COVID-19 has triggered a paradigm shift in the fashion industry. This was a key finding from a recent report published by Martens & Heads! Executive Consultancy titled, Beyond 2020: Reflections On the Next Chapter. The report compiles responses from a questionnaire Martens & Heads sent to its retail- and fashion-based clients and members of its network, including designers and creative directors, CEOs, and executives in human resources, finance, production, sourcing, operations, merchandising, marketing/communications, commercial, and omnichannel.  

When respondents were asked, “Will there be a paradigm shift in thinking about the fashion system?” most survey respondents responded with an emphatic yes. In fact, one leader commented, “We always knew there would be a paradigm shift across all fashion industries; we just never imagined it would come so quickly, without warning and in the form of a pandemic.” Another replied, “The tipping point just happened in a sling shot!”

Respondents also said that as consumers become more conservative with their spending, quality will be valued over quantity. Consumers “will not return to buying in such an impulsive manner. They will be more reflective and thoughtful,” one respondent offered. Furthermore, most respondents said it’s essential to adjust the product life cycle and volume the industry is producing. One respondent said there’s currently “too much product” with “little inspiration and differentiation for the consumer.”

The report also concluded that distribution will continue to evolve as department stores’ businesses are being challenged, and that brands are shifting from traditional wholesale to e-commerce. “Traditional wholesale is less relevant; the system has been built off wholesale/department store retailer base,” a respondent wrote. “Even before the crisis, the market shift reflected many different avenues of revenue streams for brands and designers, separate from traditional department store wholesale models (like D-to-C channels, for example). Those revenue stream models are becoming more and more imperative to businesses as they become less dependent on traditional wholesale.”

Brands will also need to evolve and embrace technology and digital for storytelling, consumer engagement and personalization at a greater level, the report said. The art of delivering less will allow room to focus and make “new releases and brand communications more effective,” one respondent commented. Live streaming and social media platforms will promote a daily conversation, providing “ways to reach people outside of fashion week,” added another respondent. Indeed, the report said technology will continue to evolve to remove friction across channels and provide a truly seamless shopping experience.

Respondents also said they believe consumers will hold brands to high standards and expectations around integrity and sustainability, and there will be a “great sense of responsibility and ethic” with the supply chain, environmental impact, and treatment of employees and vendor relationships.

In general, Maxine Martens, CEO of Martens & Heads, remains optimistic about the current state of affairs. “Despite the difficulties we’re experiencing and the uncertainty ahead, I don’t think I’ve ever lived through a more empathetic moment in the world,” Martens wrote in the opening to the report. “The solidarity, cooperation and tangible support that individuals and companies have shown gives me hope that we’ll bounce back with a new vision of how to work better and sustainably provide the dream of fashion to our customers.”

The Beyond 2020: Reflections On the Next Chapter report, also asked respondents what talents they’ve discovered in themselves during this time of reflection; what e-commerce sites they’ve discovered during the lockdown that has made their lives easier; how the current circumstances are changing the types of talent they will be looking for; and more. The report can be downloaded here.

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