Stefanie Rudolph

The future of fashion

Rethinking at all levels

One crisis drives another

The Corona crisis has hit the fashion industry hard, along with many other industries, and at the same time has given it the long-needed impetus to reflect and find a new approach - in order to survive. Not just now, but also afterwards.

The production of clothing and everything that goes with it has long been at odds with our efforts to save our planet.

The fashion industry is not only a direct burden on our environment, as for example through its high water consumption, its alarmingly high carbon emissions (10% of what the whole of humanity is responsible for) and an undeniable microplastic burden. Fashion is also indirectly environmentally unfriendly, due to its standards and its cycles.

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Early, earlier, collection presentation!

The current fashion schedule stipulates that fashion collections are presented six months before they are available in stores. In the past, when communication was mainly through print media, this allowed for controlled visibility and advertising of the finished collections. However, in an age where collections are now streamed live and exchanged on Instagram in real time, this provides a huge window of opportunity for fast fashion brands to "inspire" themselves from designer collections and sell the latest trends to customers before the designers can do so themselves. Everyone has to be the fastest - and at the same time the cheapest.

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Sale at all costs

Moreover, the fact that the goods are delivered early to the trade also means that the products arrive too early for retail sale and are considered obsolete stocks at the time when the actual purchase period begins. This leads to more discounted articles, which makes consumers addicted to price reductions and sales, and thus reduces the willingness of consumers to spend more money on the high-quality "original" articles later.

And last but not least, the growing effort with regard to fashion shows drives brands to spend enormous amounts of time and money on large-scale staging. A 10 to 15 minute fashion show can cost between $200,000 and over $1 million, regardless of the number of air miles and the carbon dioxide emissions that occur when fashion editors, buyers and journalists attend up to 8 shows per year and per designer.

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What changes are being proposed?

Rethink cycle, target group and medium for fashion shows

A change in the collection presentation calendar would therefore also have a beneficial effect on the production calendar. - "See now - buy now" - is the approach Burberry has been trying to take since 2016. One of the consequences of this would be that horrendous discounts could be prevented by premature availability. The summer collection should therefore be shown just before summer and then appear at the points of sale.

One of the radical changes is the combination of women's and men's fashion weeks to minimise travel and to enable a gender-neutral fashion week. (This could also be a sign of the increasing convergence of sexes, which is being taken up more and more in both fashion and beauty retail. Gen Z is as attentive and sensitive to diversity as no generation before. Already this year they will soon account for 40% of the world's consumers)

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Why not organise shows on video platforms? “Why don't we stop flying models all over the world to present looks on a catwalk for 10 minutes, and instead photograph them while they go about their daily routine in different looks in their home country," says Chloé. And it should also be feasible for viewers to do without two weeks of permanent jetting and to follow the shows digitally. During the Corona pandemic they already have the chance to get a first taste of this new kind of Fashion Week. Admittedly, the implementation may not have been entirely successful, but wouldn't it be a laugh if we couldn't find adequate solutions for convincing productions in the digital age? The designers of Helsinki Fashion Week prove that this is very much within the realm of possibility.

Changes in perspective

“Couture is the life of dreams, of positivity, of beauty" adds Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli.“ I don't want to skip the collection - I want to do it with another medium.” Be prepared for the shows to unfold in new ways. Initially, for the sake of security, these will be online by an overwhelming majority. But even then, social distancing has to be taken into account - and the traditional hustle and bustle behind the stage, which is still going on, has to be transformed into the absolute opposite. Instead, the shows could be staged on Instagram, on Zoom, on TikTok and YouTube and WeChat - with different narrative perspectives that emerge from isolated modelling.

Limitation of this approach

Probably this proposal is only a beginning and there are many more to come. Nevertheless, it should also be borne in mind that changes can only be brought about if all those involved are working together. And consequently questions arise. For example, the extent to which retailers can be expected to make efforts to break the discount tradition or the extent to which fashion manufacturers are willing to miss out on the benefits of global inequality and consequently charge higher prices due to better working conditions.

Also with regard to the partly top-class audience of the Fashion Weeks, such as editors, celebrity fashion lovers or influencers, it is doubtful whether the majority of them want to do without these luxurious events and everything that goes with them for the sake of the environment.

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Stella McCartney, a long-time advocate of sustainable fashion, says: “We believe that the future of fashion is circular - it will be restorative and regenerative through design, and the clothes we love will never end up as waste." #RewiringFashion is the first step that shows that the fashion industry is really working together for innovation.There is no doubt that changing the current system requires a uniform radical change, both at company and consumer level. The fact that consumers are also rethinking is shown, among other things, by the growing success of eco fashion labels and the business with second-hand fashion, which significantly extends the life cycle of clothing.

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Limitation of this approach

However, the overarching question remains whether all customers will be able to wean themselves from discounts and seasonal promotions for the rest of their lives? Will they be willing to give up fast fashion brands to support up-and-coming designers? The future of fashion depends on them as much as on the producers.

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Timeless Trends

The future of fashion? According to designer Alexa Chung, everyone will buy less and think more - brands are less and less interested in seasonality than in making heirlooms. Hedi Slimane, for example, from Celine, deliberately creates the same pieces over and over again in his collections because he doesn't want people to have to buy a new version next time. Other labels, such as Alexander McQueen, use existing archive samples instead of creating new designs and rely more on upcycling in their SS20 show. Combine this new way of trend generation with the use of natural and high-quality materials and you can achieve the goal of a durable product in a holistic approach.

With a view to the immediate future directly after the crisis, The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company presented The State of Fashion 2020 - Corona Virus Update as an attempt to move the discussion beyond crisis management and immediate contingency planning. They outline those areas on which the industry must concentrate once the dust of the current crisis has settled.

1. Survival instincts

The recovery from the pandemic will coincide with a recessionary market, forcing fashion industry players to accelerate the planning of their resilience strategy and adapt their operating models. Companies that have survived the immediate crisis will have taken bold and swift measures to stabilise their core business before looking for new markets, strategic opportunities and future growth areas in a global fashion industry undergoing dramatic change.

2. Discount mentality

With retailers struggling with heavy discounts for the rest of 2020, a decade-long culture of bargain shopping will be exacerbated by a rise in anti-consumptionism, an over-abundance of inventory, and consumers who are weak in payment and orient more down the price scale or towards low price channels. To reach increasingly frugal and disillusioned consumers, brands must find inventive ways to regain value. In addition, many have to rethink their business mission in a comprehensive way.

3. Digital escalation

Social distancing has illustrated the importance of digital channels more than ever, and lockdowns have made digital technology an urgent priority throughout the value chain. If companies do not develop and strengthen their digital skills during the recovery phase of the crisis, they will suffer in the longer term. Consumer demand will continue to grow at this level and brands must act quickly to meet it.

4. Darwinian market revolution

The crisis will shake off the weak, encourage the strong and accelerate the decline of companies that were already in difficulty before the pandemic, leading to massive waves of consolidation, M&A activity and bankruptcies. In order to secure their future, companies must adapt to the new market environment by evaluating divestiture and acquisition opportunities in order to strengthen their core businesses and seize opportunities arising from the reorganisation.

5. Essential innovation

In order to cope with the new restrictions, mitigate the harmful effects of the pandemic and adapt to changes in the economy and consumer behaviour, companies must introduce new tools and strategies along the entire value chain to make their business models future-proof. Fashion industry players must take advantage of these innovations and build on those that work, in order to make radical and lasting changes in their organisations - and in the industry as a whole - once the situation has calmed down.

Bottom Line

With regard to the fashion industry, this crisis probably accelerated the inevitable - things that would have happened later anyway, but the pandemic made it prematurely gain speed and urgency.

Stefanie Rudolph