A NEW NORMAL
When the Milan Fashion Week held its show in front of an empty audience end of February, many were still hopeful that things will get better sooner than they get worse. But in the span of a few weeks, the entire fashion world, previously thought of as stubborn and resistant to change, has been shaken to its very core.
Since then, we have seen a domino effect of cancellations, from sporting events up to trade shows, as major cities around the world braced themselves against the virus. Industry players across the spectrum either dropped their shows or have considered presenting their collections in a different format, putting the entire industry on its knees.
With the end still nowhere in sight, we should expect to see some fundamental shifts in the industry. How will the industry change after corona? Are we facing a new normal for fashion?
We can say with certainty that brands would not be able to function in their pre-pandemic capacities, months or even years after the pandemic. This is already evident today.
With basic industries such as agriculture experiencing workforce deficit and consumers losing a considerable part of their purchasing power, demand for fashion retail will most likely dip after the pandemic.
But aside from the diminished purchasing power, fundamental changes in consumer behavior and philosophy are also bound to happen. As they reflect on their priorities, we can't expect consumers to return to their old shopping patterns as if nothing happened.
Luxury brands will take the brunt of this change in consumer behavior. Even today, publicly-traded luxury brands such as Burberry, Revolve, Hermès, and others are already experiencing a drop in their stock market prices. Even as China (where one-third of the demand for luxury items come from) slouches towards recovery, post-Corona consumers will likely direct their purchasing power towards other commodities.
Put simply, consumers will have to let go of luxuries that quickly depreciate in value as long as things remain unstable.
It is also likely that all of these will increase the demand for sustainable fashion products and stimulate a shift towards a sustainable lifestyle in general. Because sustainability is oriented towards longevity and is not too dependent on the global supply chain, consumers will see it not only as a lifestyle choice but as a practical option. This also means that brands will be compelled to match these expectations with ethical production and practices.
Even prior to the pandemic, the fashion industry has already been juggling with the growth of online shopping. Now that most brick-and-mortar stores are practically paralyzed, this migration has hastened into a virtual exodus. Again, luxury brands will take a huge hit in this migration, as most luxury brand transactions happen in-store.
Nonetheless, the rise of online shopping will lead to more sophisticated ways of presenting and selling products online. Priority will be given to improving the shopping experience and making it more appealing to all consumers.
Virtual fashion shows, new nodes of influence
The fashion weeks have always been central to the fashion world. They determine the flow of trends and provide an international platform for brands to exert their influence.
However, as fashion events migrate online, networking between the industry’s movers and shakers will have to happen on a different register. For example, brands are already coming up with platforms for virtual catwalks and showrooms. Online-savvy brands, fashion tech innovators, as well as social media influencers will likely dominate this new field.
The trends and the nodes through which these trends will spread will also be more difficult to track, as brands will have to fight tooth and nail with both established and emerging brands for consumer attention.
All of these mean that the playing field will be rearranged and will demand brands to come up with ways to habituate the old rituals in the online context.
The pandemic has also had an impact on the supply and production front. With the blockage of major transportation hubs, brands need to find new supply sources and manufacturing hubs in less vulnerable markets.
Needless to say, this requires drastic changes in the supply chain and the infrastructures of the biggest global players.
Speaking of supply chains, it seems that we will not only see reshoring but rather a total shift in how the commodities are produced. As the circulation of resources, products, and labor are blocked at multiple key points, we should expect brands to move closer to home where the flow of goods is much easier to manage. In short, brands will have to become less dependent on the global supply chain.
Naturally, withdrawing from the global supply chain will incite a tectonic shift in the overall flow of goods as well as the placement of major players. Fast fashion, which has always been dependent on outsourced labor, cheap sourcing and ever changing trends that makes the goods worthless after every season, will have to adopt eco-fashion approaches and practices. This translates to opportunities for new players and new vectors where the configured supply chains will flow through.
All of these indicate that we are on the cusp of an entirely new landscape for the fashion industry. But this is no reason for despair. On the contrary, it opens up new prospects towards better and more sustainable ways of doing fashion.
The changes are happening not just in the industry but in the philosophies and visions of the brands themselves. For instance, some fashion brands are now directing their funds towards research and charity. Giorgio Armani himself donated 1.25 million euros to Italian hospitals and institutions. Many experts are also now beginning to understand the perils of fast fashion, of “putting all your eggs in one basket”, in the name of profit and growth. What we are seeing today is not only an outburst of altruism but a fundamental change in how fashion brands see themselves with regards to the world at large.
The future is uncertain, but one thing is clear: the way forward for the fashion industry is through reflecting on our current practices and coming up with long-term, resilient, and inclusive solutions.