How COVID -19 Is Shaking up The World of Fashion As We Know It
COVID -19 was an unforeseen disaster that absolutely no one had a handbook for. Whilst changes have been made to be able to cope with it, it is going to be a long while before economies go back to the way they used to be. For the fashion industry which relied heavily on physical interactions in order to generate sales and capture the attention of customers, the implementation of national lockdowns has meant declining demand which will continue if the sector does not adapt to the emerging trends within the industry. Below we take a look at some of the patterns that have taken center stage since COVID came into play, and how fashion businesses can adapt to them.
Decline in in-store shopping
The coming of the pandemic has seen travel and movement minimized, many economic activities have been halted in most countries. Fashion is one of the industries that has been hard hit, with a most of their sales declining. McKinsey Fashion 2020 reported that there was an 80% decline in offline sales within the fashion industry. Big brands such as Zara have scheduled to close 1200 shops globally, including some of its outlets in Africa. As the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down, we are likely to see physical stores losing their relevance or being repurposed. Currently, it takes a lot for one to open a physical store and still realize a profits. The costs associated with successfully operating in a pandemic range from having masked sales wear people, having sufficient hand sanitizer, adhering to physical distancing rules and frequent cleanings. Unfortunately not most entrepreneurs or fashion business people, are able to cope with the budget implications of such conditions. Possibly resized, or repositioned shops would prevail after the pandemic for purposes such as providing in-person advice, allowing online pick-ups and returns.
Businesses in general had been adopting a mix of both offline and online methods of doing business. However, e-commerce is relatively underdeveloped in African countries. With offline sales going down, African fashion entrepreneurs have been forced to move with times, making use of the available online tools to save their businesses. As such, a lot of fashion brands have increased the use of tools like Facebook, Instagram, and Online Stores for pushing sales. It is therefore not surprising that the brands which have managed to survive the pandemic are those who positioned themselves to leverage online tools for business.
Despite the hurdles associated with online business in Africa, a number of entrepreneurs have taken the pandemic to be an opportunity to expand their audience to global spheres. Ayisha Ayensu the founder and creative director of Ghanaian fashion label, Christie Brown used the pandemic to innovate, creating a one model SS’ 20 fashion show for her Instagram page which in turn attracted 30 000 viewers. The show created such a buzz, inspiring women to shop again, and the conversion rate from viewership to sales impressively high. Even though digitalization is not a panacea to recovering from the sales drops that were caused by the pandemic, it does provide a life line for fashion businesses to curb the impact of the pandemic. Moreover, it has allowed fashion entrepreneurs who had no budgets for physical fashion shows, to showcase their work through online platforms. In this way, they can remain relevant and pursue customer intimacy through online platforms.
Falling demand for couture, and increased popularity of casual and protective wear
As the majority of people now work from home, comfort casual apparel has become more popular, reducing the demand for the regular business attires as well as elaborate high end fashion. People are therefore moving towards more casual wear and athleisure like yoga and sweat pants, seeing that they spend more time indoors. When people do get an opportunity to move around, their first instinct is protection from COVID0-19, hence the increased demand for PPE. This is further supported by health and wellness movements which have also been on the rise in light of the need to stay healthy, now more than ever. As a result, the previously conventional apparel is no longer fit for purpose, as it has lost its functionality with reduced movements. It is highly likely that the prevailing wave of casual comfort will remain even after the pandemic is gone, as people are taking a more relaxed approach to work. In order to survive, businesses need to rethink their strategies around the type of merchandise they sell, and whether that will allow them to survive the pandemic.
In Africa, a lot of businesses have realized the need to adopt a different approach for sustainability, and have ventured into fashion items that match the current needs in the economy. A classic example is that of Nigerian renowned Folake Coker of the influential Tiffany Amber lifestyle brand. After over two decades of producing couture, the brand had to swap its conventional production for PPE. By early June 2020, the brand had produced approximately 500 000 cloth masks, 20 000 sets of sheets and pillowcases, 10 000 scrubs, 15 000 patient gowns and close to 5 000 surgical gowns. In distressing times for the fashion industry, the brand saw an opportunity to stay afloat, whilst meeting a genuine need in the market at the same time.
Now more than ever, the pandemic has shown us that the only thing that is constant is change. Although the situation is generally bleak in the fashion industry, the crisis of this pandemic can still be an incubator for innovation!