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Forced Into a New Digital Landscape

The lengthy COVID-19 quarantine has left us in quite a conundrum, forcing us to contemplate the next moves for the global fashion industry. Certainly, we are imagining what the industry will look like post-coronavirus and how business can still thrive when faced with an economic recession and personal devastation. Whether we like it or not, the impact of non-sustainable fashion practices has been clearly rerouted, sparking reflection on how to move forward with a more ethical approach and redesigning how we reach the consumer.

In the absence of a clear medical solution, we must step cautiously onto this new landscape with a global killer. The fact is that fashion has been catapulted into the digital world at lightning speed with an enormous impetus for innovative strategies to sustain business and elude Darwinism. The shift has been advancing for years, but now we’ve been steamrolled into an entirely new way of existing.

The good or bad news, depending on how you look at it, is that we may never have to leave our homes again (except for those essentials not digitized at the moment). The show is going on for many without physical interaction. Speaking as people who haven’t left home for three months straight, we’re busier than bees, churning out productivity via all of the video conferencing platforms one can Google — all of which actually saved travel and space costs.

Already swept up in a wave of evolution, the fashion industry anticipated complete digitalization on the horizon, but now it has come full force as a result of social distancing. So once again, it’s time to look ahead and innovate (our favorite thing) to keep our beloved profession moving forward into the future. And when this virus is under control, do we think that those businesses shuttered due to no foot traffic will re-open their physical locations? Will retailers want to shell out sizable leasing dollars for brick-and-mortar when they can exist in the digital space? Nope; it will be digital or bust. Reality check: things have needed a further shift for a while, and now all of our practices are forever transformed — we believe — for the better!

The fashion industry has been forecasting for a while that digital technology was the new mindset for how things would be done. It can help usher in the practice of more sustainable methods and overhaul the fashion world’s negative practices. Let’s face it: shopping on Instagram and the rise of designer resale, rental models and the plethora of discounted offerings in retail cyberspace were already evoking a new method of reaching the consumer of 2020 and beyond. Now, we see clothing companies like The Fabricant and Carlings, which only produce digital clothing, on the rise. As we work more from home, will renowned designers create extra prominent digital collections (like many have done for Bitmoji) that supplement their revenue where physical clothing sales have plummeted? What will your avatar wear to your next videoconference?

A key takeaway from this global pandemic is that the companies that didn’t jump on the digital bandwagon swiftly enough suffered fiscally and were left behind like a fashionista wearing an outfit from four seasons ago to Fashion Week. Ultimately, digital lag has led to financial failure and bankruptcy for our already fragile and outdated system.

Are customers even motivated to shop for non-essentials just because there is a surplus of online fashion outlets in such uncertain times? The psychological approach of the brand must be considered to adopt a new methodology to relate to the consumer in a more effective way post-COVID-19. A major selling point is for retailers and fashion companies to possess an appearance of empathy towards those who are suffering financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically. This viewpoint of considering the current state of consumer affair appropriately demonstrates further opportunity of how to achieve the aptitude to relate to this new demographic. Businesses on the forefront of closing as soon as the virus hit showed compassion to the consumer instead of trying to make a buck when people are dying. Those who remained opened were viewed negatively, which impacted brand loyalty. Consumers are watching and deciding on which brands “care” about them and align with their views.

Even still, this new climate will cause increased digital tech. WWD predicts that, “Changes to retail spurred by the pandemic could include booking appointments for a store experience, using video surveillance systems within a store to track social distancing and creating virtual showrooms and live streams. Other changes could include switching to payments by app instead of a checkout desk and using virtual reality to try on clothes.” Fully-automated facilities are cropping up. Fashion has been thrust into the digital future, and COVID-19 is the catalyst that will awaken, reshape and reconfigure the industry.

Michelle Alleyne is a fashion strategist and professor, and Sandra Roy is a graduate student studying social work. They can be reached via Instagram at @mshopnyc and @altruistic9, respectively.

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