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Fashion In 2021: The Runway To Recovery

Jessica James

Illustration by Jessica James collection

2020 marked the worst year on record for the 2.5 trillion dollars global fashion industry, thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that caused a wave of crisis that hit virtually every sector from healthcare, hospitality, banking, education, politics to communication and even the way we dress.

From the four-city fashion circuit of Milan, Paris, London and New York to other budding fashion capitals around the world, it was a year in which fashion, devoid of the usual fanfare and pomp, lost its spark and colour. As thousands of stores close down due to a lockdown enforced in many nations around the world, fashion designers and brands scampered to find innovative ways to keep their audiences and business afloat by hopping aboard the digital train. The much-beloved fashion shows went virtual while style editors and fashion lovers, dressed in loungewear, watched from the comfort of their homes.

According to a report by the Business of Fashion and McKinsey Company, the global fashion industry suffered a staggering 90 per cent economic profit decline in 2020.

Nigeria was not spared as the pandemic was worsened by a six months shutdown that cost the industry billions of Naira in sales, patronage and fashion shows. The country accounts for 15% of the $31 billion sub-Saharan fashion market.

Although it is a new year and the pandemic is still ongoing, with a second wave threatening to repeat the damage done in 2020, we can’t help but wonder: Would this be the state of fashion in 2021? Would the industry recover this year? What are the things to look out for in the industry this year?

For this piece, Guardian Life is going to look at what some of the leading experts in the fashion industry, both internationally and locally, are saying about the state of things and their likely expectations for this year.

The Disruption
In 2020, the global fashion industry witnessed a disruption like never before, one that saw the closure of physical stores and mass loss of jobs. In order to curtail the spread of the virus, many countries around the world enforced lockdowns that had millions of people staying at home for months, international travel bans and health measures that shutdown both social life and economies.

fashion in 2021 the runway to recovery

Hanifa Virtual Fashion show

Interestingly, that disruption led to an unprecedented shift to digitization in 2020. As Covid-19 shut down city centres, online fashion sales surged as brands developed new strategies to combat the loss of offline supply chains. According to industry experts, in just eight months, the European fashion industry registered the equivalent of six years’ growth in online shopping penetration, rising from 16 per cent of total sales in January to 29 per cent in August.

In 2020, Nike, a global brand with 1,100 stores, closed more than half of stores in China as early as February to protect its employees; and decided, by mid-march to close all stores in the US, as the virus started to spread in the country. Nike announced the acceleration of its digital strategy and investment in its highest potential areas. Zara said that it plans to cut 1,200 stores over two years and invest €2.7 billion in store-based digital.

“With many regions across the world now facing a second wave of the pandemic, we expect industry disruption to continue in 2021, with global recovery not occurring until the latter half of 2022 at the earliest,” said Dr Achim Berg, a global leader of the Apparel, Fashion and Luxury Group at McKinsey.

The Drawing Board
An enormous cloud of uncertainty still floats in the air over the outcomes of the health and economic outcomes crisis which might make it difficult to predict how 2021 would turn out. Equally, there is a wave of optimism across the globe in the fashion industry with experts predicting that the industry could regain positive growth of 2 to 4 per cent.

Ugo Monye

Ugo Monye’s Wazalendo collection

“The coronavirus pandemic is like a world reset program, everybody is back to the drawing board and thinking of how they can do things better and re-strategize,” Ugochukwu Monye, a top Nigerian fashion designer told Guardian Life.

Dr. Berg also shares the same opinion. According to him, now is the time for executives to make bold decisions to get through the pandemic “whether they are about channel strategy, geographic focus, assortment planning or securing supply chains.”

Monye believes that once everything settles down, “there is going to be a huge boom” in the fashion industry. “We are all waiting and just sharpening our tools for what’s about to happen,” he added.
Ejiro Amos Tafiri, another top Nigerian fashion designer said: “Whoever is able to read the economy properly would thrive and survive. I see the fashion industry still staying strong because man cannot do without clothing.”

Key Drivers For Recovery
According to McKinsey & Company, from Dec 2019 to October 2020, companies that performed the best shared at least one of two key characteristics: a strong Asia–Pacific focus, reflecting the economic strength of the region and a compelling digital proposition.

Digital Adoption
In 2021, the winners would be those that come up with a vibrant and encompassing digital plan for their brands.

“Digital is now fundamental and central to everything consumers do, and we are the clear leader in digital retail. We’ll double-down on that,” said John Donahoe, President and CEO of Nike in July as the brand accelerated its digital business and consumer experiences with its Consumer Direct Acceleration (CDA) strategy.

Donahoe added, “We think there’s some pretty fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour that give us this opportunity to accelerate our progress. One shift is digital.”

Jessica James

Illustration by Jessica James

Tafari, speaking to The Guardian Life, said that just like last year, we are going to be seeing more brands embracing digital. “We are going to have more fashion tech companies springing up, so a lot of people are going to do more of their business completely online. I don’t see the industry dying out, it depends on the angle where you play.”

Monye, who is known for his cutting-edge styles propelled by the African culture, plans to fully embrace digital this year. “I’ve decided that this year, I’m coming up with a new strategy and the new strategy is to be in your face like never before,” he said.

As seen last year, designers combatted the challenges that health measures such as social distancing posed by taking fashion shows virtual, as seen by Balenciaga, Loewe, Prada, J. W. Anderson, Moschino and a host of other designers during the SS21 season

In May 2020, Congolese designer of contemporary brand Hanifa, changed the game when she debuted her latest collection on Instagram Live via 3D models.

Jessica James, a Nigerian fashion illustrator, thinks 3D fashion shows would be a part of the future, however, “it would not totally replace the physical shows but it’s slowly making a place for itself.”

For Monye, the Nigeria fashion industry is not fully ready to embrace things such as 3D fashion shows as Nigeria is a dynamic environment because “we like to see, feel and touch.”

Demand-driven Approach
This year, designers should focus on building more efficient, simple, and demand-focused operating models.

According to Tafiri, it would be more of “are you looking at my needs?’ ‘Are you fulfilling those needs that I have right now?’”

Trends To Look Out For
Tafiri said this year, there would be a continued need for sustainable clothing. “The luxury market would be looking towards more sustainable products, products that work well with the environment, that seek to last longer since we are all still staying indoor. We are still going to be playing around activewear, sportswear and loungewear.”

Ejiro Amos Tafiri

Ejiro Amos Tafiri collection

She added people would also be looking at more lifestyle products, “stuff to beautify your home, to beautify your spaces, those would do well.

“It is just about the fashion entrepreneurs deciding what their product lines will be for this year, keeping your ears to the ground and tapping into the new opportunities and navigating the difficult situation surrounding their industry this year.

“We saw a lot of two-pieces last year, a lot of free-swinging dresses, kaftan, bubus. That was like the trend, where people get to stay at home, they want to dress comfortably. Sometimes you want to go out and be smart but still be comfortable. Everyone just wanted to be comfortable, there was so much anxiety, so comfort was top of people’s fashion needs. And that is still going to continue.”

Although Monye agrees that loungewear would be the ideal trend, he insists that the situation in Nigeria may be different as the country cannot afford to go on another lockdown. So “loungewear would not work,” he says, “except there is another lockdown.” According to Monye, to his surprise and quite unlike the rest of the world, Nigerians are still shopping for aso-ebi and other clothes suited for outings.

Tafiri also added: “People are going to be looking for things with details, it’s the little things that are going to be going out to the customers, not necessarily the pomp and pageantry of it all.” She said it’s not about “how avant-garde your piece is right now that is going to resonate with the customer” but if it is fulfilling the needs of the customers.



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