Will the pandemic’s legacy favour sustainability over luxury fashion?

The world is currently facing a crisis that is changing life as we know it. The corona virus has claimed more than 315 000 lives worldwide, making it the most infectious virus of the 21st century and as such business and everyday interactions have changed dramatically. In the fashion world this means that those who have previously run the course of business are forced to change the way they conduct themselves to accommodate the new normal. Popular luxury brands such as Christian Dior, Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Michael Kors and more are beginning to see a decline in sales which is devastating to the industry as a whole. As devastating as this change is to household names, however, the pandemic is forcing small, sustainable businesses to rethink the viability of wholesale relationships altogether. Retail instability is therefore forcing a shift in strategy for small, sustainable brands who have long relied on consumer and retailer relationships to promote their products. How will current retail instability affect the sustainable market?

Recognising past mistakes

Direct sales, through retail shops, have always been the most efficient way to conduct business for fast fashion producers, but as we see a decline in this practise we can conclude that the viability of this conduct can no longer be accommodated. Direct sales give brands control over inventory orders and distribution, a practise that the sustainable market has long been fighting against as it encourages overproduction. Luxury brands have seasonal showings of their “anticipated” collections, which means that styles are created well in advance creating waste streams that can only be rectified by changing marketing and distribution policies. Vogue business has reported that luxury brands, in June and July, will be forced to show collections digitally in London, Paris and Milan; while Dries Van Noten also added that collections will be aligned with when consumers wish to wear clothes to end early discounting. This shows how the practise of deliberate production and consumption will surpass frivolous spending and consumption post the pandemic. The industry is now forced to move forward with sustainable caution, to be less reliant on trends and to communicate more with clients.

The future of retail fashion

Traditional fashion retailers will still play a part as marketing partners due to their expertise in sales, but they will have less control in distribution and presentation decisions. More sustainable producers are gaining confidence in the market to sell their own products without using the traditional retail chain, opening the market up to different perspectives and opinions. More digital and e-commerce stores will be set up to promote sustainable and second-hand businesses, designed to cater to a different demographic previously excluded from the luxury fashion industry. The digital space will ensure that everyone, both luxury and sustainable, will have access to an augmented style of fashion one where talent and creativity will be prioritised over popularity. Most importantly the retail space will have to become more creative in ensuring sales because more brands are replacing the physical stores with the ever growing, e-commerce market. 

Adjusting to the new norm

As mentioned above, luxury brands will remain relevant post the pandemic, however, the market will be more accommodating of new and more sustainable fashion methods. Retail instability is going to demonopolise the fashion industry, allowing smaller businesses to have more access than before as production and distribution costs will be more centralised. Designers will have opportunities to work with more local garment producers and cut down on gas emissions. Trend based production cycles will be a thing of the past as more consumers will be forced to be precise about what they want and when they want it. Material waste will be reduced because designers will not need to produce more than they should. The retail space will have to share its clientele with more e-commerce stores, creating more internet based marketing. The pandemic has forced us to look at the pieces of our society that no longer serve us and as such we can move forward with caution. The world as we knew it is no more, for those of us who survive these troubling times we will have to constantly remind ourselves why we had to move forward with sustainability and not luxury.

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