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THE IMPACT OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC ON THE FASHION INDUSTRY

As the world continues to grapple with a health crisis that is Covid-19, we witness the global economy taking a massive hit as a result of worldwide lockdowns imposed to contain the rapidly-spreading Coronavirus. The fashion industry is not spared either in the face of this unprecedented event and has since been reduced into a vulnerable state, given its discretionary nature. In these short few months, the light has quickly dimmed on the fashion scene.

Prior to the outbreak, the age-old fashion system was already on the verge of tearing apart and fashion has been gradually losing its credibility in the eyes of consumers as issues along the lines of exploitation, sustainability and carbon footprint was brought to attention. In short, the industry was in dire straits and in need of a change. In fact, industry insiders view this pandemic as a catalyst that’s bound to spur a revolution in the global fashion industry. It is a time to step back and reform the fashion landscape.

So, how is the global fashion industry being affected amidst a pandemic? Emerging from fashion’s largest market, China, and subsequently taking hold of Italy’s fashion capital, which houses the headquarters of prominent fashion labels, the novel Coronavirus has shaken up fashion’s core operations across the world. As the fashion industry operates on a highly integrated global value chain, the breakdown of one sector inevitably disrupts the overall industry.

Supply Chain

Developing countries in Asia that extensively rely on the apparel industry are experiencing severe economy contraction as the implementation of social distancing constrained the operation of garment factories. Fashion manufacturing hubs such as Bangladesh, India and Myanmar are suffering gravely, and for many garment workers, this means that they are deprived of a source of income. Bangladesh, one of the key manufacturing hubs which is second only to China has reportedly shut down over 1,000 garment factories, affecting the livelihood of millions of workers (Source: Bloomberg).

To further aggravate the situation, retail outlet closures around the world is resulting in fashion brands failing to honour existing orders with suppliers. Industry experts suggest that this incident would serve as a window of opportunity for brands to re-evaluate relationships with supply chain and commit to ethical conducts not only internally but also among its suppliers.

Retail

Shuttering of retail outlets and decreased foot traffic for months not only led to sales during the first quarter to plummet drastically, but it also left behind excess inventory of off-season clothing. Establishments that are heavily dependent on brick-and-mortar stores, namely multi-brand retailers, department stores and luxury brands are especially susceptible under such unfavourable circumstances.

Ever since the outbreak occurred, consumers have shifted to e-commerce platforms, proving that it is crucial for fashion brands to be digitally adept in this era. Companies that are quick to adapt to digital platforms and strengthen their digital presence during this period of safe distancing would be able to power through this challenging time.

However, an uptick in online purchases may not necessarily offset the overall decline in discretionary spending. As the economy goes into recession, unemployment rate rises and financial distress ensues, a drop in demand for discretionary goods is unsurprising and it is likely that consumer pessimism would persist until the economy goes into recovery phase.

Although lockdown regulations are gradually being lifted over the past few weeks and retail outlets are opening their doors to customers, sales growth has been slow as many are wary of the possibility of a second wave. As such, restoring consumer confidence to pre-Covid level depends on the discovery of a workable treatment and this could take up to one or two years.

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Fashion Calendar

The fashion calendar is in a disarray after the Coronavirus hit Italy in the middle of Milan Fashion Week, disrupting several shows. One of which was Giorgio Armani, who cancelled the show and instead showcased its fall collection virtually. As uncertainty looms, major trade shows and fashion weeks have been postponed indefinitely, which includes but not limited to Paris Men’s Fashion Week and Couture Week, Resort 2021 Collection, and the Met Gala.

The chain of event cancellation has devastated fashion designers who have poured their blood, sweat and tears into organising shows. Not wanting efforts to go down the drain, organisers have turned towards digital channels and livestreaming designers’ collections, with Shanghai Fashion Week pioneering this new approach and Seoul Fashion Week following suit.

On the flip side, this adversity presents the industry with the long-awaited chance to hit the reset button on the outdated fashion calendar. As opposed to seasonally inappropriate collections, fashion brands should focus on creating seasonless designs. Italian luxury label, Gucci, became the first brand to announce departure from the conventional schedule and reducing the number of collections.

Media

In other news, Blu Inc Media, house to numerous well-known fashion magazines, recently ceased operation in the midst of the imminent Covid-19 crisis. Although efforts were made to deal with the challenges posed by digital disruption in recent years, the extended lockdown period delivers a final blow to the publishing giant that’s has been running for decades.

A platform for local talents to be discovered and women’s voices to be heard gone in a blink of an eye, leaving behind a huge gap in the industry. Life will never be the same without the fashion magazines that many are fond of. The presence of Blu Inc Media will be dearly missed as a significant ally in the fashion industry.

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