fashion in the midst of a global pandemic
Hello my lovelies,
I hope you are all keeping well in these crazy and unusual times.
I’m sure most of you have been affected in some way by the emergence of this global pandemic.
And while no country has been untouched, so too has no industry. Even the largest of sectors are not infallible – the oil, airline, and hospitality industries are all suffering at the moment due to the effects of the novel coronavirus.
But of course, we’re here to focus on fashion.
In recent years, the fashion industry has been going through a period of transition. With the emergence of several issues related to workers’ rights, sustainability practices, creative burnout, and just overall transparency within the field, fashion’s model (no pun intended) has been in dire need of a rethink, and possible revamp.
Within the past few seasons, however, we have seen elements of the fashion world attempting to mitigate these concerns and break what has become a monotonous cycle. Print magazines have embraced digitalisation, companies are experimenting with various production schedules, houses are finding alternatives to runway shows, and designers are aiming to utilise more ethical practices within their businesses.
But of course, the upheaval of one of the world’s biggest industries cannot happen overnight.
*enter the spread of the coronavirus*
I’ve mentioned in previous posts about fashion’s shift from “fantasy” to “reality.” However, with the emergence of this virus, now more than ever, society needs an escape from worrying statistics, rising death tolls, and the mental effects of being in lockdown.
And to be fair, the industry has risen to the challenge – for the most part.
Initially, as many European countries began to lockdown, luxury fashion houses switched over their resources to assist in the production of masks, gowns, and hand sanitiser.
In recent data put out by the Business of Fashion, thus far:
- LVMH has donated 40 million surgical masks to frontline workers
- Hermès has contributed €20 million to public hospitals in Paris
- Prada has funded two new ICUs in hospitals
- Moncler has promised €10 million to the construction of hospitals in Milan
Yet, as it became apparent that this virus wasn’t going away anytime soon, fashion had to begin to shift its focus to the longer term.
But in a field where close contact is a necessary part of this collaborative business – from design and fitting, to production, to even the photographing of garments – many industry professionals had to quickly rethink their workflows.
However, it hasn’t all been good news.
The magazine industry has been hit heavily as ad sales decrease. Retailers have been dealing with cancelled orders and delivery issues (especially internationally as countries closed their borders). Brands without significant e-commerce options are facing dwindling sales. And events – such as the much loved Met Gala, are being cancelled.
But, necessity is the mother of invention.
“We agreed that the current environment although challenging presents an opportunity.” – Dries van Noten
As a result, we’ve already seen the emergence of new methods of photo shooting. Bella Hadid’s now-iconic FaceTime shoot – that many have recreated on social media, Naomi Campbell’s cover story for Essence where the model did her own hair and makeup, and even Robert Pattinson’s self photographed GQ editorial are a few examples of creative workarounds.
We’ve also witnessed the beginnings of a Vogue x Amazon partnership. Intended to help reduce the financial impact this pandemic has on brands, “A Common Thread” is an initiative that gives smaller, independent labels a digital storefront that makes use of Amazon’s extensive distribution channels.
Though many wouldn’t think to buy high-end clothing on Amazon, with brands – including J. Crew, and department stores Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Barneys, and most recently JC Penney – filing for bankruptcy, e-retailing through a convenient platform can provide a viable solution for some businesses to weather the effects of the coronavirus.
Additionally, we’ve seen a move toward digital fashion shows.
London Fashion Week Men’s announced a fully digital, gender-neutral showcase. Both Paris and Milan Men’s Fashion Weeks have also announced a fully digital schedule, which will give consumers access to some readily available pieces as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes content otherwise reserved for industry professionals.
But probably the most significant thing to come from this pandemic is the major push by industry players to reset, what they deem to be, a fast-moving and “broken” fashion cycle.
Three independent groups have come forward, proposing radical changes to the current modus operandi.
First, Saks Fifth Avenue advocated for a “buy now, wear now” approach. The proposition, most likely due to decreased shopping, has led major retailers to change how they order. Now, many have opted to stock current season items to increase the chance of sales and reduce unnecessary inventory.
“We know from reading the interactions that customers are not planning ahead for summer vacation or what they’re going to wear this fall,” Ben Rodier, co-founder of retail clienteling service Salesfloor, says. His company analysed data from interactions between customers and sales associates at large retailers and found that conversion rates for in-season items have tripled in the last few weeks.
“Right now, customers are buying things they need right now.”
Then, Dries van Noten also suggested a seasonal shift to match the real world. Currently, fashion’s calendar operates six months ahead, with Spring-Summer collections debuting in September, delivering in January, and Fall-Winter debuting in February, delivering in July.
“We’ve never sold fall product in the fall before, and that’s something that’s never really made sense to me.”
– Cara Chen, VP of PatBo
Van Noten also called for “increased sustainability throughout the supply chain and sales calendar” by reducing unnecessary product and travel, as well as a review of how brands put on fashion shows.
“Working together, we hope these steps will allow our industry to become more responsible for our impact on our customers, on the planet and on the fashion community, and bring back the magic and creativity that has made fashion such an important part of our world.”
And finally, the Business of Fashion facilitated its own petition (#rewiringfashion), putting forward an even more drastic approach which would see men’s and women’s fashion weeks fully consolidated – an idea previously touched upon by few brands – and collections delivered to stores immediately after debuting, when customer desire might be strongest.
Unsurprisingly, the Council for Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the British Fashion Council (BFC) have released a joint statement today in support of a slowing down and more thoughtful approach to the current modus operandi.
“We are united in our steadfast belief that the fashion system must change, and it must happen at every level.”
These organisations have not only acknowledged that change must occur but have suggested brands to prioritise two collections a year and to show at one of the Big Four fashion weeks to reduce the need for travel.
Since the release of the statement, Gucci has become the first major brand to adopt this model, dropping Cruise and Pre-Fall and opting for two “seasonless” collections a year.
Regardless of the direction that the industry takes, it is clear that meaningful conversations about the future of fashion are taking place.
Many agree that the current cycle is too fast and both creatively, logistically – and even ethically – unsustainable.
“I think everybody is rethinking what the fashion industry stands for, what it means, what it should be.”- Anna Wintour
What is for certain is that things will change.
What exactly those changes are, we’ll just have to sit tight and see.