Was 2020 fashion’s annus horribilis? The global outbreak of COVID-19 in March had devastating impacts for livelihoods, supply chains, and it illuminated how troubling fashion’s inequalities had become from underpaid garment workers to unsustainable practices and racial inequity. It was luxury’s worst performing business year in years, and the creative life forces the industry depends on toppled with each passing month.

According to research conducted by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Co., the industry’s worst-case scenario outcome is a 10 to 15 percent decline in 2021 compared to 2019, with a rebound expected only by the fourth quarter of 2023. The best-case scenario envisions recovery in 2022. In that sense, there is a long, winding road ahead for fashion.

As it stands, the industry is supposedly a changed place. In terms of its fabric, that is so. But between a pandemic, protests, and political upheaval, systemic change requires lasting action. In order for fashion to combat its issues surrounding accountability, equity, sustainability, the structure and nature of fashion weeks, sales calendars, and more, the industry will need to grapple with its strengths and weaknesses to pave a way forward.

What becomes of fashion in 2021? We asked industry pioneers what needs to stay, what needs to change, and what needs to stop in an industry that defaults to tradition on the turn of a dime.

STAY

While this year might have revealed there are many aspects of the system that are irreparably broken or inherently flawed, conversations initiated around this and much more dominated the narrative. From scores of organizations, open letters, and pleas for the industry to change its ways to an innovative use of the digital realms we increasingly live in, fashion’s pioneers recognized that the moment offered some answers that should remain part of the fashion ecosystem in years to come.

Tremaine Emory, founder of No Vacancy Inn

“Being civically involved, fighting systemic racism, sexism, getting people to vote, fighting for LGBTQ+ rights. That should stay forever. Every Tweet, every Instagram [post], every T-shirt, every campaign, every charity donation — they’re all part of an all-important civic tapestry.”

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Lindsay Peoples Wagner & Sandrine Charles, co-founders of Black in Fashion Council

“I think what has worked is that there has been more honesty and transparency in the fashion industry — and I hope we continue to see more of that. For too long, there has been a very aspirational approach and tone in fashion. This year has brought about moments that have made people and brands more approachable and inspirational, which has been a refreshing and welcome change that we hope continues.”

Silas Adler, co-founder and creative director of Soulland

“The entry of discussions of politics and political issues within the industry should stay. Without conversation, things don’t change, and it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of things we need to move and change. And don’t misunderstand me! I know there’s also a lot of empty talk and bullshit, but I believe we have to see that as collateral damage and point it out when we see it.”

Amira Rasool, founder of The Folklore

“A large number of retailers, especially after the George Floyd protests, are prioritizing black designers and making that commitment. That was exciting to see. It needs to persist but it’s going to take people like me and others in the industry who are doing the work to hold those retailers accountable and make sure it’s not just a trend that ends.”

Nate Hinton, founder of The Hinton Group

“Diversity and inclusion are a marketing tool and buzzwords for offices. Black people are people too, not just being used for a hype moment or cool factor for a second but for the contribution we bring to the table is important. 2020 brought that to the forefront. Acceptance of change needs to stay because if it doesn’t we will be lost. We need to embrace change in order to survive.”

Robin Givhan, senior critic-at-large at The Washington Post

“Fashion is earnestly trying. It’s much more aware of how easy it is to be superficial about issues and not really digging deep on them. So I would say the first step to change is awareness of a problem. In that regard, I think fashion is aware that it has issues. It’s aware of its cultural role in the whole conversation about protests, inclusivity, unconscious bias and other things. Like many other industries, it’s still figuring out the right way to respond. The harder part will be changing company cultures and understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion.”

Holli Rogers, CEO of Browns and Chief Brand Officer of Farfetch

“What instantly comes to mind is the continued need for caring and togetherness. As events were cancelled and retailers shut their doors at the onset of the pandemic, it became more evident than ever before that it was necessary for us to work collectively; to pivot, innovate and safeguard the future of this industry that we all care for deeply. We will definitely carry this renewed sense of community into 2021 and beyond.”

Nicholas Daley, fashion designer

“Seeing brands supporting other creatives and the wider community has been really special to see during a time of great difficulty within the creative arts. Big or small, we can all make a positive impact and if we all do this on an individual basis, the ripple effects of these actions will be felt.”

Stefano Martinetto, co-founder and CEO of Tomorrow Ltd

“It’s been incredibly refreshing to see a shift in the mindset of the industry. For me, there are so many things — the realization that collaboration is better for us all than competition; that bright, creatively-driven ideas will always shine through the gloom; the learning that flexibility is such a key criteria for resilience, both commercially and creatively; and that less is actually more – we don’t just need to keep going for bigger, better, faster, higher.”

Peter Semple, chief marketing officer of Depop

“Consumers will make more conscious and definitive choices about buying from people and places that align with their values. As one response to that, not only will our young, progressive community continue to see the value of Depop and resale as a credible alternative to shopping new, but that conscious consumption in the fashion industry is here to stay.”

CHANGE

With attitudes, empty sloganeering, and the optics of change rendered defunct in light of the pandemic’s tumultuous impact on the industry, change is afoot. Some companies are beginning to pave the way for a future defined by inclusion and equality while others are (too) slow out of the gate. In the arenas of fashion week and retail, more significant change is necessary to combat the wrongs that have sewn themselves into the fashion system. Some answers are unequivocal and straightforward while others will need to be teased out to fully understand how meaningful change can be enacted.

Robin Givhan, senior critic-at-large at The Washington Post

“I think that the economics of everything has been overlaid by the shifting cultural ground. While I think the industry will fall back on its old habits, I think culturally things will change from the point of view of inclusivity, what C-suites look like, and how talent is recruited. Part of the hesitancy, as much as companies like to think of themselves as trendsetters and leaders, in the corporate world it's very much a situation of lemmings. The more companies that do something, the more companies that are willing to do something.”

Yoon Ahn, creative director of AMBUSH

“It comes down to individual brands choices, but I personally think you can use less seasons, more inclusion, and responsibly producing products.”

Nate Hinton, founder of The Hinton Group

“That mentality that you need to become a mass-fashion brand or sell a million units to be deemed successful needs to change. It’s a farce. You can have an audience that’s the size you feel comfortable with, make your living, have your art, be seen by people, without contributing unnecessarily to waste.”

Jefferson Osei, co-founding director of Daily Paper

“Inequality is still visible within the fashion industry. There should be more space for people with different backgrounds, gender equality and new talent. Decision makers within the industry should be more receptive towards new narratives, created by a new generation of fashion talent.”

Gia Kuan, founder of Gia Kuan Consulting

“The amount of resources that are put into really extravagant events like fashion shows or on the flipside, editorials — those two things are integral in PR but the industry has changed over time. When I first started in PR, loaning beautiful clothes to magazines for shoots was everything. The outcome has been beautiful but how much of what you lend out and the waste that is involved ends up in that one print page? That conversion should be higher because it’s too much time for such a little return. I hope in the future we find balance and more interesting ways for it to work.”

Scott Sternberg, founder, chief executive and creative director of Entireworld

“The way we use and abuse social media as individuals from how it takes over our lives to how much time we spend on it and how we live in these echo chambers, even though that’s just an algorithm, and hyper-woke and call-out culture, it’s getting in the way of our lives. We’re at a breaking point. How can we as creators contribute to that? I don’t know [but] it has to shift because we’re digging a deep hole.”

Lindsay Peoples Wagner & Sandrine Charles, co-founders of Black in Fashion Council

“We say in every BIFC meeting that inclusivity has to be holistically part of your business plan. Too often, diversity and inclusion measures sit in HR and are applied in a checked box effort that people can see clearly through and want to support brands committed to this change long term.”

Nicholas Daley, fashion designer

“There needs to be a targeted approach from the board of directors to grassroots schemes across the fashion industry that allows for more mobility within class, race and gender. We have to elect the gatekeepers who will challenge and push for diversity within our industry to ensure we can continue to build a stronger foundation for future creatives.”

Tremaine Emory, founder of No Vacancy Inn

“We need more inclusion of people of colour in an industry that’s built off what they’ve done and contributed to culture, more equity share. We need to think more about why we’re making stuff because there’s a finite amount of time we have to save the environment. Why are we making stuff? How are we making stuff? Where’s it being made? How are we educating the youth, and everyone, about making stuff?”

Stefano Martinetto, co-founder and CEO of Tomorrow Ltd

“The industry needs to look far more at independent talent and local retailers in the way that the food industry has looked at local suppliers and emerging chefs. Slower, better, more personal, more human, in many ways more exclusive.”

STOP

As with any industry, not everything works. The systems that organize fashion have become dated and in the wake of a public health emergency and protests against police brutality, fashion has been scrutinized in a more vocal manner than ever before. In retail, the foundations have been uprooted as the allure of wholesale models wane and direct-to-consumer brands are called into focus. Furthermore, 2020 has been the year in which fashion’s race problem has reached a turning point. In order to sustain positive growth, the current system of elitism will need to unravel before the problem is improved.

Nate Hinton, founder of The Hinton Group

“Systems don’t work. People have been taught that you need systems to be organized or to function, but systems often come with systemic issues and problems because of the people who designed those systems. They were created by people who existed thirty or forty years ago, that needs to go. A broken fashion system where you show your clothes eight months out, have the clothes sent to a buyer, have them take 40 to 50 percent of the value of your clothes, make the money back and give you pennies, need to go and never come back. A system where certain designers aren’t accepted into certain organizations needs to go.”

Lindsay Peoples Wagner & Sandrine Charles, co-founders of Black in Fashion Council

“It would be nice to leave behind the notion that our work is done; there's so much more work to do!”

Tremaine Emory, founder of No Vacancy Inn

“Being apathetic needs to go. It’s in the same areas: the environment, LGBTQ+ issues, the subjugated. It can change if the bottom line isn’t validation or money. It can change if the bottom line morphed into community and people. People, including myself, will need to sacrifice a good amount of money and validation and things not just being about the star designer but the community.”

Robin Givhan, senior critic-at-large at The Washington Post

“I hope brands have gotten the desire to make movies out of their system because I haven’t gotten much pleasure from the 3-minute fashion film. The vast majority of them have been so ponderous and painful to watch. The ones that are impressionistic or mostly a model and some music, they play in the world of music video. But at the heart of a great music video is great music, and they typically don’t have great music.”

Jefferson Osei, co-founding director of Daily Paper

“We must continue to apply pressure where possible. From top to bottom. From brands to people. We must continue to push until we truly are in a place of equality and letting our work speak for itself. Too often we still see old industry habits that need to end. It’s important that we're persistent in our actions and not only push for change in times of global sentiments and tendencies. We owe it to the next-gen. “

Yoon Ahn, creative director of AMBUSH

“Over producing and dwelling on the old fashion system.”

Scott Sternberg, founder, chief executive and creative director of Entireworld

“There are streetwear brands that aren’t streetwear brands. To me, streetwear is sacred, it’s important, authentic, and a real part of fashion history and beyond. Fashion has pilfered it and tried to make money off it. It feeds into the idea that there’s too much product. You shouldn’t do something just because you have access to investors and you can get stuff into stores. There’s no room for that anymore.”

Stefano Martinetto, co-founder and CEO of Tomorrow Ltd

“The attitude of faster, bigger, more expensive or cheaper. A £12 billion brand is by its nature not exclusive. Massive and impersonal shopping malls or department stores which seek to lure customers in by pushing ‘stuff’ at constant markdowns is not the ambition that we should have. The creatives and creators behind these brands deserve more, and the customers deserve more.”

Silas Adler, co-founder and creative director of Soulland

“To shed more light on a thing that needs to F off: Racism! It's one of the worst mechanisms in our and any industry. It´s a humanitarian and sustainable problem that needs to change. A lot of the damage we’re doing to the globe is in some ways also fuelled by racism. The idea that some are superior and can therefore step on others to get what they want is destroying the globe. “

Gia Kuan, founder of Gia Kuan Consulting

“The time has ended for elitism in certain fields in fashion. That’s why I like doing what I do because I can represent a more diverse range of voices within the fashion industry. You don’t have to have shows where it’s just for V-V-VIPs, you can communicate with your audience directly and break down the hierarchy. That old way isn’t working anymore. When I did the Telfar and White Castle party in 2017, I sent out a blast of like 5,000 people and 4,000 of them were just kids that loved the brand. They’ve been fans of the brand for life. It’s exciting to not have those old structures in place and to diversify. Fashion is not just for a specific group of people. We’re in it because we love it.”

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