Fashion is having an existential crisis in 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic has left the industry on lockdown, facing an uncertain future.
From fashion week cancelled for the foreseeable, to the creation of new collections, and how – or where – they’ll be sold.
A lot of the issues and concerns that the pandemic has brought to light were pre-existing: there’s just a second to stop and think about how actually to address them now.
“This is an opportunity for all of us to look at our industry and our lives, to rethink our values and think about the waste and the amount of consumption,” said Anna Wintour when discussing the state of the industry on Naomi Campbell’s YouTube channel.
“We need to rethink what this industry stands for.“
And, so far, people are trying to do just that whether reexamining the role of influencers, or by trying to reduce their carbon footprints.
Here, we break down the essential takeaways from the chaos, but whether a meaningful change will come from this pandemic remains very much to be seen.
What Has Changed?
The industry has, in many ways, ground to a halt. Orders are stuck in factories, designers and teams are unable to get to their studios, and of course, 2020 fashion week is cancelled.
Students have had their graduate shows axed, young designers are struggling to stay afloat financially, and significant luxury houses have lost sales with stores closed around the world.
Retailers, meanwhile, have clothes stacking up that they haven’t been able to sell. When shops do reopen, there are considerable obstacles to navigate to ensure customers and staff remain safe.
Then there are the fast fashion brands, including Topshop and Primark, which have come under fire for cancelling millions of pounds worth of orders.
The situation has left factories and workers facing a serious crisis although Primark has since promised to create a fund for the workers affected by these cancellations.
And then there are the bankruptcies. Per the Fashion Law’s running list, the companies filing for bankruptcy protection (financial reorganisation in the face of debt) include American department stores J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus, and casualwear brand J.Crew.
Things have been tough for department stores for a while now, with Barneys closing earlier in the year.
In the UK, the high street has suffered: Oasis, Debenhams, and your mum’s fav, Cath Kidston, have all gone into administration.
Does The System Need Fixing?
That the fashion system is broken is not a new conversation.
As you may remember, the industry has attempted to pivot to a ‘see now, buy now’ model a couple of years ago, and make clothes immediately shoppable straight off the runway.
This conversation isn’t about the exploitative models of fast fashion, but the problems with luxury.
They mostly come down to timing: fashion shows present collections that take six months to get made and sent to stores.
As such, a big window for fast fashion brands is created, allowing them to knock off designs and sell them before the brands do.
The schedule for deliveries to stores is just as confusing. Summer collections arrive at the start of the year, and winter collections come in the summer.
In other words, the clothes currently in the end of season sales are summer collections, despite that summer has barely started.
And the longer clothes spend on the sale rail, the shorter window in which they are sold with their original price tags. It is all meant to squeeze on profits.
Then there’s the fact that pre-collections, which are traditionally a more accessible, wearable version of runway collections and fill the gaps between the two main seasons, end up being sold for longer than main collections before being reduced.
Add to that the relentless schedule where large luxury houses may show anything up to eight times a year.
Two men’s and two women’s ready-to-wear shows, two couture shows, a cruise show and potentially pre-fall, as well as shows put on for clients in Asia, and several international travels. Is it too much?
What Is It To Do About It?
In the last couple of weeks, three separate (but, confusingly, overlapping) groups of designers, brands, and retailers have put forward their manifestos for change.
US retailer Saks Fifth Avenue led the first. The second was helmed by Dries Van Noten, who led the publication of an open letter proposing to put the Autumn/Winter season back in winter, and Spring/Summer season back in summer.
Also, to avoid wasteful practices overall, like cutting back on overkill, and unnecessary products.
The letter was signed by big fashion names including Craig Green, Marine Serre, and Grace Wales Bonner.
Two days after Dries’s letter, Business of Fashion unveiled a similar initiative, Rewiring Fashion.
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Just in, a group of #designers and retailers, led by Dries Van Noten, are proposing a reset to fashion’s deliveries and discounting calendar. They have tapped Zoom to assemble a “forum” that, after three meetings, is pushing fashion to rethink its traditional calendar, addressing two of the most pernicious issues facing the sector: the timing of collection deliveries and discounts. Today, they released an open letter calling for the industry to realign #fashion deliveries with real-world seasons and push back markdowns. Specifically, the group wants to push the Autumn/Winter season to August through January and push Spring/Summer to February through July. They also want #retailers to delay end of season discounting to January and July, which could mean doing away with money-spinning markdown days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Singles Day that help to drive traffic and sales but erode profitability and brand equity for labels and retailers alike. Signatories to the letter include a cross-section of industry players, big and small, from labels like Marine Serre and Thom Browne to retailers such as Selfridges, Nordstrom, Lane Crawford and MyTheresa. Notably absent are brands owned by #luxury supergroups LVMH or Kering, and players that operate outside the luxury sector, including fast fashion giants and mid-market retailers. [Link in bio] 📷: @gettyimages
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Rewiring Fashion proposed an entirely new fashion calendar, which would shift when clothes were made, bought by retailers, sold, and marked down.
It also proposed to have two fashion weeks a year in January and June showcasing both menswear and womenswear, rather than the current calendar of men’s in January and June, and women’s in February and September.
“The fashion system must change, and it must happen at every level,” said a joint statement issued this week by the BFC and the CFDA, the two bodies who look after British and American fashion, respectively.
They encouraged brands to “slow down” – focusing on two main collections a year rather than overworking to create more and noted the importance of realigning the fashion calendar with the ‘human’ calendar.
So WTF Is Going To Happen?
For now, it’s all off – at least until September. But tbh, even that feels unlikely. The BFC has plans for a digital platform for June featuring interviews, podcasts, designer diaries, webinars, and digital showrooms from both men’s and womenswear brands.
Saint Laurent has announced it’s going to do things its own shows for the rest of the year, separate from the traditional Paris Fashion Week calendar.
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Conscient de la conjoncture actuelle et des changements radicaux qu’elle induit, Saint Laurent prend la décision de repenser son approche au temps et d’instaurer son propre calendrier. Aujourd’hui plus que jamais, la marque contrôlera sa périodicité et légitimera la valeur du temps, à son rythme, tout en privilégiant le rapport aux personnes et à leur quotidien. De ce fait, Saint Laurent ne présentera pas ses collections dans le cadre des calendriers officiels de l’année 2020. Saint Laurent décidera de son agenda et ses lancements suivront un plan optimisé et guidé par les besoins de la créativité.
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“Once this crisis is over, and non-virtual events can resume, we also recommend that brands attempt to show during the regular fashion calendar and in one of the global fashion capitals“, the BFC/CFDA statement read.
But the Rewiring Fashion report has more significant changes in mind. It proposes that shows become:
“events primarily designed to engage customers, creating awareness and desire for collections just before deliveries arrive in stores.“
Also, it aims to give designers more freedom over what their runway shows look like, a format unchanged for several decades now.
How Sustainable Is This?
Sustainability was central to the BFC/CFDA statement, that advised designers to put:
“the focus on creativity and quality of products, reduction in travel and focus on sustainability (something we encourage of the entire industry)”.
As reported earlier this year in the New York Times, the travel of buyers and brands to international shows and showrooms to buy and sell the collections generated the carbon emissions of a small country.
While jetting editors and influencers to far-flung locales for fashion shows – as is the case for the cruise shows – has been the norm for some time, it’s a practice that increasingly looks outdated.
And, in the face of the pandemic, completely impossible.
How About Consumers?
Unless you’re rolling in it, you might wait for sales to hit to do some shopping rather than buy full price – after all, sales seasons are long, and there are often plenty of discounts and promotions on offer.
But this behaviour is, according to Rewiring Fashion, coming at a cost to brands, in particular, young and independent designers.
“Retailers turn to early and frequent discounts to drive traffic and sales, training the customer to expect perennial markdowns and pull back from full-price shopping, eroding profitability and brand equity for everyone along the value chain.”
Instead, they propose discounts only coming at the end of the season to allow for more full-price selling – so January for Autumn/Winter and July for Spring/Summer, per their new calendar.
When it comes to fashion shows, they could turn into consumer and therefore more public-facing events.
What About Influencers?
The 2010s was the decade of the influencers. But, by the end of last year, there’d been a cultural backlash as readers gleefully shared stories of them. Failing to influence.
When Instagrammer Arielle Charnas took herself to The Hamptons despite testing positive for coronavirus and continued posting despite mounting criticism, it was a nail in the coffin of the 2010s era of the influencer.
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The numbers don’t lie. The pandemic has brought the golden age of #influencers to an abrupt end as the number of sponsored posts on Instagram fell by 85 percent in April. Many of the people who relied on #brands paying them to pose in their clothes are struggling to come up with a second act. But for influencers who can bring a bit more to the table — a spark of #creativity, or #entrepreneurial spirit — social media is as fun and lucrative as ever. BoF’s Chavie Lieber pinpoints the winners and losers in the great influencer shakeout. [Link in bio] 📷: @shutterstock
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That doesn’t mean they’re going away. Yet, with brands slashing marketing budgets, and influencer activations at risk of looking tone-deaf during the pandemic, we are experiencing what BOF has dubbed the great influencer shakeout; only the strong (with a highly engaged audience) will survive.
And content is pivoting towards the accessible and relatable – away from super exclusive and centred around unaffordable luxury.
WTVOX – ‘Voicing the Future of Fashion’
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A decade of fashion; here’s to the next one.
The past decade has been turbulent – and defining – for fashion: child labour, climate crisis, gender inequality, animal cruelty, and reckless plastic pollution, just to name a few.
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