Fashion is going through an existential crisis.
As discretionary spending goes down and essential spending goes up, the industry has struggled to find their place in a COVID-19 world with productions halted, retailers closing and demand for luxury goods at an all-time low.
And while the pandemic will cause some fashion businesses to meet with unfortunate closure, the ones with the right strategy and resources to weather this storm might come out triumphant.
This won’t be the end of fashion — it is a trillion dollar business after all — but a reckoning of what’s to come and how the industry can improve from here on out.
So what will fashion look like in a post-COVID world? Here’s some of our predictions.
The New Definition Of “Wardrobe Staples”
If I had to take a guess, you’re probably in some version of pyjamas or loungewear as you’re reading this, just like how I’m in mine as I’m writing.
As telecommuting continues to be the encouraged new norm, there’s a high chance that many employers might adopt the process of working remotely even after beyond the pandemic. This means that employees will start to lean into cosy basics that allow you to work comfortably, but still remain professional even if you need to jump on a call.
Think luxurious basics like a soft cashmere sweater or silk pyjama pants that could be dressed up with a jacket and formal shoes. Comfort is key when it comes to productivity, and let’s be honest, no amount of WFH clothing stories pushed out will persuade people to buy the latest season’s items if they aren’t comfortable.
In fact, according to a market research report by Technavio titled Global Sleepwear and Loungewear Market 2020 – 2024, the sleepwear and loungewear market has the potential to grow by US$19.5 billion during 2020 – 2024.
And in a study done this year in the UK, there was a 433 percent in demand for loungewear during lockdown periods in March and April.
Clothes that don’t sacrifice style and versatility will start to grow in demand. And as more designers tap into the loungewear market, there will be less emphasis on trends and more focus on wearability.
After all, as non-essential spending continues to go down, people will want to make the most of their clothes and be able to wear them for multiple occasions, both in and out of the house.
A Creative Renaissance Is Due
While some will choose this time to rethink their fashion choices and develop a more relaxed sense of style, there will be others who would be more willing to take a chance on new designers and new ideas.
With fashion being an expression of creativity, many fashion lovers stuck at home have had to suppress this part of their personality, or at the very least, confine it to their homes and local supermarkets.
With challenges such as the #PillowChallenge or the #BlanketChallenge, as well as accounts like @wfhfits, there’s a plethora of stylish individuals looking for any outlet they can find that showcases the joy of dressing up. Who knows what kind of styling tips and tricks we might pick up as we try to marry our new normal of dressing up in some ridiculous fits that only WFH would allow?
On the designer front, the longer lead time to incubate ideas could birth new technologies and trends in fashion. After being stifled for so long, designers will try to find new and innovative ways to design clothing that fit our current climates.
Even Donatella Versace, chief creative officer of Versace recently gave a statement on how slowing down the fashion system could be a great thing for creativity.
“To be honest with you, I like the idea of having a slower pace in terms of seasonality,” she says. “This will give us that time to research and create things that have that something more and special that I am sure will be needed to make people say: I want it!”
It is said that the best pieces of art are born from struggle.
Coco Chanel herself created women’s couture pieces from foraged fabrics when materials were scarce around the time of the First World War. This led to a huge shift in womenswear, liberating women from restrained corsets to comfortable attire, making Chanel the innovative brand to beat back in the ‘1910s.
And post World War II came the birth of Christian Dior’s “New Look” era, an iconic collection from the French couturier that symbolised both literally and figuratively, a departure from Dior’s previous styles and the beginning of a new society. The prominent silhouette of the cinched waist and full, A-line skirt of the “Bar” suit went on to become one of the most recognised ensembles of the post-war fashion revolution.
And in the recent FW20 haute couture season, Parisian-based Viktor & Rolf’s latest runway collection has already started to reflect that sentiment.
Titled “Change”, the current collection features both fluffy, luxurious house coats and satin nighties strewn with emojis that reflect our emotional states and are meant to be worn inside the home only. And for the outer wear? Glamorous floor length coats with built-in cones and 3D motifs that will enforce safety distancing measures.
The Dutch fashion label is known for its witty and subversive commentary on fashion, calling to mind their oversized, tulle meme-like dresses from SS19’s couture season, or the iconic “NO” coats from FW08’s ready-to-wear runway.
Granted, those designs have even stood the test of time, with their OTT silhouettes and brashness feeling even more appropriate now in the era of social distancing.
Sustainability Will See An Even Bigger Push
With many brands sitting on dead stockpiles from goods that cannot be moved during the pandemic and factory production schedules thrown into a disarray, brands will have to rethink their manufacturing systems and how to produce clothes in a more sustainable way.
While fast fashion wasn’t created by the high-end market, ultimately companies like H&M and Inditex sped up the fashion system, creating this need for speed and high demand for a huge rotation of clothes amongst fashion consumers. This in turn caused luxury brands to amp up their own seasonal collections, going from two a year to six, with some cranking out special seasonal collections in-between huge runway productions.
The countless entry level-priced items that luxury houses have also created have ended up democratizing their brands. By being affordable, they end up fueling demand, and one that can only be satiated by luxury brands producing more.
So what do designers want for fashion post-pandemic? Slower fashion, fewer seasonal collections, deliveries that suit the weather and more importantly, fewer markdowns.
“Considering that all of us — I mean us designers — have been complaining about the pace of fashion, about the unsustainable speed that the delivery calendar had us keep, this is for sure a chance to rethink a lot of things, including seasonality,” Versace said.
For Maximiliano Nicolelli, managing director of Milan-based luxury consultancy Hydra Advisory, he recommended that fast fashion brands consider “producing less and in a more sustainable manner in order to generate less toxic stock, while luxury brands could opt to go back to the original formula where luxury was about value and not about volume”.
But resetting the fashion delivery schedule isn’t the only option that the fashion industry can take.
Apparently, the one corner of the industry that seems to be pandemic-proof is the streetwear market. Streetwear’s effective drop model of high demand-low supply means that there will never be a surplus of goods and more than enough willing buyers waiting in the wings to cop a drop.
“Our drop model makes us less vulnerable”, says John Targon, founder of streetwear label Fall Risk. “I can re-cut my best selling products and it’s allowed me to be extra nimble, and I’m never sitting on inventory.”
In today’s grim retail climate, small limited drops might just be the most feasible way to go. Just take a look at Nike’s much-hyped collaboration with Dior. Even with a delayed release, 5 million people signed up for the global raffle (a figure confirmed by Pietro Beccari, CEO and chairman of Christian Dior Couture), even though only 8,000 pairs of the sneakers (inclusive of both the high and low top versions) would be made available to the public while the remaining 5,000 would be distributed to Dior’s top clients.
In terms of odds, those figures worked greatly in Dior’s favor.
Brands might also start to re-evaluate the value of made-to-order goods and engage in software providers such as Platforme.
The company offers made-to-order solutions for luxury brands such as Gucci and Ermenegildo Zegna, and only requires photorealistic renders of their products. The software is then connected to the machines on the factory floor and can typically manufacture and deliver products within two weeks of purchase. The customisation and the personal investment that the customer puts into the product means there is a low likelihood of the item being returned or produced without a buyer in mind.
Shape Up Digitally, Or Ship Out Of The Business
If COVID-19 taught luxury brands anything, it is the importance of a strong digital presence. Brick-and-mortar retail spaces had long been the retail strategy for many luxury houses, with the bulk of them heavily depending on their store’s physical presence for the majority of their sales.
But when global lockdowns started forcing closures en masse, even the last of the strongholds fell, with many brands rapidly launching e-commerce sites to reach out to customers who were still interested in shopping from the comforts of their homes.
According to figures released by Mckinsey, there was up to a 40 percent increase in online shopping in Europe and North America in a consumer survey conducted in April.
In China, the return of offline traffic has been gradual, with 75 percent of Chinese consumers saying they avoided shopping malls in the two weeks after stores reopened. This suggests that some percentage of offline sales could permanently migrate to e-commerce.
While circuit breaker measures have been relaxed in Singapore and several countries, many are still hesitant to be out-and-about. And if the thought of trying on clothes and accessories physically might make you feel uneasy, brands might do well to phase in the usage of augmented reality (AR) to solve that problem.
Bvlgari’s e-commerce website has already implemented AR and 3D technology to give consumers as much of a life-like shopping experience as possible. Currently, you can even scale their bags true-to-size in a real-world environment and plans are underway to incorporate these technological advances for their watches and jewellery. Who knows, clothing might be next. Brands could even look into creating avatars for their top tier clients, enabling them to “try on” clothes in a digital manner.
And digital isn’t only going to be an increasingly important sales channel. It could also affect the way brands connect with their consumers. Luxury brands such as Dior, Bottega Venetta, Chloé etc. all released podcasts and Instagram Live chats that helped consumers who were facing social isolation and were in need of cultural respite.
Alexander Wang also rounded up his #WangGang weekly to share fun tutorials on how to customise a white t-shirt with items you already had at home. After all, the best brands are the ones maintaining customer relationships even while stores are closed.
This direct and personal social media presence will be crucial in keeping in touch with your consumers, helping them to feel more aligned with your brand and at the forefront of their minds even post pandemic.