Apparel, Fashion & Retail | Fashion | News & Insights


Published: May 30, 2022

COVID-19 has changed the world over the last two years. Years 2020 and 2021 will be remembered for their far-reaching effects on social, economic, cultural, and psychological life. This feature analyses impact of these changes on global fashion and re-imagines its new face in 2022 and beyond.

According to IMF’s October 2021 forecast, global economy is projected to grow 5.9 per cent in 2021and 4.9 per cent in 2022 in contrast to 2020 growth of (-)3.1 per cent. The expanding economic growths signal positive outlook going forward. The positivity weighs even more in the light of past two years of COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted the lives of millions of people across the world sabotaging their livelihoods, while interrupting international trade, travel, economies and consumption patterns. Fashion, being discretionary consumption, was hit even harder.

Starting from China in 2020, COVID-19 virus spread slowly but steadily throughout rest of the year and in 2021 it released new variants generating fatal waves after waves. Its existence led to continued series of lockdowns, travel restrictions, social distancing and other COVID-appropriate behaviours in various parts of the world. The circumstances left retail industry, fashion segment in particular, in complete disarray impacting sales, profits, inventories, jobs and the entire ecosystem.

Global fashion industry, valued at $3 trillion, constitutes 2 per cent of the word’s GDP and when such an industry is impacted the results are far-reaching. The disruption in global fashion started when people were asked to stay at home as precautionary measure to contain the spread of the virus. To rule out any possibility of their coming out, markets, shopping malls and retail stores were also shut down. This disallowed outside shopping for months forcing the consumers to switch to online shopping. To further worsen the things, the authorities’ world over, allowed online purchase of only essential items, restricting sale of non-essential items, that also included fashion, for a later time. Consequently, fashion sales declined and inventories held up throughout the supply chain. Orders were either cancelled or reduced or diverted to arrest additional losses. Simultaneously, constrained global freights and transportation jeopardised supply chain logistics worldwide. The goods transportation to their destination markets faced challenges and those which could make their way out could move only with increased cost, eating up profit margins. Overcoming all these challenges, when fragmented fashion supplies opened up after sizeable gap the demand for fashion items had taken a 360 degree turn with ‘need’ replacing ‘aspiration’. Luxury and aspiration fashion was not needed anymore and the fashion demand, otherwise widely diverse, narrowed to only essential wearables. Work from home cut down sales of formal wear; no outing dented active wear category; social distancing too restricted fashion, requiring very few options that already existed in the wardrobes; home confinement needed only lounge and comfort wear as new buys; curtailed festivities, celebrations and public gathering suppressed beauty, fashion accessories and occasion wear demand for a long time; and, school uniform sales also touched the bottom due to online schooling that compensated for school shut downs.

Not only the consumption side suffered immensely but supply side had its own sufferings too. Global fashion hubs in Europe, Asia and America had to either suspend or delay forward-looking and business-building activities of fashion shows, trend forecasts, new expansions, brand launches and other growth plans. Big fashion players suddenly started looking at other aspects of their existence – charities, donations, human welfare, medical supplies, sustainability, social responsibility and human well-being knowingly and global well-being unknowingly.

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