Changing the Fashion Industry in a Post-Pandemic World
Over the summer, almost all brands in the fashion and retail industry have had to rethink their business models and prepare to recover from the hits they may have taken due to the world-wide lockdown. Many have had to shut shop in certain areas, some have become online retailers overnight to ensure incoming revenues, and a select few have unfortunately had to file for bankruptcy and administration.
As consumers and fashion enthusiasts, it hasn't gone unnoticed that the way we shop has changed drastically over the last decade - more than ever, we have seen the rise of discount seasons (which now happen across the year for the silliest of occasions), products sell-out within minutes once a collection drops and then are resold on sites like eBay and Depop to the highest bidder, and the Copy+Paste culture has taken over the high-street in all forms; and I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I'm hoping this global pause will force us to look at the way we consume everything from fashion to natural resources and reconsider how we can change the current format.
Designers across the industry are of similar mind and the changes have slowly begun. Saint Laurent's Anthony Vaccarello announced the brand's intention to skip Paris Fashion Week in September and create
their own new schedule to show their next collections,
Gucci's Alessandro Michele took to Instagram and posted a diary-entry about how Gucci is going to be seasonless going forward, and the Business of Fashion facilitated a forum led by designer Dries Van Noten, Lane Crawford President Andrew Keith and Altuzarra CEO Shira Sue Carmi to change how the fashion wholesale and retail calendar should be structured called Rewiring Fashion.
This wouldn't be the first time an effort has been made by a brand to steer a change in the fashion system - Burberry's Christopher Bailey introduced the "see-now-buy-now" model for the British luxury brand in 2016, in an attempt to create season-less collections. This was also to avoid the time between showing a collection and delivering it in stores during which fast fashion retailers can copy the designs and sell replicas for cheaper (looking at you Zara).
The group at Rewiring Fashion are suggesting a revision of the fashion calendar to align it with the current market's buying period, reimagining fashion shows to better reach audiences, and breaking fashion's addiction to discounting. According to the group, there are three problems the industry faces at the moment:
The Current Fashion Buying and Selling Calendar
There is too big a gap between presentations and product hitting the shop floor. Deliveries are also out-of-sync with the real world seasons; cashmere coats are available to buy from March to November and you can buy swimsuits from January! Additionally, there is a constant movement of buyers and members of the press as they travel around the globe for three quarters of the year to catch fashion shows, buying appointments and presentations - this is definitely something that wouldn't work in a post-COVID world.
The solution proposed suggests that brands hold their presentations in January and June as a genderless fashion week, and align their presentations with corresponding in-store deliveries and buying periods for the upcoming season. More than anything, this would enable longer full-price selling periods and minimise travel for many.
The format for fashion shows hasn't changed in almost half a century. They need to be optimised to be accessible to customers as easily as they are buyers, press and influencers. Brands need to reimagine the way they reach their customers through presentations to increase awareness about the brand's values, stories and inspirations amongst real consumers rather than a blanket customer profile. We have seen more than enough evidence that the direct-to-customer model works, and it's high time it's adapted for the luxury sector as well - after all, isn't that how couture houses started?
Off the top of my head, I can count at least 5 different out-of-season discount events across the board. There's Pay-Day Weekend, Singles Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and there's even 'Back to School' discounts (for what?? Most of us have uniforms!). We live in a world where if you visit any brand's website at any given time of the year, there's always a 'sale' page and there's always plenty of stock to buy. The group is encouraging retailers to not heavily discount the Spring/Summer 2020 inventory and consider long-term profitability for all involved in the value chain. It's not only about the brand, but also retailers who would not make as much profit as expected over the wholesale-to-retail pricing.
As someone who has worked in the wholesale department for a luxury brand and as a customer who occasionally buys luxury products, I have the privilege to see this proposal from differing perspectives. As a brand, this new way of functioning with fewer presentations, aligning deliveries with real-world seasons may help cut costs and boost sales. Brands may even be able to bring in newer customers if they choose to adapt to the new fashion-show format and give customers a chance to experience the shows and become more aware of the stories and values behind the collections. As a customer, without a doubt, I would be more inclined to buy coats when they're offered to me during colder seasons - it makes no sense for me to buy a lovely coat in April and then wait 6 months to wear it. It would also be more beneficial for retailers - if they decrease or eliminate out-of-season discounting, more customers would buy products at full-price and they'd profit from a longer full-price selling season in-stores and online.
The Rewiring Fashion movement is one the industry has needed for a while and for once there is real hope that changes may follow in a post-pandemic world. The proposal so far and been backed by retailers like Selfridges, 60+ designers including Gabriela Hearst, Prabal Gurung, Isabel Marant and 1,738 supporters (and counting). You can find out more and sign the proposal here.