2020 has, to put it mildly, altered the very fundamental behaviours of the world and the fashion industry is no exception. The nature of the pandemic, which required everyone to halt outdoor socialising, put a significant strain on fashion companies. The Business of Fashion have released 5 yearly reports, titled ‘The State of Fashion’ regarding- surprisingly-the state of fashion in the world. Their aim in doing so is to ‘provide an authoritative annual picture of The State of Fashion’. By identifying the business trends and global themes of the year, their report helps to track the ways in which fluctuations in the world economy feed through into fashion and project how businesses in the industry should adapt if they hope to survive.
Inevitably, their report this year is of particular interest given the uncertainty that the following year might bring, economically and even culturally. The pandemic has not only halted our immediate need for fashion by restricting our social lives to the parameters of the sofa paired with pyjama bottoms but perhaps also changed the way we interact with
fashion. I doubt I was alone when my mindless perusing of online fashion retailers was tainted with guilt, whilst headlines were consistently inundated with climbing death tolls and health services at breaking point. Not only, but simultaneous reports of worker exploitation in a clothing factory in Leicester, which supplies Boohoo, did nothing to quell said guilt.
Nevertheless, the report does suggest that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the industry and that, with the right strategy plans, this year has provided them with an opportunity to develop further in line with consumer values and ethical practices.
Overall, the industry reported a 90% decline in profit in 2020, with three-quarters of listed companies reporting losses. A seemingly permanent change in ‘normality’ after this year means that more bankruptcies can be expected, accompanied by increased shop closures and job cuts thanks to the shift to digital shopping. Even some of the biggest fashion companies of the world are vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic, a notable example
being Arcadia, owner of high street names like Topshop and Dorothy Perkins.
However, despite the bleak economic projections that the report remained upfront about, a silver lining presents itself in the business opportunities now open for companies to play to their advantage. The report identifies the ethical trajectory consumers are moving towards and encourages companies to align closer to these values in order to maintain demand. That
in fact, because of the pandemic, companies are being pushed to think from a consumer point of view and prioritise ethical and sustainable commitments.
Nevertheless, the shift towards sustainability still has some progress to make. The report surveyed fashion executives, only 10% of whom felt that ‘sustainability’ would be the biggest opportunity for the fashion industry in 2021. Unsurprisingly, ‘digital’ opportunities were identified by 30% of executives, likely thanks to its highly lucrative and ubiquitous nature. There is still progress to be made regarding corporate mentality on the profitability of sustainable fashion.
The bottom line of the report? Companies must remain agile when strategizing for the year ahead and use the ‘new normal’ that the pandemic has created to their advantage. It encourages tailored, but bold approaches where possible. Companies that shy away from embracing head-on the opportunities of the pandemic may suffer the most. Read the report in full here.