While the world fashion may seem like one of dizzying luxury, stupidly attractive people and an endless procurance of wealth. It is an industry that wears success well, devilishly well. The truth is, beyond the few industry giants that hold the keys to the mass market vault, the majority of the fashion industry runs on a tight purse string. Hedging bets on each season's success and the order sheets from boutique and department store buyers. The margin for error is slim and most brands work season to season, with steady growth amongst a few spikes.
Realistically fashion is a complex transition, leaning away from traditional structures that have no longevity in a digital first world, but has not yet quite found it's placed in the new economy. Considering margins are slim in normal environments, a disaster of the likes of Covid-19 can completely decimate an already fatigued industry.
As we start to structure a way out of the cloud of Covid-19 and seriously discuss how economies will recover from the impact of the global pandemic, it's time to rethink how fashion talent and business approach the commercialisation of fashion products and understand how the fall out will affect the lives of fashion consumers.
“The entire timeline of fashion is at stake and needs to be reorganised. People’s lifestyle has radically changed in the past 100 days and we need to adapt to a new way to conduct our social relationships for the months to come. This will have a huge impact on collections designed 6 months ago when the world looked very very different.”
Giacomo Piazza is one of the hundreds of industry insiders that are concerned by the mass change in consumer behaviour forced by Covid-19. Piazza reflects on the 6-month lag that the premium and luxury side of fashion works towards. This lapse in supply chain and production is a product of a system running on a timeline designed for a pre-internet consumer market and leaves little room for mass global change in markets.
The industry as a whole has made efforts to reform its structure. In 2018 Noisin.co covered a story See-Now-Buy-Now, a consumer-driven push to rethink the traditional approach to the fashion calendar. It achieved brief change, however, past a small segment of independent brands maintaining a different production calendar, the industry returned to it's status quo of fashion month calendar. Leaving the industry as a whole, a prime target for disruptive change.
The in-person customer experience has been strained for several years and now completely reshaped thanks to lock-downs and a slow return to 'normal' trading. So is the answer a vast digital revolution for the whole industry to ensure its survival?
"The lockdown was obviously the correct thing to do for societal and long term economic health. It can't be denied that it halted most sales, as people have not been on the streets, and haven’t been browsing brick and mortar stores, thus bringing the business income close to $0. Its definitely been an opportunity to work on the expansion of my online presence but as the seamstress who normally helps production has had to stay home, I've had to do everything from sewing, patterning & online myself. It's been a mental health strain. I've had some online sales, but not nearly enough to make up for the shortfall from the lack of physical sales."
Talent from Australia face greater challenges of limited access to supply chains and production accessibility. Harry Miller perfectly illustrates how Covid-19 effects run much deeper than the final point of purchase. The pandemic has attacked the industry on multiple levels. While a need to transition to a digital-first approach is vastly needed, it only solves one side of the coin and is rarely adopted by industry leads as a viable option.
"It has a huge impact on Vincent Li sales and Production Timeline. At the end of Feb 2020, during Paris Fashion Week, there were no buyers from China, Japan, Korea or Italy. It was a very quiet fashion week. Vincent Li has had new stock in Hong Kong since Feb 2020, but it is extremely quiet at the shopping mall. The situation is getting better until mid-May. Vincent Li production plan for retail has to put on hold during Jan, Feb, Till Early March.? It includes factories such as digital printing, fabric dyeing etc."
Local designers may need to be the ones to lead the charge on dramatic change within the market. A challenge that is harder to concede to when they need vital touch points to build a connection with consumers.
The industry as a whole will need to rethink how digital can be utilised, not only to sell products but to re-resource production and fast track communication. No more excuses can console the glaringly obvious shake up the whole fashion landscape needs.
“It’s probably a good time for independent designers who can continue to make work through this period and get their work online. There’s greater potential visibility with fewer designers to contend with, as well as an audience that’s living virtually.”
As all communities start to internalize their consumption habitats and connection to local markets, designers will need to scale back international outreach and refocus on local markets. It may be the more viable option for customers outreach. Not to mention people are more connected and engaged in this moment of turmoil. There is a huge opportunity to open the often secretive doors of the fashion backstage and connect with customers on a personal level in a period when their ears and eyes are open.
“People are more connected. They have time to call a friend, to discuss things, and a real exchange could emerge, not like before when you could just call people back but not have a real exchange. When the exchange is deeper, people can be more productive. However, this is a worldwide crisis, the solution has to be collective. We cannot be alone, we can only do things together.”
While we transition back to traditional trading, there needs to be a focus on local first. Consumers can greatly impact the local market with their wallets and if you can, I plead that you do. A few purchases can be a lifesaver for independent designers. As much as the fashion industry needs to focus on radical change within its internal processes, consumers of fashion need to support when they can. Allowing for a transition period will allow designers, buyers, boutiques and the media to find their legs in a very different world.
"As things have started to reopen, the physical store where I sell has reopened 3 of their normal 7 days in the last week. Hopefully, as the number of new Covid-19 cases remain low, we will see people return to the streets and support small businesses. However, with the recent outbreaks in Victoria, I feel we may be in for a bit more of a wait. Until then, I'm going to continue trying to expand my online sales through improving my social media techniques, as well as a better SEO."
The reality of the situation is grim, due to the industry's core issues with supply chain, calendar flexibility, production and marketing restrictions. There are going to be casualties, many businesses will not survive the next year of trade. This is certainty sad, but it may be the straw that is needed to finally break the camel’s back, so to speak. The industry as a whole needs to adapt to digital channels and do it fast. A sink or swim mentality is definitely in effect and while no-one wants to see young or emerging talent fail, this reshaping of industry standards is what is needed to ensure future talent has an opportunity to flourish rather the struggle.