As brands and retailers scramble to adapt to the post-Covid19 world, one thing is clear – the fast fashion trend that has dominated the sector as we know it is no longer sustainable. The race to get ahead of the competition has ended up distorting fashion’s seasonality – whereas once the bi-annual fashion shows were held 4-5 months ahead of the upcoming season in order to allow brands and buyers time to create forward-orders and produce stock, these days retailers rush the latest trends from the catwalk to the stores within a question of days. It’s no longer unusual to see Summer dresses on the shelves in February and Winter coats in the stores before August is out. And yet consumers, bombarded with the latest fashion trends at all hours of the day via social media influencers and celebrities, want fashion they can wear now, not in months’ time. So in order to stay relevant, retailers are pressured to buy stock months in advance of when it’s needed, and then end up having to sell it off at sale prices just as it’s coming into season so they can introduce the never-ending round of latest trends.
This problem has confounded the industry for some time, but there seemed to be no way out of it – nobody wanted to be the first to “slow down”. And yet here we are, after months of enforced factory lock-downs and store closures, with an unexpected opportunity to rethink the way the industry works. Gucci announced in late March that it would lead the way into a more mindful future, abandoning “the worn-out ritual of seasonalities” by reducing their number of yearly shows from five to just two. Other major brands were quick to follow suit, with a focus on less season-influenced and gender-exclusive collections, creating more fluid styles designed to last for months and years as opposed to the buy-wear-throwaway designs that have taken such a toll on our environment. It’s not just the brands themselves who are calling for change, consumers are becoming more aware of the impact the fashion industry has on our planet and demand for sustainable fashion has never been higher.
However, sustainable fashion production itself is still in its infancy and there are still a limited number of brands which are wholly dedicated to reducing the social & environmental impact of clothing production. But by changing the way retailers buy and sell their products we may see a real change in the reduction of waste before the product even reaches the consumer, and help end the practice of brands destroying unsold stock in order to maintain a fabricated “exclusivity”. It’s a case of changing the industry mindset, from fast fashion to fast provisioning, in which retailers can react quickly to new trends and only buy what they actually need. Those retailers who have embraced this new “test and repeat” model are among the few to have come out of the crisis with increased profits, as they were able to respond almost immediately to the changing demands of the consumer and weren’t stuck trying to offload months’ worth of dead stock to to a public for whom it was no longer relevant. For small retailers the benefits are obvious – purchasing small amounts of stock regularly based on customer demand frees up storage space, reduces forward investment and minimises financial risk. Plus, they are still able to offer regular stock updates and variety which continues to be a major attraction in a social media influenced society with a notoriously short attention span.
Wholesale brands are looking for new ways to reach their buyers, offering live stock which can be delivered in a matter of days. With TradeGala, B2B fashion is simplified for both brands and buyers, with a retail-like, user-friendly ecommerce platform which allows buyers to go from order to receipt in less than a week. The Coronavirus has forced an entire industry to stop, take stock of its problems, and start looking for solutions. Amid the suffering and struggle that undoubtedly still lays ahead for the industry, this crisis offers us an unprecedented opportunity to change, hopefully for the better.