crisis and forced quarantine around the globe. 2020 beats all the anti-records for the first time in the research history (since 1996) – neither the cataclysms, nor the decline in consumption in the US before the election, nor terrorist attacks, nor the slowdown in the Chinese economy leads the global luxury market to collapse. Which – no doubt – will be the most striking example of all economy books and lectures.
“The bottom has dropped out of the luxury market”.
It is neither a curse nor a seer’s dark prophecy – it is Marc Lotenberg’s comment, CEO of Future Media Group, on the suspension of W Magazine publishing. Glossy magazines are going through harsh times worldwide. And while companies cut their budgets, models stay home and take pictures for Instagram, and journalists are forced to scribble for personal blogs, the printed magazines’ epoch gradually comes to its end. Though, the rapidly developing potential of digital media has been leading to it lately.
The fashion industry is expecting hard times. Companies need to revaluate their market development strategies to recover – at least – some of the losses caused by the pandemic; shift priorities, and learn to play by the new rules, in which luxury won’t replace essential goods.
Production cutback and cost reduction
Speaking cynically and arguing with a dose of sanity, most likely, the current critical situation will make companies change their minds and gradually lead to rejection of stale – even outdated – principles of the fashion business. Encouraging to play by their own rules, brands launch two, four (cruise and pre-fall), and, if there is men’s line, up to six collections per year, thus promoting excessive consumption practices. Hand on heart and face the truth – it is worth admitting that customer is not already in need of such a huge amount of clothes as well as he has no necessity to change it every six months. Nevertheless, the industry forces to play by its rules, and fosters an excessive consumption – that already turned into one of the biggest problems of modern society – by providing seasonal stamping of trends.
“More people may realise we don’t need new fashion and apparel as much. This movement had already begun, but the coronavirus may amplify it,” says Kate Larsen, a former Burberry executive and founder of social enterprise advisory SupplyEsChange.
The whole world has slowed down its life, and people now have an opportunity to think that it makes sense to learn to spend much less than before the pandemic arrived. Unsteady economic situation and uncertainty in availability of the working place in the future that provides stable financial support, will mark with a significant imprint and change the outlook on consumer habits.
Which why brands already at this moment need to start carefully and rationally optimising the upcoming three seasons. Spring-summer collections are ready to go on open sale, yet only this time companies have to take care of what can be taken off and sold next season, which orders should be cancelled and which stock to liquidate. Whereas, the manufacturing of the autumn-winter collection must be significantly reduced to prevent oversupply.
In his open letter published in WWD, Giorgio Armani promised to reduce the number of shows and collections, and also to cancel cruise shows that brands organise for the ratings in a travelling Instagram-performance. Quite possible, his decision will trigger the Domino principle, and brands that, until then, lavishly threw money around and produced – essentially – unnecessary and even surplus things, will be able to discontinue an infinite vanity race.
Return to sustainability
Sustainability issues are the major agenda in the fashion industry so far, but many companies still get off with promises. Changes in manufacturing processes, implementation of innovative technologies, research and development of eco-friendly materials, and changes of working conditions require huge expenses, time and resources. Some experts consider that brands, which just recently stepped on the path of sustainability, now may refuse it again because of enormous job cuts, mass layoffs caused by pandemic, and substantial investment cutbacks.
“If wealth evaporates, if businesses have to do significant layoffs, concerns about sustainability will go by the wayside. It’s something that we care about when we have the luxury to care about it — when basic needs are met,” says Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.
However, for many, it could open doors to new opportunities. Fashion occupies 1/3 of the whole global production and is one of the most destructive industries for the planet. The plastic pollution of the world oceans, global changes of climate, and health of the manufactories’ employees turn into problems that too acute to be ignored; which means, the issues of transition towards sustainability will remain on top. The current market situation may become a chance for many brands to redefine their values and take the industry to a whole new level. And this transition, properly implemented, will be able to lead to positive results.
Katrin Ley, managing director of the sustainability accelerator Fashion for Good, declares: “The current situation provides an opportunity to reevaluate practices and may accelerate positive changes that have already been in motion”.
We can only guess, how the customer and the industry itself will react to the formation of sustainability development, and whether it will become a new essential for the fashion business. However, observing a rapidly growing trend for more conscious consumerisation supported by Millennials and Gen-Zers, the companies, who are ready to turn their heads toward sustainability, will be much popular among the modern audience’s tastes. People, who have grown up in the era of the technology progress and social media globalisation, became more selective – they make thorough and conscious choices, and are fully aware of how they decisions may affect the environment around them. Undoubtedly, companies will listen up to their audience’s mood and aspirations, and make relevant decisions.
Seasonal shows renunciation
Fashion weeks are always the most anticipated event for all fashion addicted, bloggers and influencers, whose appearance in the shows and under the glare of street style photographers was generously rewarded with a sum of, at least, four zeros. Also, it turns into a real madness for models, who lose the concept of what “sleep” is for the entire month of endless shows series. And into a headache of fashion editors, buyers, and all industry’s workers, for whom loud parties and lavish galas are the part of their mandatory work. To perform each 15-minute show, brands spend whopping budgets, that include scenery, rent (museum, palace, pool, McDonald’s at Elysian fields), models, stylists, makeup artists, and influencers’ fees, trips for celebrities, photo and video shooting, backstage buffet – and this is just a small part of a standard fashion show organisation pack.
There are many disagreements occur inside the fashion ecosystem: do we really need fashion weeks? It has been incapable to reach an agreement so far, but many industry’s workers decided on fashion weeks as a remarkably expensive event that requires the utilisation of an immense amount of resources.
The traditional model of the demonstration of the new collection is gradually becoming obsolete. It is being replaced by more innovative practices, vigorously evolving in the era of digital technologies and social media. You don’t need an invitation to take part in the fashion show, or feel extra as a VIP-guest anymore (though, undoubtedly, getting a quirky hand-made invention that worth to take place on the shelf, might be a very pleasant experience) – it’s enough to open YouTube or Instagram and enjoy spectacular show broadcasted online. Per example, Tom Ford refused to take part in a conventional presentation in New York for his spring-summer 2016 collection, and, instead, shot the video that demonstrated online within Paris Fashion Week.
Amid the pandemic, Mercedes Fashion Week was decided to be held remotely. The Russian designer, Alexander Terekhov, let the virtual model walk the virtual runway. RomaUvarovDesign told about his collection throughout the video-story and complementary mood board. ÓNOMA presented its clothes in the format of the open windows on the laptop desktop. DOKUCHAEVA showcased a backstage from the lookbook shoot. MIETSA organised a classical runway show in its studio and made a video out of it.
Chinese designers repeated the same kind of format during Shanghai Fashion Week, showcasing their collections throughout online-presentations and videos. Another one, which shared the destiny of the previous two countries running out of time to hold fashion weeks live was Tokyo. Japanese designers broadcasted their shows via an official Tokyo Fashion Week site.
Many will be definitely against such approach – utterly strange and unfamiliar in contrast to the dimensions and scope of the fashion weeks within four principal capitals. No matter how resource-consuming the fashion month is, the contacts were the central highlights of it – an interaction between designers and editors, communication among industry’s workers, new meetings and opportunities. The shift into a digital space puts some restrictions, erase a human aspect, and brings into new realities; still, this may become salvation for companies drowning in crisis.
Live broadcasts, video-presentations, online-launches – digital space creates a room for different ways of creativity, helps to expand the boundaries of the familiar and explore various types of communication not only with industry’s professionals but potential clients. In the world, where fashion holds a very precarious position, while a virtual space takes steps up to a higher level, there is no better solution than to obey and to subdue the relevant tools of the new era.
Featured image: Sleek-Mag