In recent history, there has never been a year more eventful than 2020 — and we’ve only just passed the halfway point.
On the 31st of December 2019, as the earth rotated into the new year what was thought to be pneumonia was detected in Wuhan, China. This was later discovered, or revealed to be the coronavirus. Thus, the ominous beginning of 2020. Since then, most of the world has gone into lockdown of varying extremes, to prevent the vulnerable from this deadly disease, and — more recently — has come back out of it, into what we’ve grown to recognise as the new normal.
In the US — and worldwide — the pandemic has also caused the fashion industry to fall sick. The majority of people it seems, have suffered some degree of damage financially, along with their daily worries about friends and relatives who are vulnerable to the disease. The world with Covid 19 puts buying new clothes as we’re entering the summer season at the very bottom of most people’s priority lists right now.
More than this, many people have taken this period of lockdown as a time to reflect on their consumerism. And many take on the Marie Kondo approach of only keeping — and buying — things which truly spark joy. In fact, 49% of US citizens said they intend to spend less money from now on, due to their reflections during lockdown. If this holds true, and there is little reason to believe it won’t, the list of brands and shops struggling to survive will increase, and we can sadly anticipate the closure of some of our favourite stores over the next year or two, even as lockdown is being lifted.
Many popular brands, such as Nike, are saying that many of their physical stores and outlets will be closed. That is compounded with the likely closure of some department store branches and many malls. And it’s not good news for online fashion stores either. While one might expect that with lockdown in place and people stuck at home, many would turn to a bit of online shopping therapy for comfort — but apparently this isn’t case. Compared to last year, online sales are 20–30% lower per month, since lockdown and social distancing measures were enforced. The financial pain translates directly to this statistic.
However, for brands which have jumped on the latest fashion trend — an accessory, as well as a necessity — fashion masks are providing a very thin silver lining to the COVID-effect on the fashion industry. US brands such as Eddie Bauer, Nike, Tanya Taylor all hopping onto the bandwagon to create stylish designs for the newest fashion staple.
Better than this, some of the biggest names in high-fashion, such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Chanel, have put fashion on the backburner, in order to focus their manufacturing efforts on providing protection for those on the front lines of the pandemic — such as doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. As this becomes known, or as they make it known, it is sure to improve their popularity and brand image long-term.
One thing is for sure: over the next year, masks will become a staple in the fashion world — following the footsteps of countries such as South Korea, where this has been the case for years. In every high-street shop, online store and probably even in fashion shows, masks are sure to take centre stage.
Along with these changing fashion trends, social distancing is still going to be necessary for the near future, inevitably forcing the presentation of fashion to change as well.
One of the biggest differences in the high fashion world, has been that fashion shows — so far — have been cancelled, or held online, with both Paris and Milan fashion weeks taking this course, they are setting the stage, in part, for the future of fashion. Since it isn’t clear yet how long social distancing will be necessary or at least a component in our way of living, it doesn’t seem like it will be possible, or prudent, for people to gather together, multiple times a year, to watch models walking down a catwalk.
And COVID-19 isn’t the only thing forcing fashion brands and businesses to change.
Following the death of George Floyd — a North Carolina born man living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who was murdered by a police officer, who kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes — brands have been forced to declare their allegiance to the Black Lives Matter cause, or understand they will suffer the consequences.
Thankfully, many brands have come forward and shown their support to the Black Lives Matter movement by donating to relevant non-profits, as well as posting on social media to highlight their allegiance to the cause. For example, Puma has stated the worlds need ‘to take action together’ and has also donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which aids incarcerated people who can’t afford to pay their bail — many of whom are individuals in the POC community. Another big high-street name donating to propel the Black Lives Matter movement is ASOS, who has pledged $500k to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), simultaneously declaring their ‘sorrow and outrage’ at the recent tragedy. Many brands have followed suit, and are making sizeable donations, though few have touched on how they will be approaching the problems within their own business.
The loss of the life of George Floyd, has opened up the conversation about race in almost every industry — and thankfully, as we are now seeing, this extends to the world of fashion.
Creative director and founder of the brand brother Vellies, Aurora James, has implored US retail businesses, involved in the fashion world and beyond, to stock their shelves with products from black owned businesses. She has proposed 15% of all US stock to be garnered from these businesses. That is the approximate percentage of black Americans in terms of population, thus the assumed percentage of consumers that shop at a wide range of stores, such as Target, Walmart’s, etc. To further her goal of diminishing economic inequality, James has started an Instagram page called the 15percentpledge, to help raise awareness for this concept and to get the message to businesses of all sizes, in all industries — especially the fashion industry.
Aurora also highlights that since the pandemic has wreaked havoc in the US, businesses, those owned by black people have been hit the hardest. In an Instagram post, she includes a graph which shows that 40% of businesses which have gone under due to COVID-19 were black owned businesses, comparing it to businesses white owned businesses, which make up less than 20% of those shuttered.
With the world is in turmoil due to all the recent events, a vivid light has been shown on the racism still penetrating every corner of our society. If fashion businesses fail to take action, and take no measures to diminish the effects of systemic racism within their own ranks, they could likely see a sharp decline in popularity and sales. Social media is taking no prisoners when it comes to showing which players in fashion are working towards a world that doesn’t discriminate based on race (or anything else, for that matter). Many fashion brands have already been criticised for releasing hollow statements about the BLM movement, without doing anything to aid the fight against racism. One person under particular scrutiny is Ana Wintour — editor-in-chief at Vogue since 1988 — who has had exclusively white, well-connected women as assistants for her entire time at the publication, along with a severe lack of POC individuals in senior positions within Vogue.
A number of black individuals within the fashion community have spoken out about the fashion industry and racism, and Brandice Daniel, the founder of Harlem Fashion Row, stated that in contrast to 2013, when the Black Lives Matter movement was first championed, she had had brand partners reach out to talk about these issues, and now suggests that finally, the industry might be ready to have an open discussion about race in the fashion world.
Lastly, in direct response to the police brutality, the Council of Fashion Designers of America came together — including Michael Kors, Vera Wang and many more — to produce an action plan and a statement for release, which included an employment program to ensure the placement of black talent in all sectors of the fashion industry. Many people have strongly questioned this action plan, stating that it did nothing to help solve the problem of police brutality against black people. Louis Vuitton and another CFDA board member expressed desires for the CFDA to stand up for black rights.
It’s impossible to predict exactly how the events of this year, now at the midway point, will shape the fashion world in and for the years to come, but there’s no doubt that the impact of 2020 will be great. However, I do believe, that in fashion, it will have had more significance than any year that came before it. Amidst the suffering and the tragedies, BLM focused organizations and black businesses in general, are garnering more support and greater visibility, which can only help to level the playing field, as we all emerge from the ruins of Covid 19.