While fashion retail stores are usually one season ahead of the game – in addition to collaborating closely with designers and manufacturers, they were supposed to be selling summer clothing (during the spring season) while placing orders for the Fall (during the summer season). But due to the current health and economic crisis, orders and new looks are being cancelled/returned since everyone is on a stay at home order. So what does this mean for the manufacturers and designers? Due to the uncertainties of the future outlook, does this mean that there will be fewer pieces being created for outdoor gear/street wear and more pieces on loungewear? How will fashion designers be able to manifest their creativity in the years to come? This is definitely not an easy pill to swallow.
Amid the Coronavirus chaos, this impact on the fashion industry spells disaster as many retail companies, design houses and garment factories struggle to stay afloat – due to the massive elimination of positions and filing for bankruptcy chapters. Neiman Marcus, J. Crew and JCPenney were a few of the many brands who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 2020. Aside from the hospitality industry proven to be one of the hardest hit, we can see that the fashion industry is also up in the air. According to the Washington Post, the article reported that “Macy’s announced it will furlough most of its 125,000 workers as sales evaporated with the shuttering of 775 stores. Kohl’s and Gap also announced furloughs of about 80,000 each.” In addition, CNBC reported that Best Buy has also furloughed about 51,000 hourly employees, affecting mainly their part-time employees while full-time employees will remain on their payroll.
Retail stores and their day-to-day operations are dying, while e-commerce is flourishing and thriving. Runway shows, trade shows and presentations have been canceled/suspended/rescheduled. The way that the fashion industry has been surviving lately – factories are mainly focused on producing face masks and generating hand sanitizers to assist the communities.
We have already reached the end of June and we are still in the midst of this global crisis, coupled with nationwide racial tensions so thick that you can feel it in the air. Due to the recent events and protests of the Black Lives Matter movement, it has severely affected the fashion retail industry across the nation as many stores were vandalized and remain closed due to looting. NYC stores in Soho and Herald-Square 34th Street as well as Queens Center Mall, has been boarded up with names listed of those who’s lives were lost and other phrases that relate to anti-racism of the Black and Brown community such as, “Say Their Name”, “Celebrate Your Freedom – Juneteenth”, “Let’s Legalize Humanity” and “One Love”.
Luxury fashion brands are also stepping back from this year’s New York Fashion Week shows (including those in London, Milan, Paris, Seoul, etc.) and some designers like Michael Kors are not planning to host any shows or presentations in 2021 either. The NYFW runway shows are always held biannually, one around February and one in September. I have attended many in the past and it was always a wonderful experience to see new creative designs/pieces for next fashion season as I have always enjoyed keeping up with current fashion trends. This postponement has been hard for me to process since I have always looked forward to attending their next biannual runway shows – and it has become a habit for me. No matter how busy my schedule would get, I somehow always managed to find a way to attend at least 1-2 shows during the given week.
I guess I will have to go back to Megan Hess’s NYFW illustrations and pretend that there will be NYFW this Fall season. She was the one who has inspired me to go into fashion illustrations during my free time when I was an undergraduate student. Below are some of my favorite NYFW drawings from her. Feel free to shop for her illustrations here!
The Met Gala, also known as the Super Bowl of Fashion which is also another big event that is held annually on the first Monday of May at one of NYC’s famous tourist attractions on the Upper East Side, the Metropolitan Museum of Art – has been postponed as well, disrupting the fashion calendar of many. Instead, it went virtual that evening on Vogue’s YouTube channel, walking down memory lane on last year’s Met Gala. For those of you who are not a fashion geek, this event is a way to raise funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. This year has been a whole new ball game for the fashion community.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has partnered up with Vogue in March, to pioneer a “Common Thread” funding initiative. This allows designers to use their platforms and speak up on how this epidemic has affected their businesses, while they are also seeking for ways to implement effective strategies for fundraising.
The goal is to raise both awareness and needed funds for those in the American fashion community who have been impacted by COVID-19.A Common Thread – CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for COVID-19 Relief
So, are we entering a new era of fashion? While remote work has taken over the world, it is not surprising to see that London Fashion Week has been promptly preparing for the September 2020 show virtually. While layoffs, furloughs and economic hardship will continue to trail behind, the CDFA also took swift actions in partnering with National Retail Federation and the American Apparel & Footwear Association, to seek for financial assistance such as grants to keep employees on company payroll and temporary rent and tariff reliefs.
Fashion is definitely going to survive. However, certain positions will become obsolete especially for frontline retail leadership/managerial positions. Several friends and clients of mine who were all employed in long-term managerial positions have been recently let go from Coach, Forever21, H&M, Century 21 and other clothing brands due to this epidemic. Sales associates and cashiers, let’s be honest. With e-commerce on the rise, these positions are not going to be needed as we move towards online transactions. And going back to my last question in the first paragraph, I can see that designers are also facing a big obstacle right now. While many positions can be carried on remotely, it is almost impossible for designers. Proper fittings and patternmakers are the big blockers of a Zoom conference call. That is just not going to work.
How will fashion change in our post-pandemic world? Right now, I think that the most important thing rather than worrying about the impacts of cash flow going in and out of the business, is that industry leaders should be focused on coming up with ways to create sustainable solutions in repowering the supply chain. That is the way that the fashion industry can rescue itself.