COVID-19 cancelled travel plans, forced layoffs, closed schools, postponed weddings, isolated families, and almost overnight changed the way we lived. It re-shaped our values, shifted our priorities, and made us reconsider the ways in which we spend both our time and our money. Some industries and businesses were forced to a sudden halt while others needed to find ways to quickly adapt to the new landscape. The fashion industry took a big hit. Billions of dollars worth of clothing orders have been cancelled, online sales are down, and big-name retailers across North America have permanently closed their doors. Short term solutions for some shifted to the production of PPE, but for many, the future still remains unknown. “If there was ever a time for the fashion industry to reinvent itself, it is certainly right now”.
For years, environmental activists and leaders within the industry have been campaigning for a change to the archaic system of seasonal supply and demand that results in extreme overproduction. According to 2019 Global Wellness Trends Report, fashion is the second-largest contributor to water pollution and is responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions. This is not new information, we have all heard these facts, but COVID-19 might actually be the catalyst that finally sparks some real change. Possible solutions include an overall shift from mass production to a Make To Order (MTO) or On-Demand model, investing in local manufacturing warehouses as opposed to the significant global operations that exist today, and the elimination of fashion seasons altogether. Those immersed in the industry, such as buyers and directors, say that due to concerns with climate change, designers have actually been moving towards a more seasonless approach to fashion for quite some time. The inclusion of highly seasonal fall pieces such as knee boots in spring and knitwear in summer, as well as a widespread return to classic silhouettes, have consumers feeling less pressure to spend money on trends and more encouraged to invest in quality pieces that they love and provide longevity.
As we move into this new era of uncertainty, it is fundamental that businesses recognize the impact that the pandemic has had on consumer behaviour. Many individuals suffered financial losses, struggled to pay bills, and opted to redirect disposable income into their savings to prepare for a second wave. With a large portion of the population still working from home and formal gatherings significantly reduced if not non-existent, there is little demand for business and formal attire, leaving many brands attempting to pivot their collections and expand into more casual options. Lounge and sleepwear are not new trends and many retailers were experiencing growth in this category in 2019. From data analysis of over 16,000 retailers, loungewear was deemed the most desirable ‘lockdown clothing’ category, with a 433% jump in consumer demand compared to the previous year”. Brands like Lululemon, who specialize in athleisure, were able to capitalize on this spike in popularity and are one of the few companies slated to be in a better financial position this fiscal year than last.
In an interview on BNN, head of Global Consumer Practice at Kearney, Greg Portell stated that the retail calendar as we know it for the near future is gone. Any plans that businesses and/or retailers had looking ahead to the holidays need to be wiped clean and revamped. The focus should be on strongly executing a deliberate and smaller product line to consumers. The mere availability of products is not what is important to consumers post COVID, it is the predictability and reliability of being able to deliver the product to the consumer swiftly, without disruption and significant delay. Those with a strong existing online infrastructure suffered the least during these last few months, whereas those who were lacking, quickly learned where they need to make investments if they want to stay afloat, much less competitive.
Brands need to embrace new marketing strategies and broaden user engagement because now more than ever people care about who they support. From their responses to social injustices, their treatment of employees throughout the pandemic, their contribution to environmental sustainability, and their ability to create a memorable and impactful connection with the consumer, businesses have never faced this immense amount of scrutiny and pressure. Perhaps like everything discussed previously this too is overdue. Right now the fashion industry has the opportunity to evolve into something that is still beautiful and appealing, but why not responsible and accountable as well?
Kristen Vizzari is a freelance writer and resident fashion and lifestyle contributor for STYLE Canada. She works as a private events coordinator and has been in the hospitality and customer service industry for more than twenty years. In her spare time, she enjoys travelling, running, wine tasting, and vintage shopping. Keep up with her new projects and daily adventures on Instagram.