Fashion in the post Covid-19 Era
Hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the global fashion industry has undergone massive upheaval since the beginning of the public health emergency. With supply chains in disarray following the initial outbreak in China, production cuts and inventory liquidation ensued in the months immediately following the announcement of mandatory lockdowns across Europe and North America.
Retail sales plummeted worldwide as consumers confined to their homes focused spending on the purchase of groceries and essential items. As consumer sentiment retreated to lows not seen since the 2008 global financial crisis, job losses began registering in the millions.
US Census Bureau consumer spending data for March 2020 show that clothing and accessory sales suffered the largest decrease, falling by 50.5%.Several months on, with the lockdown lifted in Hubei and a number of European countries, consumers are resuming their everyday routines with caution, their priorities forever changed by a prolonged period of restricted liberties and introspection with regard to sustainability and their own buying habits.
Wary of health risks in the absence of a vaccine or a widely accepted therapeutic treatment, they are reluctant to travel abroad in the immediate future and likely to continue shopping online rather than visit malls or stores potentially frequented by large numbers of people. The COVID-19 pandemic has now peaked in the 190 countries affected worldwide. Even at this early phase, it is clear that only companies with a strong balance sheet will survive the economic downturn. According to McKinsey & Company, extended lockdowns will likely cause financial distress for more than 80% of fashion players. Clothing retailer J. Crew and department store chain Neiman Marcus Group have already declared bankruptcy in the United States. French shoe store chain André and UK-based Laura Ashley have filed for proceedings as well, and the list of retailers on bankruptcy watch continues to grow. Slowing export demand caught up to China’s manufacturing sector as well, resulting in PMI readings suggesting contraction for the world’s second-largest economy.
New fashion industry needs
The COVID-19 crisis has made clear that the fashion industry needs to pare down to the essential, minimize marketing and produce smaller collections that resonate with current consumer demand. The only fashion companies that will reeemerge from the COVID-19 crisis will be those benefiting from the flexibility and automation of an agile supply chain. Once the immediate public health crisis is declared under control by authorities, industry players will face shrinking markets and economic recession on a worldwide scale. According to a recent McKinsey survey, overall spending intent is down across two-thirds of countries. Consumer demand and discretionary spending will likely remain low across all channels for an extended period. The crisis offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the garment industry to entirely redefine the value chain. As consumers everywhere reassess their priorities, industry players can make the most of this lull in business to re-evaluate their supply chain organization and production models. A dramatic transformation is about to take place. Before it happens, industry leaders will need to face up to the uncertain times ahead and do all in their power to futureproof their business.