How has the crisis affected your market?
The lock-down in the UK has had a massive impact on our clothing sector membership. The most obvious has been on the closure of the High Street, with zero footfall in bricks and mortar retailers. The exceptions of the e-retail operations and supermarkets you would think have done well, being less affected by lockdown. To an extent this is true, but nevertheless their supply chains have not been immune to the global shut-down of much of this side of operations.
We have seen on the news of the factory closures in places like Bangladesh, with millions of people affected. Here in the UK companies in the services sector supporting the fashion industry have inevitably been affected, along with retailers. So there are many of our members’ employees who have been furloughed, or on reduced wages as they work from home, or worse losing jobs all together. Some companies will not survive the crisis. It can only be hoped that not too much permanent damage has been done as we cautiously relax isolation measures.
Would you say we will try to go back to normal as quickly as possible or do you think we will need to rethink the world post-COVID-19?
It would be nice to think that things could quickly get back to normal. Unfortunately there seems to be little chance of the covid-19 virus disappearing, nor of a fully effective vaccine being widely available any time soon. This means we will adapt to operating in ‘new normal’ ways. It has been invaluable to have widespread use of internet applications such as email and zoom-type meetings. I suspect that working from home will remain a much more common phenomenon. This will change the clothing market, accelerating the move from more formal business wear to casual and athleisure wear. Volumes may reduce as clothes are worn for longer; less need to change & launder, and better for the environment.
I still believe in the value of real personal contact as well, though. We may remain nervous about traditional handshakes and greeting kisses, perhaps even keeping the 1 metre distance guideline, but hopefully not expect colleagues to insist on face masks if no one has symptoms.
One aspect of business that could change significantly might be that of sourcing strategy. It is beneficial to have production in parts of the world it is safe to visit. It might even persuade companies to add some UK manufacturing back into their mix, maybe only 5% - 10 %, as a sort of insurance policy. This would certainly have helped the NHS with the crisis search for PPE resources earlier this year.
What has the crisis changed for you or what have you learned personally?
The garden has benefitted, and quiet roads very welcome, but the downside effects have been great – both personally and for our future prosperity. I have learned much about the real quality of people in our membership and particularly with our team at the ASBCI. We have had to make difficult decisions to ensure we come through the crisis, and their support has been magnificent. Along with colleagues and family, we are much more proficient with Zoom. Personally, it has been difficult not have physical contact with colleagues as well as children and grandchildren. The hope is that there will be a speedy recovery to a new normal.