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Impact of COVID-19: Rethinking The Business Of Fashion

“Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.” —Diana Vreeland

The coronavirus outbreak is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. It is also having a growing impact on the global economy. This article is intended to provide fashion business leaders with a perspective on the evolving situation and implications for their brands.

No one can really tell how long this would go on for, case growth keeps accelerating. Governments have launched unprecedented public-health and economic responses. The situation evolves by the day, nobody knows what the world will look like and the possible implications and changes that might happen in the fashion industry especially in Nigeria.

With the ongoing pandemic, we have come to the realization that fashion is a secondary need not a necessity, like food and medical care. The Emergence of these unprecedented times have posed the same questions we often ask our parents/grandparents: What did you do during the war and after? Guess they RESOLVED, they were RESILIENT, REIMAGINED and REFORMED their various industries because it can’t be business as usual.

The post-COVID-19 customer won’t be an emotional buyer again but a realistic and logical buyer, so how would you position your brand to feed people like that?

According to Dolekoglu (2008), the main determining factor affecting consumer buying behaviour are Quality, Price, Trust, Availability, Frequent advertisement, Sales promotion, Brand image, Freshness and Habits.

Also, factors that affect shopping behaviour among fashion shoppers are simulation/trial facilities, brand reputation, personalization possibilities and store attractiveness in reference to products and services, and brand value.

The Nigerian consumer has become much more open-minded and experimental in this perspective. Fashion is a billion-dollar industry employing millions of people not only in emerging economies but across the globe. By this changing landscape, consumers are affected to a large extent by these swift changes.

Furthermore, the fashion industry has been experiencing major changes since the last few decades. In the fast-evolving fashion industry, even the best plans and activities fail by economic change and the actions of competitors.

After the independence, changes occurred in the Nigeria Fashion industry and dressing style was influenced by the effects of globalization, which led to the fusion of Nigerian and western dresses.

Lastly, for brands to stand out post-covid-19, they have to focus on storytelling around benefit, purpose, values, experience and authenticity.

There is a prediction that there would be a recession worse than the Great Depression. The current situation has affected a lot of small businesses which makes up 80% of the Nigerian business ecosystem but we are experiencing a slow reaction and solution by the government.

Current Industry Fears –

1. How will the pandemic change the fashion and retail business?
2. What would the impact be on the people who make our clothes?
3. Generally, what would be the impact on our industry, would we recover?

“If you don’t understand the consumer and his mood right now and you’re doing things as usual,” said Walter Loeb, president of Loeb Associates, a consulting firm, “you’re not going to get any business.”

Also In November 2008, Saks sent shockwaves through the fashion industry when it slashed prices by 70 percent in an effort to clear out inventory; competitors like Barneys and Neiman Marcus quickly followed suit, torpedoing their profit margins.

However, the wealthiest shoppers still bought luxury goods during the Recession, but Frasch recalls pushback against items with noticeable logos, while more subtle designs gained respect and that it was suddenly so uncool to look rich.

In addition, Store buyers became more conservative, stocking less inventory and focusing on items that had performed well in the past.

Industrial designers didn’t re-engineer how a refrigerator worked or how a car drove, but they changed the design to make it look better,” says Sarah Lichtman, a professor of design history at New York’s Parsons School of Design. “How do you get someone to buy a new car? You curve the headlights, change the colour.”

“That first generation of direct-to-consumer successes started in the post-recession moment,” says Leo Wang, CEO of Buffy, a one-year-old comforter startup. “They were about value, honesty, transparency of economics, and getting a good deal. All of that felt front-of-mind for consumers.

“After the depression retailers turned in the worst sales figures in at least a generation, starting the holiday shopping season with double-digit declines across a broad spectrum of stores”

Some predict that it would take about a year for the fashion industry to be revived after the #coronavirus pandemic.

Learnings we could adapt from the post-depression

1. It affected the customers buying behaviour
2. As a result, sales dropped
3. Consumers became more conservative
4. Brands had to rethink their design. Some had to go from Maximalist to minimalism.
5. Brands had to become more affordable, more honest and transparent
6. Brands were more about delivering value

When in transit all you have is history from the past, that is why we referred to history to see how they handled that season.

So what would the impact be on those that produce our clothes?

This would affect the employment level in the fashion industry especially now that demand would be low for another one year and companies are trying to reduce cost – that would mean reducing labour, cost of production and cost of sales.

Designer/fashion entrepreneur must think industrialization and digitalization

  • Do you need a physical store?
  • Do you need to continue running as a private label or outsource your production?
  • Are customers tilting towards fast fashion, sustainable slow fashion or made to measure?
  • Do you need to rethink your business model, how do you sustain and scale?
  • Do you currently have a digital platform, do you need to set up one?

It is a good time to reset and reshape. It is time to look inward, what local resources can I leverage, where can I source quality fabrics locally, what can possibly be the designer and supply chain revolution -how can I ship my fabrics without travelling? It’s time for us to endure and transform.

Would we recover?

YES!!! Nevertheless, we can expect business survival to take precedence over profitability in the short term. We need to start now to accept reality and come to a resolve and be resilient. Yes, you won’t make as much money but how do you structure yourself to survive and not go out of business.

Leverage the relationship you have with your suppliers, start to come up with a detailed plan of how you will return to business and the things that would change. Reimagine what the next normal would be and try fixing them into your business model. THINK Reformation; how is the fashion industry going to evolve, what would change and what would you want to see change?

All eyes would be on China to give us a glimpse into the future of what post-COVID-19 business would look like as the first country to recover and get back to work. We have seen from some reports so far that some luxury brands made a killing on their first week of return and in some other areas people are not coming out to shop or dine.

Hope always becomes more abundant in a time of crisis. This hope, for a continuation towards a ‘new normal’ and a more sustainable industry has been magnified by the virus outbreak. On a business level, times of crises can be both threatening and liberating. But we must remember that cultural and organizational change is hard. What’s usually needed to make a large-scale change is a huge, sharp shock that allows all the old ‘rules’ to be shattered. This crisis is that moment.

We shouldn’t fear the future, yes this crisis is a profound disruption and a moment of turmoil but it would force us to restart, it’s a time for us to imagine what doesn’t exist.

In summary, I don’t think that when the pandemic is hopefully over, that people won’t buy clothes again, we have to remember that, in Italy for instance. after World War 2, fashion was one of the engines of the country’s economy. More attention needs to be given to the Nigerian fashion industry.

The world is currently paying attention to African fashion, there is an appetite across the world for African designers to create new lines, serve local consumers, and enter the global market. The fabrics, ingenuity, and craftsmanship of African designers are unrivalled. Yet designers don’t have the support, capacity and resources to develop their own brands.

The impact of COVID-19 is changing daily as a result I can’t say for certain what the future would look like but definitely this is a moment to RETHINK, RESET AND RE-EMERGE.

Patience Ehi Odokor is the Founder and Creative Director of THE FABRIC HUB, EHI RTW and Enlighten Her Initiative. To engage, visit @pattytfh on Instagram.

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