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Fashion Industry Trends: How the Industry will be Changed by COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic transforms our daily lives, it has become routine to slip on our favorite sweat suit and set about our in-home business. Seeing each other virtually from the waist-up has altered our sense of style, fashion, and general care for clothing trends and wardrobe selections. However, as we slowly begin to return to our pre-pandemic lifestyles, we will once again be ready to reckon with the ever-changing fashion industry.

Fashion and trends have always been heavily impacted by the global economic climate. The Great Depression and World War II are prime examples of the way that Americans have faced national challenges head-on and come back stronger, braver, and better-dressed than ever. So, proven by fashion history, it is nearly inevitable that this pandemic will have an immediate impact on the industry.

Kitty Ault, a style consultant based in Santa Fe, NM, believes that easy clothing, simplicity, and Bohemian comfort will become key elements of the post-pandemic movement. “Elegance can be maintained without structure and the fashion industry will need to adjust. People do not want to struggle and wear complicated outfits. But I think that this is a challenge for the fashion design community—to create looks that are comfortable, well-sized, well-draped, and not regarded as pajamas. Brands will need to step up the details but keep the looks easy and wearable for any occasion.”


Pre-pandemic, we saw the rise of loungewear and athleisure. Ault predicts while this trend will continue, there will be a major shift toward more sustainable clothing. “Clothing takes up huge percentages of landfills around the globe. The consumer wants to re-use. They will seek out used clothing, repurposed, vintage remakes, and recycled goods - which will change style significantly. The key to looking great going forward will be comfort and accessibility.” Popular millennial brands like Urban Outfitters have begun reinventing and repurposing fabrics into upcycled clothing. Urban Renewal is the company’s vintage curated clothing collection, available online and in-store, releasing newly repurposed pieces every week.

“The fashion trend forecast pre-COVID-19 were already returning to a simpler, more user-friendly dress code. The pandemic has jump-started this trend and has also allowed everyone to dress how they feel—gender-specific clothing will begin to blend and morph into looks for all—everyone wear if you will,” Ault said.

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Trends expert and keynote speaker Daniel Levine said that because trends are not siloed by industry, fashion is often a lagging indicator because of its reliance on other trends. “This pandemic has made us look at the importance of wellness, which will become a trend that rises across the industrial spectrum.” Levine believes that wellness wear, a term he coined, will become a larger and more enduring area of the fashion spectrum. “Wellnesswear is clothing that bestows upon the wearer benefits that are related to health and wellness. It might be clothing that is smart and tactical in a way that offers something other than just the way it looks and feels—clothing that provides antibacterial properties, a sense of freedom, and energy.”

While we begin to ease our way out of quarantine and back into our normal lives, we will more likely than not discover a newfound appreciation for the little things. Life, social interactions, work, and maybe even - gasp - waiting in lines! With this enriching lust for life, trends of wellness, mindfulness, and minimalism will exponentially become more dominant in the industry. Simultaneously, brands will shift gears and dive headfirst into creating sustainable garments and paying workers fair-wage. Reminiscent of a fresh start; being one with the earth and with each other, whilst blooming and flourishing together as a whole.

As consumers reassess their budgets and begin to rely on reusable garments, we will likely see a steep fall in luxury sales. Since the pandemic’s rupture in April of 2020, jewelry and luxury e-commerce sales have fallen a great 18.72%, according to Common Thread Collective. The luxury industry faces substantial consequences due to the collapse of the collective national income. As Americans choose to restrict spending on opulent goods and sumptuous non-necessities, the sharp decline in luxury sales will grow larger throughout the coming months.

The Boston Consulting Group estimates that luxury brands will face a loss of $85-120 billion in sales, which is over 29% of the market’s revenue. As a whole, the fashion and luxury industries face a loss of $450-$600 billion in sales. According to BCG’s report, luxury sales have declined by 85% in China during the nation’s two-month lockdown period. European countries, including Spain, France, and Italy have seen a decline of 95%. The United States’ luxury industry will not be spared by the aftermath of this pandemic. In the best-case scenario, American luxury sales will still be down by 10% in December of 2020.

In March, Javier Seara, BCG’s global sector leader for fashion and luxury, said, “Many companies in the industry will default in the next 12 weeks.” We can see this statement’s truth through the multiple Chapter 11 bankruptcies that have surfaced over the occurrence of COVID-19.

Neiman Marcus, a brand included in the Bergdorf Goodman luxury chain, has temporarily closed its 43 stores across the nation, as well as the final closure of the majority of its 22 Neiman Marcus Last Call stores. CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck stated, “Prior to COVID-19, Neiman Marcus Group was making solid progress on our journey to long-term profitable and sustainable growth. However, like most businesses today, we are facing unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has placed inexorable pressure on our business.”

According to Science X, it is very possible that within these times of financial difficulty, we will see a concentration of ownership within the luxury industry. Largely wealthy brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton may have the option of obtaining struggling competitors and suppliers. This is a beneficial and strategic move to keep luxury retail afloat in these dire times. The 2018 acquisition of Versace by the Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo brands offered multiple years of revenue growth for the once-strained Italian company. In November of 2019, Louis Vuitton acquired Tiffany and Co. for $16.2 billion to re-attract a younger customer base to the iconic brand. When luxury style makes its inevitable comeback, these brands will be back and booming as a result.

While retail stores are beginning to reopen in some parts of the country, customers aren’t likely to be flying into shopping malls from left and right. If people are ever ready to go shopping in traditional brick-and-mortar shops again, it will most likely take some time to do so.

Consumers are abandoning department stores for the in-home comfort and security of online shopping. Meanwhile, brands are being given the essential opportunity of upping their online presence, taking their customer service game to the next level, and offering new products that reflect the current trends. Brands are going to have to get used to this new norm and ensure a seamless and easy online shopping experience.

The US Department of Commerce relays that we have already seen an 11.9% increase in online retail shopping in the past 8 weeks. This has come with clear setbacks for brands, such as slower shipping times and a lack of efficient online customer service systems. According to Management Consultant Federica Levato of Bain & Company, “It has somehow unlocked the digital shopping [experience] for many of the markets that were somehow lagging, not only on the core luxury and fashion customer but also on the broader population.”

This not only applies to online ordering and in-home delivery but curbside pickup, as well. Adobe Analytics finds that pickup orders have increased by a whopping 62% in just one month. This shows that consumers are choosing this method very often, perhaps for the convenience of receiving their orders faster. Retailers such as DSW, Macy’s, and Nordstrom have already begun curbside programs. If what the customer is requesting is currently in stock, they will package it up and have it ready for pick up within hours.

Now, more than ever is a time where companies must implement fast adaptation skills, new business models, and increased marketing to sustain the brand loyalty they had developed from years of traditional brick-and-mortar shopping. It is vital to redistribute companies' expenditures and focus on online presence, social media marketing, and customer service.

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