Header image courtesy of Claudio Lavenia (via Getty Images)
Undeniably, the global pandemic has had a calamitous effect on humanity. However, it also gave us a fantastic opportunity to assess which of our habits were necessary and which needed improvement. Social distancing measures have helped accelerate the demand shift towards sustainable fashion, thanks to the realisation for many fashion lovers that better choices were needed for the benefit of the environment and our community. More than ever, there needs to be a radical shift towards a new normal for fashion, one that is inclusive, sustainable, and circular.
Physical distancing measures also kicked us all into a new reality of virtual experiences. Everything from meetings, job interviews, dates, weddings, and now even fashion shows are being hosted online. With the lack of physical events to dress up for, the itch to express ourselves through fashion manifested in memes and TikTok trends where people shared outfits they wish they got to wear this year. As the reality that lockdowns were here to stay became apparent, it became harder and harder to justify spending money on items that may only get worn a few times, if at all.
Thankfully, Covid-19 vaccines are finally rolling out across the world, which hopefully signifies that social distancing will soon become a thing of the past. However, many behavioural shifts that consumers have had to make during pandemic times, one being to make fewer fashion purchases, have the potential to become part of the future of fashion post-lockdown.
The shift towards non-ownership models started well before the pandemic, driven by a growing appetite amongst younger generations to enjoy more quality and variety in their style while embracing sustainability. The market is expected to double in size by 2025. Start-ups across the world like Rent The Runway, Style Carousel, Gwynnie Bee, Le Tote, and more have driven the acceptability of renting and provided consumers with unparalleled access to this new type of style experience.
In more and more fashion categories, savvy and stylish consumers are choosing not to own items, and instead rent clothing, dresses, and bags, much like how Netflix has replaced video stores. This is the fundamental evolution that is taking place today in fashion and will continue to shape the industry in the years to come.
With so many of us rotating between our small screens and big screens during this pandemic, it’s no surprise that digital adoption has soared during the pandemic. Luxury brands have been making a shift towards digital experiences for some time, but this has accelerated at an unprecedented rate, and for the first time we were able to enjoy digital fashion show experiences from top fashion houses. Chanel unveiled their first online fashion show to replace the cancelled Cruise show in Capri in the summer, spurring a variety of other brands to follow suit. As online experiences become the new standard, consumers will continue to demand more sophisticated and engaging digital interactions.
Consumer activism will continue to be a key change-maker in the industry for years to come. With garment workers and in-store sales staff working on the front lines of the crisis with little to no compensation for their efforts, consumers have increasingly become aware of their plight and have demanded changes towards a more equitable future for all in the fashion value chain. This momentum for change has been fueled by grassroots campaigns across the globe to end exploitation. These in-person and online campaigns have influenced more consumers to demand dignity, security, and justice for fashion workers while directly lobbying their favourite brands to do better.
A recent report from PayPal shows that nearly 50 percent of fast fashion retailers have reported a decrease in customer purchases as consumers prefer brands that take actions to be more environmentally sustainable. This trend will continue with every brand across the fast-fashion and luxury spectrum.
More and more consumers demand a circular experience with their fashion consumption, to eliminate waste by recycling worn products. This is putting pressure on brands across the spectrum to think about enabling ways to return purchases after they have been worn by customers. However, consumers are sceptical of big brands making circularity claims as data is so widely available, and the validity of sustainability initiatives, such as H&M’s garment collection programme, are called into question.
With more brands following H&M’s model, having a circular business model will become a standard in fashion. The key differentiator between brands will become a circular experience. As Karl-Hendrik Magnus, senior partner at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, puts it: “As soon as some brands enable great ways of returning your garments into a circular cycle—not having to carry them back to the store but having them picked up, without any hassle, at your doorstep—and with a brand actually knowing what you have in your wardrobe, bidding for that, and sending you reminders of what would be great to bring back into the circularity cycle, then the experience will become so pleasant that mass participation of consumers will happen.”
The new normal for fashion is evolving at a pace unheard of before. Despite the many challenges ahead, the fashion industry is shifting towards greater acceptability and standard of sustainability, a change that is long overdue and warmly welcomed.