“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” The Fall/Winter 2020 fashion season was going on when the Covid 19 crisis started to unfold. Though New York and London fashion weeks were relatively unscathed, the corona virus pandemic caught up with the fashion month in Milan and then Paris.
As Paris Fashion Week ended, shelter in place orders were being given. The terms social distancing and flatten the curve became the new buzz words. WFH, acronym for Working From Home was the new norm as companies shift workers from office to telework.
In the first two weeks of quarantine, there was surprisingly a festive feeling on social media as people posted memes and Tic toc videos. Emails were flying and Zoom became the new hangout.
But the optimism was short-lived. With the shuttering of businesses, and more importantly for the fashion industry, the shuttering of malls and retail stores, the booming economy came to a screeching halt.
Unemployment went thru the roof. Luxury purveyor Neiman Marcus and 118-year-old retailer JCPenney filed for bankruptcy. And they are just the high-profile ones. For many other businesses- big or small, bankruptcy was a hard reality.
Meanwhile, emerging fashion designers and brands who live from shipping cycle to shipping cycle are also tethering on insolvency.
According to a survey of 2,136 retailers in North America by NuORDER, an e-commerce platform that connects brands and stores, 63% of stores have canceled orders that have not yet been delivered; 29% expect to reduce their next season order by half; and 21% expect to extend their payment terms to 60 to 90 days (15% want to extend past 90 days) instead of the usual 30 days.
Quo vadis fashion? Where does this vibrant industry, which according to the 2019 McKinsey Global Fashion Index is worth an estimated $2.5 trillion worldwide and employs more than 1.8 million people in the US alone, go from there?
With the Covid 19 pandemic, this ecosystem is at risk. The new reality brought out by the corona virus has affected the fashion supply chain. Pre-pandemic, most clothing sold in the United States is imported. More than a third of these imports came from China (43.4%), with Vietnam (13.2%), India (5.1%), Indonesia (4.9 percent) and Bangladesh (4%), rounding out the top five countries of origin.
Still, even before the lockdown for Covid 19 began, fashion insiders have already observed that there is a disconnect between the retail calendar and the fashion seasons.
Some even said that the fashion system is broken. Summer garments are sold in February, which is the middle of winter; fall clothes are sold in May, which is still springtime, even before the start of summer.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, according to New York-based designer Zang Toi and Paris-based International Artistic consultant Henri Joli, an expert in fashion, public relations and global development.