The COVID-19 pandemic has been considered the most unprecedented crisis since World War-II. However, the public discourse on the impact of COVID-19 on the fashion industry seems to miss out on the perspective that COVID-19 is only an inflection point and the global fashion industry is resilient enough to tide over the crisis in the long-run. As India enters Unlock 4.0, the revival of economic activity and thereby consumer sentiment is evident through the re-opening of malls, workplaces and more recently, metro operations, albeit with safety and hygiene measures. Here are ten ways how COVID-19 will redefine the fashion industry for the better.
Consumers are to be at the centre stage of their fashion design strategy: Amid health and hygiene concerns and curtailed discretionary spending due to economic uncertainty consumers, fashion brands are going the extra mile to focus on consumers’ ease and convenience. The focus on engagement with customers rather than on hard-selling, appointment-based shopping and leveraging technology to offer curated and personalized experiences are among the recent trends.Proliferation of technology and digitization: Technology has disrupted the fashion industry for its advantages of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, time and money savings and automation. However, a Forrester Analytics Forecast (2017-22) points out that more than 70 percent of fashion purchases are still made offline and online channels account for just 13 percent of luxury brand sales. This is set to change post- COVID and the pace has already accelerated. This pandemic witnessed leading fashion retailers leveraging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality to engage with consumers, drive sales and build strong brand recall. For instance, in an eye-catching instance, Priyankur Sengupta, a student pursuing a fashion design course in Delhi, has designed a women’s apparel collection with motifs and embellishments inspired by Victorian jewellery with the help of 3D design to improve accuracy and facilitate efficiency. Similarly, Lakme Fashion Week has launched the ‘Virtual Showroom’ that will provide a platform for designers to showcase their collections and facilitate sales online.
Innovation to become a norm: COVID-19 has highlighted the significance of embracing diversification, new approaches and innovation to cope with its challenges. As highlighted by McKinsey’s State of Fashion 2019 report, companies that diversify into overlapping businesses will have an advantage over players who rely solely upon existing offerings. This trend was evident during the lockdown – from the world’s first 3D virtual show organized by an Indian startup- Bigthinx, Kerby Jean-Raymond, a renowned international designer, announcing plans of a drive-in movie theatre for New York Fashion Week to Indian brands such as Biba and Wildcraft, Van Heusen adding masks and work-from-home wear to their product catalogue, the fashion industry has seamlessly adapted to the new normal.
Fillip to sustainable fashion: The worldwide claims of zoonosis being responsible for the outbreak of COVID-19 has underscored the significance of fashion sustainability and a co-existence in harmony with Nature. Sustainable fashion has been around for a few years and COVID-19 is expected to fuel it further. This may lead to the marginalization of fast fashion, dispensing with the season-based fashion calendar and shifting consumers’ preference towards companies with quality and sustainability as their core values. Conspicuous consumption will give way to conscious consumption. Eco-friendly and trans-seasonal classic styles that are easy to maintain will be preferred by consumers due to convenience. A Boston Consulting Group report titled ‘Weaving a Better Future: Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19’ also emphasizes that leading players in fashion designing should incorporate sustainability in business strategy for recovery and subsequent growth post-COVID.
Decentralization of the distribution processes with a reliance on the local community: The disruption of global supply chains during the pandemic has prompted companies to relook at their distribution models and ramp up their hyperlocal model. Clarion call towards Aatma Nirbhar Bharat along with .’The One Product and One District Programme’ aimed at showcasing India’s capabilities on a global centre stage has given impetus to this trend. This will translate to increased reliance on the local artisan community for twin advantages of self-sufficiency and sustainability. As manufacturing companies mull to relocate from China to set up hubs in India due to impetus by the government, the advantage of a demographic dividend and burgeoning fashion industry, we are poised to emerge from a mere sourcing hub to a major fashion destination.
Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities to be sunrise destinations: Until now, the fashion industry has largely been prominent in metro cities in India. It has gradually started building inroads into Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets due to low cannibalization potential, increasing disposable incomes and exposure to globalization. The revamping of supply chain and distribution models by fashion retailers coupled with reliance on local artisans amid the pandemic will inevitably push Tier 2 and 3 cities to the forefront. The availability of skilled labour, low fixed costs and investment would work in favour of companies looking to establish a base here. Consumers’ orientation towards responsible and ethical companies: The entire world is sailing in the same boat battling various challenges such as uncertainty, apprehension regarding job security and mental health concerns due to confinement and poor work-life balance. The core values of empathy, trust, ethics and responsibility have gained currency. A recent Boston Consulting Group survey on COVID-19 global consumer sentiment indicated consumers’ inclination towards brands that paid their furloughed employees, repurposed facilities to produce PPE, or donated to their communities. Equally important is the role of transparency for companies to assess and demonstrate its positive impact on the community to stakeholders.
Significance of giving back to the community: The responsibility and ethics as core values for companies have extended to the realm of Corporate Social Responsibility and a sense of giving back to society. Leading brands have stepped in to help the vulnerable and distressed community. MAC Cosmetics is donating 100% of sales revenue of Viva Glam Lipstick to the local organizations. In India, leading designer Tarun Tahiliani has started a kitchen to feed 1000 people daily amid the lockdown. Amid the shortage of masks during the beginning of the lockdown, AMPM took to manufacturing masks and distributing it to its workers. Anita Dongre’s philanthropic organization has set up an emergency medical fund of Rs 1.5 crore to grant medical coverage to self-employed vendors and artisans.
Shift towards omnichannel business models: The COVID-19 lockdown has prompted fashion brands to increasingly rely on the digital model to sustain their momentum. However, it would be an exaggeration to assume that the brick-and-mortar model will become defunct in the post-COVID world. The nature of Indian fashion, especially the wedding industry, requires a bride or groom to select and try their outfit at a store before zeroing in on their final choice. This implies that both models will co-exist and complement each other. But yes, the digital model will account for a larger investment share for brands than ever before.
An amalgamation of collaboration for a better future: Communication and collaboration have gained a new currency amid COVID-19. This holds for the fashion industry as well wherein we foresee leading brands, governments, local artisans and industry bodies collaborating to lay out a blueprint for the road to recovery. Global brands such as Kering, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent announced plans to produce protective medical gear while Mango and Zara are looking to produce surgical face masks. In India, Lakmé Fashion Week in association with the Fashion Design Council of India, has established a COVID-19 Support Fund to help distressed SMEs and independent designers. The trailblazers exemplify collaboration and spearheading sustainability initiatives that will emerge as role models and play a pivotal role in the smooth transition into the post-COVID world. Equally important will be the role of technology and knowledge of art and science to devise out-of-the-box solutions in fashion design to augment efforts to tide over the pandemic. COVID-19 has given an opportunity to the fashion industry to pause, reflect, reassess and re-innovate. In a heartening endeavour, the industry has perceived it as a learning milestone to redefine itself for a brighter future.