COVID-19 has changed the fashion industry in a multitude of ways: professional attire is trending out, online shopping is at an all-time high, fashion shows are virtual, and sustainability is more prevalent than ever. But are these changes going to be permanent?
Although some changes in the fashion industry appear to be COVID-related, many of them were in motion long before the pandemic started. This is especially true in regards to online shopping. Online shopping has been around for years, but with a majority of stores limiting their capacity and closing fitting rooms, it is more popular than ever. “I have always loved online shopping, but definitely more than ever this year. Partially because I can’t shop in-person and partially just out of boredom to be honest,” said Lauren Matoska, a 22 year-old Biology student and shopping fanatic.
While this may change slightly after the pandemic ends, many experts believe consumers will still be weary of in-store shopping and will choose to stick to online retail. According to a report from Retail Economics, by the law firm of Womble Bond Dickinson, online shopping will account for 53% of sales by 2028, up from about 20% in 2019. A shift this large could decrease the amount of store-front locations available for in-person shopping. If companies see that there is no demand for the in-store shopping experience, they will have no incentive to keep their stores open. This could mean that companies will close their doors, or at least limit the number of store-front locations.
With the new “work from home” mandate, some companies have switched over to a more casual dress code. Because many people who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs throughout the pandemic can now work from the comfort of their own home, they have been dressing up less and less for work. Even companies that have typically enforced strict dress codes are becoming more lax when it comes to virtual work attire.
AT&T, for example, had a strict business-professional dress code in their offices, but decided to change gears at the beginning of the pandemic, as “work-from-home” became the new normal. “When we went virtual our dress code completely shifted and everyone was able to dress more casually,” said former Vice President of Product Customer Experience at AT&T Jeanet Mika. Some companies, like AT&T, wanted to acknowledge that change was happening, and used more casual dress as a way to create a more pleasant atmosphere during virtual meetings or conferences. “As leaders, we were actually encouraged to dress casual in order to make the audience feel more comfortable over Zoom,” Mika said.
There is no saying if this more casual dress code will remain after the pandemic, but it may be challenging for some to make the shift back to business-professional attire after a year of sweatpants. There has been a sizable decrease in sales for traditional professional clothing over the past year. Large men’s suits retailers such as Brooks Brothers and Tailored Brands have even filed for bankruptcy due to the overwhelming lack of demand for professional attire.
One positive outcome that has come out of this tragic time is an increased focus on sustainability and ethical practices in fashion, and in general. According to the World Economic Forum, investors poured a record $12.2 billion into funds that say they invest in environmental, social and governance(ESG) practices in the first four months of 2020 alone. With environmental issues at the forefront, consumers are really starting to hold brands accountable for their actions by demanding sustainable and ethically made clothing. Because consumers are able to interact with brands through various social media platforms, they are able to have their voices heard, not only by the company itself, but by other consumers as well.
Additionally, with an increased focus on sustainability, the concept of “seasons” in fashion may be trending out. Consumers now understand how harmful the creation of new clothing can be for our planet due to waste production, and the “newness” of clothing is becoming less and less important. According to MarketWatch, the online secondhand market is set to grow 27% in 2020, while the broader retail sector is projected to shrink 23%. With the rise of second-hand shopping, many companies will create fewer collections per year. The second-hand shopping market, particularly resale apps, have been thriving during the pandemic. “I used to love going to thrift stores with my friends, but obviously we haven’t been able to do that this year. I’ve been getting into some online sites that sell second-hand though. My favorites are definitely Depop and ThredUp, they have some really unique pieces,” Matoska said.
Overall, COVID-19 has affected the fashion industry in a variety of ways, some better than others. The most notable changes will definitely be seen in regards to technology and sustainability. The growing shift towards online shopping and non-cyclical fashion cycles could help to eliminate waste and ultimately protect our planet.