FASHION AND CORONA: WHAT'S NEXT?
As we have seen in the article "WHEN EVEN CORONA CAN'T STOP THE SHIT STORM", the effects of Corona are already taking a high toll in the fashion industry in terms of breaking basic and ethical rules. Still, other impacts of this virus will only be seen in the next months. Some deeper, long terms impacts that will change our perception as consumers, the way we buy and the way we see fashion altogether. This unprecedented, awakening call will definitely change everything as we know it. Except from my beer belly, that one is there to stay, untouched through time and space. You, bastard!
It's important first of all to see how customers are already changing their behavior and consumption habits to understand what the future of economy, in general, and fashion, more specifically will hold.
To deep dive a little bit further, "First Insights" conducted a 2-parts consumer study on purchase behaviors in the U.S over about 3 weeks, the first part being on Feb 28th and the second one on March 17th. Below are some results and, surprisingly enough, it's actually younger generations that are the most worried (Gen-Z and Millenials).
DEMAND, NEW GENERATIONS LEAD AND SUSTAINABILITY
One thing is clear to all purchase behavior experts and economy gurus (which is not when you shop a lot FYI): people are drastically changing their shopping habits and new ones are taking over, planning to stay here for good. Demand will change, so either companies are ready to change along, like, now, or it might be too late after.
The first aspect to change will be assortment of products. I will spare you the whole "6 runaways a year are way too many", "fast fashion cannot keep on making you change your clothes every day" or "the buying-throwing circle has gotten out of hand" thing, but what is certain is that this confinement is making people realize what really matters, that the machine has to slow down and that not "that much" is needed.
Cancellations of the June men’s fashion weeks in London, Milan and Paris, and the July haute couture shows are just the beginning. Fashion weeks in China, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and Russia have also been called off. And this will not be all, my friends. No more Fashion Weeks worldwide (or at least less of them) will mean less new collections for luxury brands to produce, therefore less new "trends" created which will lead to less new desires instigated to customers via the huge advertising and marketing machines bringing eventually to a slower fast fashion.
This was a long, complicated sentence. Ooopsy.... here is a drawing:
This will require maisons and brands to find new solutions to share creativity, bring it back to its origins, back to a much less stressed and under pressure environment, where designers can actually take time to invent and create.
New spaces of union, inter communication and sharing will have to be created for the fashion world members and eventually (and hopefully) it won't keep on being an endless rush to the market share podium but a true moment of growth and part-taking.
Fashion is going towards season-less collections, evergreen lines and more basic items. According to Guram Gvasalia, co-founder of Vetements (that he left back in fall 2019), slow fashion is the “only option” once the crisis yields. “Anything you restart doing in life, you need to start slowly, whether it’s riding a bike again after many years or going back to the gym after a long break,” he said. “The main challenge for the brands will be creating high-quality, fairly priced, season-less products that can stay relevant for a longer period of time.”
Giorgetti ( founder and creative director of MSGM) advocates steering away from summer-winter distinctions. “I really believe that between 50 and 60 percent of each collection needs to be season-less. In our case, in each collection we already have denim, poplin and fleece which we sell all year-round,” he said. (WWD source)
With the industry shrinkage of around 30% due to the current situation, brands are cancelling orders as immediate response but on the long run, the shift will be towards narrower assortments, a clearer offer of the key products to bring forward and the choice of getting rid of all things superfluous. Coronavirus is kinda acting like an ultraviolet light on a crime scene, pointing out what's not essential. The only thing that will matter will be the creation of a real added value and a deeper, stronger bond with the consumer.
You're no different from your competition (product, communication, mission...)? You lose out. As easy as that.
As far as operations are concerned, things are moving fast as well. We start seeing in stores plexyglkass panels to protect clerks from "people spitting on them" (useful but a bit EEWWW), contact less payments are increasing, buy online / pick up in store purchases are also growing , etc... Unfortunately discounts are also increasing (I say "unfortunately" only because they are, along with advertising, the worst tool in the fast fashion world to increase consumption). Now, you gotta be smarter though to keep on selling, since a mere 50% OFF is no longer enough. New ideas and a brand new out-of-the-box thinking will be needed. Can't wait to see how brands will reinvent themselves!
But are all businesses already shifting towards a more sustainable format? Are all "good" businesses making it through the surface? No.
At the moment, only major players such as Amazon, Walmart and Target are seemingly coming out of the COVID mess in an even stronger position than before.
“Even those that already used Amazon for things occasionally, like grocery delivery, now are doing it weekly. They’re developing a habit. So much of Amazon’s power is in habit formation.” said Andrew Lipsman (link here), a senior analyst for retail and e-commerce at research firm eMarketer.
These already huge guys will be even bigger and will be able to maintain their market quota thanks to all the data collected as well as all the discounts and offers they'll administer.
Looks like there's almost no crisis at all for them: Walmart has said it’s in need of at least 10,000 more workers, while Amazon is looking to hire 100,000 and Target is looking to fill 9,000 positions.
The only hope I have is that, amidst all the fear, uncertainties and mayhem, people will go towards small and medium businesses in the near future, keeping in mind the interest of the local community and have as goal its re-boosting.
Let's keep in mind that cheap is NOT good. A jeans cannot cost 10$. It is just not possible.
This is also a common view shared by industry experts, signaling that both fast fashion and luxury will deal with major new sustainable inputs, once they manage to lift their heads back up after the crisis.
"...fashion brands that take serious actions in the case of this humanitarian crisis and that justify responsible leadership through the act of empathy will be positively remembered.”said Hakan Karaosman, an expert working in fashion supply chain sustainability.
Consumers will definitely pay more attention to the "behind the scenes", making sure they have more and more visibility on the ethical and environmental impacts of their purchases and therefore the brands. This is due to a mix of feelings, somewhere between good will and fear. On one side people are feeling closer to the true values in life and will come out of this willing to make more "good" , but also, this emergency has triggered some severe alarms in everyone's head, bringing to light how a lack of proper society management can lead us to failure.
CO2 management and Circularity will be the two main topics for sure. Transparency and accountability will be brought forward to the whole supply chain to have a real 360 degrees bird's eye view on the whole process.
Easier and shorter supply chain models, apart from being more sustainable, will lead companies to become much more resilient and ready to restructure quickly in case of further changing market conditions.
It is also clearer now that brands have to deeply change business models adapting all the functions to real sustainable solutions. Whoever will use sustainability as a mere marketing tool and choose to go down "green-washing" lane will not be resilient enough and will fall under the weight of the costs that this will imply.
Going back to business as usual will not be an option and we are on the verge of the natural creation of a "new normal".
All of above will surely be lead by younger generations, Gen-Z (born between 1995 and 2002-ish) and Millenials (born between 1980 and 1994-ish) . The same generations that are now the most scared as we have seen before, the same generations who are currently provoking the luxury and aspirational sectors to go down of 30-40% in sales because of their halt in purchase: these generations are igniting the change today and will be its main actors tomorrow.
If brands are smart enough, they will have to listen to this huge slice of the population not to go bankrupt. And huge it is, indeed. In the US only, Gen-Z amount to the population of a small country, exceeding $500 billions and millenials are currently 1/4 of the global population. If companies are not propelled by the good cause to go sustainable, at least they should do it for the sake of their market share. I guess all is fair in love and war.
Authenticity is the key word to retain for these generations: what is the scope of this? Is this ethically sourced? What's the impact it has on the planent? #WhoMadeMyClothes? How committed is this brand to social causes? Who took my prosecco? (sorry, last question was not relevant for the scope of this article)
Ethical and sustainable brands receive more and more praises and they flood all social media. The buzz brands can get from non conscious behavior can literally destroy them nowadays and it is something they do not want to play with. Bad buzz is no longer good buzz.
With 83% of Millenials in the U.S. alone willing to pay more for sustainable brand, it's never been easier to envision a fresher and better fashion. A fashion that will make us buy less and keep longer, a fashion that will be more respectful, a fashion that will enhance human interactions and that will make the "us" prevail on the "me".
Let's make sure that, despite the 2 meters social distancing we need to be doing (#SecretlyJudgingYou), this change in fashion will actually bring us together.