We would like to take this opportunity to provide an update on behalf of everyone at [insert brand name] in light of the coronavirus situation.
Our priority has always been the well-being of our team members, clients and community. We recognise our responsibility as a company and are taking the necessary precautions as recommended by health authorities to safeguard our communities and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Our Client Service team is always on hand should you wish to further your [insert brand name] experience remotely.
We will continue to assess the evolving situation and update you with any developments. Until then, we wish you all the best and stay safe as we overcome this together.
Warm regards, [insert brand name]"
In just a week, I've received at least 10 of such emails sent to my personal account from various fashion brands—some from those that I've only shopped from once in a foreign country.
It was nice to receive the first, maybe, three emails. But once the subsequent barrage seemed to follow a similar formula—reiterating this sense of 'community', not so subtly sliding in the fact that online or personal shopping is still an option, and then ending on a hopeful note—the message got old rather quickly.
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At Louis Vuitton, we have always believed in the inspiration that comes from traveling the world. Given the current challenge that every community on our shared planet is facing, we know that the road ahead can seem uncertain and such optimistic journeys far from the mind. Right now, the most important thing is each other. We want to take this opportunity to wish you health, safety, and hope to get through this time together. We believe in the journey, even the ones that for now take flight in our dream. Sincerely, the family at #LouisVuitton
But we are living in unprecedented times. Never has there been such a worldwide lockdown on non-essential travel and businesses, of which the fashion industry is unfortunately a part of. To not acknowledge the situation at hand while at the same time providing some form of hopeful message (albeit idyllic) could be seen as insensitive and certainly not great PR. Market analysts have cautioned that brands that don't connect positively with consumers during this troubled period risk suffering the most once the crisis is over.
It's tough when the very basis of the fashion industry has always appeared to be far removed from the realities of daily life. Fashion has always seen itself as aspirational; an alternate reality that's visually focused on glamour, beauty and luxury. To suddenly tap on the collective emotions of communities seems a tad opportunistic, especially when the luxury of clothes is at the very bottom of most people's minds.
What matters most in times of crises: action.
Fashion brands big and small have taken decisive action to aid in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. They have ranged from the usual model of raising funds through the sale of products to more impressive gestures that show a spirit for community. Brands such as Sandro and Christian Siriano have pivoted their manufacturing capabilities to produce face masks, while larger fashion conglomerates such as LVMH, Zegna and Kering have made one-off donations and dedicated part of their supply chains to producing personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers.
It is heartening to see the industry coming together to fill the gaps as needed by society. Who would've thought that the same factories producing entry-level luxury in the form of fragrances could switch their processes to produce hand sanitisers for free? Or that ateliers of craftsmen skilled at creating some of the most beautifully made clothes could churn out face masks? Simply astounding.
At the same time, the pandemic has once again brought to light the industry's age-old shortcomings. Detachment from reality aside, there's the almost sudden realisation that there's too much stuff being produced. It's natural that demand for luxury goods and fashion in general is low as people are made to stay home and practice social and physical distancing—there's simply no reason to dress up, especially in new clothes. It perhaps is a bit melodramatic, but who cares about clothes when you're trying to stay alive?
The effect has been nothing short of disastrous for the industry. Britain's biggest sportswear retailer, JD Sports, announced that members of its board as well as senior management have voluntarily agreed to salary reductions of up to 25 percent, while its chairman will take a 75 percent cut; all in the name of saving cash. Companies such as Gap Inc and Primark have cancelled new orders. And like many brands, Salvatore Ferragamo has announced that sales have fallen more than 30 percent. Analysts are expecting an average revenue decline of 20 percent across the industry, at least for the quarter ending in March alone.
But do we need pre-collections? Do we really need capsule collections specifically targeted for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Earth Day, Christmas and every other festivity? Or even those that have been 'co-created' by celebrities (both minor and major); why are they necessary? Truthfully, they're not.
If anything, it just goes to show that there is too much fashion in the world. With seasonal collections now essentially split into four from the traditional two—cruise or resort, spring/summer, pre-autumn and autumn/winter—and the addition of smaller capsule collections as well as one-off collaborations with other designers, brands, artists, celebrities and whatever else, it's apparent more than ever now that there are a lot of unnecessary products created to sell.
With spring/summer inventories still stuck in closed stores or slowly moving through online channels, delays for subsequent collections are inevitable. Factories have yet to produce autumn/ winter 2020 collections that are slated to be released towards the end of July as most are affected by government-mandated closures. That only means that current stocks would have to carry through till then at likely heavily discounted prices to make up for the loss in revenue.
I'm not saying that having a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to clothing is a bad thing. But do we need pre-collections? Do we really need capsule collections specifically targeted for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Earth Day, Christmas and every other festivity? Or even those that have been 'co-created' by celebrities (both minor and major); why are they necessary? Truthfully, they're not. And brands need to reassess this more-is- more strategy once the COVID-19 crisis is dealt with.
Questions have been raised by fellow journalists and even fashion designers on what then is enough? What constitutes a fashion season anymore?
Revolutionising a tired system is no mean feat. Let's rewind to 2017 when Burberry debuted a 'see-now-buy-now' runway collection, a bold move that paved the way for a few other luxury brands to follow suit. The collection was designed to work for a global audience—they were season-less and had a great mix of lightweight summer-ready pieces as well as heavier designs suited for colder climates. There was no six month-long wait for pieces from the collection to reach stores, and even if you missed out on getting pieces straight from the runway, the entire collection was progressively dropped in the coming months.
'See-now-buy-now' might have been short-lived for brands like Burberry and Tom Ford, but it did make for greater engagement between brands and customers. An earnings report that was released in relation to Burberry's first 'see-now-buy-now' show revealed a 'record online reach and engagement' and a 19 percent increase in retail revenue. But as noted by smaller brands that attempted to follow suit, it was a task shifting their manufacturing capabilities to handle faster turnaround times of at least two weeks compared to the usual months in lead-time.
Perhaps the move then should be a combination of instant gratification and slow fashion; a middle-ground that focuses on on-demand sales. This system could potentially work like the 'see-now-buy-now' model albeit less rushed. Customers would be able to order what they fancy after a runway show ends, which they then get their hands on within two to three weeks (about the same length of wait time for a made-to-order piece by a tailor). After which, the entire collection then drops progressively each month to the stores and online based on different capsules or themes within the collection itself. In this way, brands are theoretically able to better gauge how much of a certain design should be produced for wholesale and retail channels based on the initial demand from runway sales. It could help to reduce wastage and lessen the need for significant end-of-season discounts to clear unsold inventory.
Most recently, Saint Laurent announced plans to not partake in any of the pre-set fashion week schedules for 2020. Not much was said in a press statement that was released other than the firm decision for the fashion house to 'take ownership of its calendar' and that collections will be launched in a new way.
As uncertainty mounts regarding when normalcy can be regained, upcoming fashion weeks have been either cancelled or postponed. The British Fashion Council is looking at reworking its fashion showcase platforms to make use of technology. There's the potential for fashion shows, at least for the rest of this year, to look similar to what Giorgio Armani did for his autumn/winter 2020 womenswear fashion show in February—audience-free and live-streamed.
That is the worst-case scenario for a fashion journalist. To critique and give a sound opinion on a collection while watching it through a screen misses the point of a runway show—a multisensory experience that is an extension of the vision being put forth by a creative director. I may sound rather old-school but there's a sense of emotion that's lost when watching a live-streamed fashion show. For buyers too, being unable to see the clothes in person to have a better idea of what they are (something a digital experience can sometimes fall short of) makes their job difficult.
It makes more sense then for fashion shows post-pandemic to be industry-only and the grandiosity of Chanel-like proportions be scaled down. Fashion shows don't need to be the spectacle that they have evolved into over the past five years. While having influencers and celebrities grace the shows dressed in full brand looks work great for social media numbers and engagement, they don't necessarily translate to sales. And of course, it goes without saying that these are also additional costs that could be used for more innovative and tech-savvy marketing strategies.
Fashion shows can still be as inclusive as they are now. But just in a live-stream format for the consumption and interest of fashion fans and the general public. If there's one thing we've learnt from this pandemic, it's that we need to start re-evaluating what's necessary and what's not. Creating a frenzy outside show venues because hordes of fans are trying to get a glimpse of a celebrity doesn't fall into the former.
Having a sense of community doesn't stop when things get back to normal. It should be part of every brand's DNA; customers are no longer just customers.
With digital ideally being a big push for fashion brands from now on, online retail should also be a focus. Fashion houses Louis Vuitton and Hermès launched their e-commerce capabilities for Singapore towards the end of 2019 and they have been well-received. Hermés, for example, ran out of its much-awaited lipsticks on its e-commerce site about two days after they were launched early this year. And with most of us staying and working from home, online shopping is an asset that shouldn't be overlooked.
Brands that had yet to establish dedicated e-commerce platforms resorted to alternative means to secure sales. This included contacting store managers to act as personal shoppers, which makes the experience quite a hassle especially when it comes to making payments and the lack of freedom of making decisions at one's own leisure.
It may be a challenge and perhaps unrealistic for every brand to establish a dedicated e-commerce site for every country. There are factors like warehouses and additional inventory to take into account. But even the ability to shop online from a main e-commerce brand site that is able to ship internationally would be an invaluable asset.
Digital is the way for fashion brands to move forward. Taking a step back, re-evaluating what is essential and weeding out non-essential aspects of all processes are more important once we come out of this crisis. Engaging the public through various digital activations—music performances, panel interviews and talks, at-home creative challenges and other thoughtful ideas—prove that the industry is able to comfortably and powerfully engage with consumers beyond mere marketing and product-selling.
Having a sense of community doesn't stop when things get back to normal. It should be part of every brand's DNA; customers are no longer just customers. And that means having to be more mindful of processes that affect the community at large and our shared environment.
Fashion has stepped up and moved away from being an exclusive club during this period. Let's not revert back to a time when comforting emails of hope can appear to be anything but sincere.
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