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The fashion industry as we knew it no longer exists.

As global financial markets tumble, non-essential services close their doors around the world, and citizens are under government directives to self-isolate, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought humankind to a standstill. In fashion, brands have experienced immediate shocks to their supply chains and sales, luxury goods conglomerates stocks are down, and retailers struggle to keep workers on a payroll. At large, the luxury market is likely to lose between $65 to $75 billion in sales this year, according to a report launched last week by Bain & Company.

Around the world, fashion weeks are canceled, postponed, or going virtual. From London to Milan and Paris to New York, designers and fashion governing bodies are already exploring alternatives to navigate the unprecedented and precarious moment.

In retail, online sales growth is sharply down, while brick-and-mortar stores — still the biggest revenue drivers of most brands — have closed their doors for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, brands are scrambling to circumnavigate shocks to their supply chains, resulting in delivery delays. Then there are the extended quarantines, travel bans, and lower consumer spending that reduce demand, likely creating recessions throughout the remainder of the year and possibly trickling into 2021.

While the industry has managed to mobilize under the guise of working from home, there appears to be no end in sight for the public health emergency, despite early signs of a rebound in Asian markets. So what becomes of fashion in the wake of the coronavirus? We asked industry pioneers across design, buying and merchandising, public relations and communications, and consultancy to forecast the future of fashion – here’s what they had to say.

Fashion Month

With men’s fashion week, couture, and cruise shows — intended to take place during the summer months — cancelled, will the ongoing pandemic force the industry to rethink fashion week? Does traveling the globe year-round to watch fashion shows in confined spaces make sense anymore? Tokyo, Shanghai, and Moscow have already explored alternatives with virtual format live-streaming shows. In February, Milan Fashion Week’s organizers offered a similar proposition with an access-all-areas style virtual fashion week that garnered 16 million viewers on Tencent and 9 million on Weibo in China. In September, they plan on taking the vision worldwide. While a virtual fashion week is likely, Copenhagen Fashion Week’s organizers are intent on showcasing in the first August, stating it “can and must take place.” Therein lies the much-debated tension between physical and virtual experiences.

Steven Kolb, President and CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)

"I am not sure that we know what the future holds but this is a reset moment. It’s too soon to know what the structure of Spring/Summer 2021 will look like. The impact of COVID-19 is changing daily. I imagine there will be shows, but not like we’ve known them to be. They will probably be more local and have smaller scale productions. Will international attendees want to travel? And will production teams have time to build ideas? Our industry was already evaluating the show concept. Before the pandemic hit, we had begun a study with Boston Consulting Group on how to make fashion weeks more sustainable. There’s a connection here that makes the study even more relevant.”

Carlo Capasa, President of Camera Nazionale della Moda

“We took the decision to postpone the men’s shows in June because cancelling them was too tough on that side of the industry — men’s is incredibly important in Italy. In February, when we thought a lot about the Chinese fashion industry not making it to Milan Fashion Week, we offered a virtual fashion week on Tencent (streaming live shows) and Weibo (all other content). We’re going to do the same next season but around the world. However, it only works well if you have a physical fashion week behind it. I don’t think a virtual fashion week will ever replace a real fashion week, but they’re both complementary.”

Lucien Pagès, founder of Lucien Pagès Communication

“It’s too early to be sure how it will change — we’re still under shock. But people will want to survive this first before changing their philosophy. We can take the crisis as a signal there’s too much. There’s too much stuff, we travel too much, we make too many clothes, and we need to slow down. Brands who were struggling might disappear, especially independent and young designers. It could change the map of fashion. Big brands might want to get back to business but it’s a question of how long this goes on for.”

Alexander Werz, Co-CEO of Karla Otto

“This crisis is unprecedented and therefore it’s difficult to foresee how the industry will change exactly and the impact on marketing strategies and approach towards shows and events. The benefits of offline experiences are undoubtedly unchanged. They’ll remain a powerful vehicle for a more personalized interaction with clients, a great way to connect with the media, and an important piece of content that influencer marketing relies upon. Going forward, [fashion weeks] will need to be approached more strategically and also in a more nimble manner.”

Christopher Peters, designer of CDLM

“In all honesty, I'm not sure if there will be a fashion week following coronavirus. I feel like a lot of designers (as well as stores and magazines) are probably going to go under. It will take a bit of time for things to stabilize and I imagine there are going to be far less players coming out of it on the other side; maybe all the respective fashion weeks will be centralized in a single city, such as Paris.”

Bethany Williams, designer

“I don’t think we can go back to business as usual. I had planned a takeover of the courtyard at Somerset House, a participatory project involving the public which would demystify fashion. The public could get involved on some level of the creation of something. For me, I work more on special projects like this that are about bringing people together.”

Nicholas Daley, designer

“For me, it’s about the cross-pollination of ideas from poetry readings to live musicians at shows, friends working on mixes of live recordings. I’m going to continue to explore things with the network and community around me, it’s more diverse than working on your own. These things could be amplified now that the focus might be on digital and there could be no big gatherings, or brands can’t afford to show. It allows us to push creativity through different channels.”

Spencer Phipps, designer of Phipps

“I think it's time to do a really cool lookbook, a video, maybe even virtual reality, that way everyone can be part of it. It’s opening up the democracy aspect of the industry. I’m weirdly excited: it’s forcing us to have a lot of conversations around needing to travel and the structure of our business. It might be time to test these theories.”

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

“Undeniably [fashion month] will be virtual — this will come in many guises. The buying side of the process had already started moving into this space after what happened in Paris and Milan recently; it has been very ad hoc, though, with a multitude of quick learnings. But as many brands have already cancelled their June shows and showrooms, this virtual experience will most definitely play a significant role in both the presentation side as well as how we operate as buyers. I expect we will witness some quick turnarounds in technology and innovation as the industry bands together with this opportunity to reinvent. The whole process is so sensorial — so this is going to be a major shift that will be felt industry-wide.”

Priya Ahluwalia, designer of Ahluwalia

“I love doing shows, there’s no other feeling for me so it’s gutting fashion week isn’t going ahead. But I miss it in a personal way, and for the greater good, it’s redundant what I feel personally. I’m going to use this time to be creative, to develop in-depth research, because my time before was usually consumed by production. I think this could allow me to produce my best work.”

Giacomo Piazza, co-founder 274 showroom

“The entire timeline of fashion is at stake and needs to be reorganized. People's lifestyle has radically changed in the past 100 days and we need to adapt to a new way to conduct our social relationships for the months to come. This will have a huge impact on collections designed 6 months ago when the world looked very very different.”

Supply Chain

One of the primary challenges for fashion designers — and in turn their stores — to overcome is the immediate shock to their supply chain. As factories have shut their doors temporarily and the procurement of raw materials and components to produce collections becomes more difficult, a brand’s ability to meet its deadlines and deliver Pre-Fall and Fall/Winter 2020 orders to stores by June and July. Consequently, they’re left scrambling to mitigate the impact not only to production but cashflow and their future. Some smaller brands have nimbly adapted to the situation, revealing the effect isn’t too grave, while others admit production has been ground to a halt.

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

“Browns was founded on up-and-coming brands and new talent, and it’s all the more important that we support them however we can. With that, we have taken the decision not to cancel our Fall/Winter 2020 orders and will work with the brands on managing the flow of goods and messaging around this; which will be critical storytelling for the season ahead. Quite honestly we’re taking a lot of this day by day as the terrain keeps shifting, and are here to talk, listen, and find solutions alongside our partners.”

Stefano Martinetto, CEO and co-founder of Tomorrow London Ltd

“My guess is as good as everyone else’s. It might expire in a few days, like yogurt. I like to think long-term, and by nature I’m optimistic, so I’m trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The main impact on Pre-Fall and Fall/Winter production is the shutdown in Italy, which has stopped the manufacturing process. If production stops for two weeks, there’ll be a month delay. If it stops for more than two weeks, it will be a two-month delay.”

Luca Solca, Senior Research Analyst at Global Luxury Goods, Bernstein

“Depending on the duration of the lockdown, this is likely to cause financial strain to suppliers and subcontractors. We expect this will accelerate the upstream consolidation trend we have seen in recent years. Bigger brands will have deeper pockets to secure their sourcing, and go the way that Hermès, Chanel, and LVMH have gone: higher direct involvement in manufacturing.”

Bethany Williams, designer

“We work with social manufacturing projects on the production of the collection. After Monday, everything closed. We can’t do anything. The recycling plants are only doing bulk deliveries and they can’t sort the waste, which means we can’t get our materials. Our print studio in Peckham closed. Our manufacturer in north London closed. Downview Prison shut their social projects. Our production facility in Italy is still working but it’s under lockdown. Nobody from the outside world can enter.”

Sofia Prantera, founder of Aries

“We have a very tight supply chain with a loyal manufacturing base. I’m moved by the resourcefulness, support, and resilience of our Italian factories. I think the real impact for us will show in the coming months and we’re now looking at strategies to make sure we’re ready to implement changes and alleviate any negative impact on suppliers who rely on our business. However, I don’t believe it will impact our pricing structure at this point, as our volumes are comparatively small.”

Giacomo Piazza, co-founder 274 showroom

“The supply chain right now is in survival mode. We'll see 30 to 40 percent of the fashion industry go out of business, unless brands, suppliers, retailers and institutions will come together as one. Its a domino effect and there will be a lot of natural selection. But I also hope there will be lots of acts of solidarity. I still have hope for our world.”

Steven Kolb, President and CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)

“The big shock will be felt with the pre-collections, which are only months away. It is going to be a challenge. Factories are closed. We’re social distancing. Fabrics can’t be shipped. Will buyers be ready? These are questions that we need to answer.”

Nicholas Daley, designer

“Everyone is in the same position, trying to minimize the cost and impact of the current situation and the effect it has on supply chains. But I think working under pressure brings out the best in people. Problem-solving is one of our greatest skills; we’ve been doing it since the dawn of time, and that ingenuity will hopefully get us through.”

Pierre Mahéo, creative director of Officine Générale

“Everything is on hold right now, because we manufacture the collection entirely in Europe, and all our facilities are closed. The mills in Italy have stopped working, 80 percent of our factories in Portugal have stopped working. We just have to make sure everything is ready for when they start again. It’s difficult to know if stores are going to stay in business, and there’s going to be a huge disruption to the calendar, but we can focus on our flagship stores.”

Spencer Phipps, designer of Phipps

“There’s going to be some delays with order deliveries, but it’s understood by everybody. We produce in Italy, which isn’t happening anymore, but we just got our prototypes the day before lockdown. But we’re kind of okay — we’re small and flexible, there’s been minimal cancellations, and no huge dramas on the supply chains, so we’re not scrambling.”

Consumption

Consumer behavior is under threat as retailers and e-commerce sites, under government directives, have been forced to close in light of the global pandemic. Shopfronts across the globe are boarded up, while online retailers merely allow customers to add items to their wish lists as distribution outlets cease operations. In the UK, IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, stated that online retail sales growth was down by 2.2 percent year-on-year, while clothing saw its sales plummet by 26.7 percent year-on-year (by 22 percent week-on-week).

While the Western world grapples with new realities, stores in China have started to slowly reopen their doors. Whether or not consumer behavior will continue to follow the trends of the past or if they’ll shift their thinking with onset recessionary periods in mind remains to reveal itself. Experts forecast with mixed reactions.

Luca Solca, Senior Research Analyst, Global Luxury Goods at Bernstein

“We expect a drop of at least 25 percent in the first half of 2020 — likely more than that if the lockdown in Europe and the USA continues into the second quarter of 2020. The second half of 2020 may see a fast rebound, if a solution to Covid-19 is found, and the support from central banks and governments is effective. Or it could see a further significant decline, if it’s not.”

Christopher Peters, designer of CDLM

“People are going to be really broke. I don't know a single person that isn't worried about the possibility of going bankrupt. Fashion isn't on the top of your mind when you can't pay rent.”

Bethany Williams, designer

“With small businesses, the customer has massive power: they’re oxygen to that business. Hopefully, when this is all over, people won’t want to support brands that take advantage of people all over the world and think about who they want to give oxygen too.”

Stefano Martinetto, CEO and Co-founder of Tomorrow London Ltd

“The next part is critical as we have a sense of responsibility to protect independent and younger designers. If retailers give them more time, they will be rewarded with a product that is more honest and has more integrity.”

Pierre Mahéo, creative director of Officine Générale

“I hope we will not go back to where we were. I’ve been fighting for buying less but buying better. I think it will allow for better quality products, which are better for the wallet and the world. I hope there’s going to be a shift in how customers are going to buy when we’re back on track, but we are human; maybe we will go back to normal.”

Remington Guest and Heather Haber, founders of Advisory Board Crystals

“Consumer behavior can change, but the question is, will it? One thing is for sure, we have all been taking everything for granted. It will come down to humanity's ability to follow through. At Abc., we always push and move in the direction of change — a lot of that comes from questioning the systems that are already in place and working to not only change them, but replace them entirely.”

Priya Ahluwalia, designer of Ahluwalia

“It’s not helpful to consider consumers as a big group of one kind of person, because people have different lives and spending power. Some people will go back to normal and others won’t. This pandemic panic buying shows that people are not being thoughtful about their buying, not for the greater good. I hope this changes a few minds, that would be better than nothing.”

Wilson Oryema, writer and multidisciplinary artist

“I think there could be an increase in and support of local production, with global transport systems hugely affected by the situation. For a lot of places, this was already on the cards. There could be more purchasing from smaller retailers and brands, or else people will probably go to large brands. The system is so strongly held in place.”

Nicholas Daley, designer

“There could be a shift in consumer behavior. People might be in a different financial situation and will want to look closer at what they’re buying and think ‘do I need to buy this? Is it necessary?’ and people will find it hard to justify blowing their savings on another $2,000 designer jacket.”

Creative Solutions

As we collectively steer towards another week in self-isolation, the world has pressed a veritable pause on most people’s lives, both personally and professionally. Within this, there’s an opportunity. Fashion, an industry so consumed with its pace and what comes next, is at a standstill. Its creatives, for once, have a chance to breathe and think clearly. The prognosis for the future of fashion is as of yet unclear, though signs point to an opportunity to radically rethink an industry whose modes of operation seem increasingly outdated with each passing day. Could the Coronavirus bring forth an entirely new fashion industry?

Christopher Peters, designer of CDLM

“It's probably a good time for independent designers who can continue to make work through this period and get their work online. There’s greater potential visibility with fewer designers to contend with, as well as an audience that's living virtually.”

Lucien Pagès, founder of Lucien Pagès Communication

“People are more connected. They have time to call a friend, to discuss things, and a real exchange could emerge, not like before when you could just call people back but not have a real exchange. When the exchange is deeper, people can be more productive. However, this is a worldwide crisis, the solution has to be collective. We cannot be alone, we can only do things together.”

Wilson Oryema, writer and multidisciplinary artist

“We react differently in times of crisis, depending on our environment. In terms of fashion, there could be a slowdown, but for others, it could be like putting rocket fuel into them. This moment is like a spring cleaning of sorts, and hopefully we’re left with being the most productive and efficient we can be. While it’s not going to be good for everyone, it could be of great benefit for the creative industries.”

Sofia Prantera, founder of Aries

“Struggle is often a catalyst for creativity, although creative industries could suffer greatly as a result of it. As an individual, I believe it’s a good time to re-evaluate strategies and apply creative minds to find different solutions to ongoing global issues. This crisis is exposing the dangers our capitalist way of living will face if health services and not-for-profit scientific research are neglected further. We should see this as an opportunity to re-think the way our society values monetary gains over everything else.”

Spencer Phipps, designer of Phipps

“There’s going to be a huge shift in mentality from consumer practices to how brands communicate with them.”

Remington Guest and Heather Haber, founders of Advisory Board Crystals

“We wouldn’t call it an opportunity for the industry, but more of a forced change. This touches on what we said above. Everyone will have to change. This pandemic is really unlike anything the world has faced before, in the sense that it’s one of the few issues that truly unites humanity. Abc. has always operated in such a way that spoke to all of the questions being raised now.”

Alexander Werz, Co-CEO of Karla Otto

“Crisis always provokes creativity. The entire industry is impacted and challenged to adapt to a new situation and needs to rethink its status quo. As a communication agency, we rethink and rewrite strategies, run deeper and precise analytics on market and customer needs, and adapt approaches accordingly, develop engaging social media campaigns, embrace classic non-seasonal products, maximize existing assets — just to name but a few examples. Creativity and collaboration are key in this situation and we hope this isn’t just a short-term crisis trend.”

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

“I always try to be an optimist and see the good in difficult situations. Reshaping the cycle is absolutely a knock-on effect that I feel will be inevitable and much needed. I feel it will be important to get together as an industry and discuss what in the luxury arena would make sense or perhaps not make sense, but we need to do this together. In my wildest dreams, I would never have expected this devastation to hit us all globally and almost simultaneously; we’re having to think in ways no one ever has. Ultimately, this is what will lead us to new opportunities.”

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