Fashion pivots around seasons. Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. A constant cycle of anticipation. But earlier this year the BGMEA reported that $2.81 billion worth of work orders in Bangladesh had been canceled. Delays from China mean designers are now facing a cash flow crisis.
Whole industries are dependent on a manufacturing supply chain that’s ceasing to function. New York label Tibi, reported their spring deliveries have been hit with delays. Designer Thakoon Panichgul, has been told by factories that his summer collections will be a month late.
By then, will we still have the appetite? Shopping right now feels almost shameful. Brands have snapped into flash sales to shift stock. But exclamations of “Deal of the Day!” feel like a dirty distraction from the world at large.
The consumer mindset was already shifting. A report by the Business of Fashion (BoF) and McKinsey states the resulting “quarantine of consumption” could accelerate changes like “a growing antipathy toward waste-producing business models and heightened expectations for purpose-driven, sustainable action.”
Indeed, last year Lyst reported that searches including sustainability-related keywords increased 75% year-on-year, with an average of 27,000 searches for sustainable fashion every month.
The scientists behind another report on fast fashion said making the clothing industry sustainable required the “total abandonment” of a business model that had proliferated online and on the high street in the past 20 years. Whether we jump, or fall, it seems that time is now.
The BoF report followed that in time, consumers will tear themselves away from trend products, instead focusing on heritage pieces with longevity. That this could signal the end of “extreme consumerism.” Indeed, in China, alongside reports of “revenge spending” the term duansheli, which means to cut off trivial things, is trending too.
A recent survey of British women found that on average they wore garments only seven times. But being locked inside means unused things bought on whims feel more wasteful than ever.
In a column for the New York Times, critic Vanessa Friedman noted “Shopping now is as much a moral as a consumer question. Where you spend your money matters.” Our money wields more power than ever before, and using it can decide whether next gen designers will sink or swim.
Fast fashion too is under siege. Last year Morgan Stanley reported that the clothing industry had entered “a lengthy period of structural decline.” Already on its deathbed, its likely Covid will be the catalyst.
The problem lies in that brands like Missguided grab attention by copy and pasting celebrity looks – so exactly that Kim K sued them for $10m. But when Coachella’s cancelled and Hailey Biebers’ housebound how do these brands maintain cultural relevancy? There can only be so many loungewear edits. And as moral bankruptcy (see, ISawItFirst) jars with the shift in our ethos, it may not be long til insolvency follows.
The world of streetwear is under threat too. At a time when nearly 25 billion pairs of sneakers are produced annually, and streetwear brands produce up to 350 different items a year, streetwear is no longer the underdog. We’re starting to question the sustainability of a business model rooted in weekly drops, where selling out is a sign of success. A culture dependent on hype and virality may not survive.
This crisis will shock the industry into change. We’ll recalibrate from the default that newer is always better. We may see a boom in upcycling as brands repurpose unsold stock innovatively. Shifts towards seasonless design, as we fail to distinguish days from weeks from months. Rental models may rise in a world where it’s clear we have too much sh*t.
Businesses that are trying to create and operate more transparent, sustainable brands will be met by captive consumers seeking just that. Smaller brands can get their turn in the sun. No matter what happens, what we buy and the way we buy will change. From production to garment lifetime, fashion needs to slow down. Every economic shock leaves a legacy – but this could be an opportunity too.
What could this mean for brands?
Eco-ethical credentials and purpose-driven missions will resonate strongly during and post crisis.
The future of fashion may be virtual. AR designs and VR catwalks may be the refresher the industry needs.
House-bound, time-rich shoppers will seek greater creativity from the designs they invest in, we’ll see fashion fill a void for escapism and imagination.
An influx in collab culture. Brands need to band together to weather the storm, and the results could redefine the category.
Healthwear.. But make it fashion. From facemasks to PPE, the must-have accessories for AW/20 have changed.