Designer Prabal Gurung, Farfetch CEO José Neves, CFDA’s Steven Kolb, and Vestiaire Collective’s Clara Chappaz offer a preview of upcoming seasons.
Every September for the past 10 years, designer Prabal Gurung has unveiled his latest creations at New York Fashion Week. “A fashion show is rather magical,” he says. “For six months, we go through the arduous and exciting process of creating. And for 10 minutes, we share that energy and emotion with the world. ”
But not this year. As the pandemic raged across the United States, Gurung — like many other designers — made the painful decision to cancel his show. The few designers who pushed forward — such as Jason Wu and Rebecca Minkoff — showed their collections in cavernous, sparsely filled spaces. “It was unlike any fashion week before, with the exception of September 11th,” says Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
t wasn’t just that the glamour, celebrity, and theater of NYFW had disappeared. Kolb points out that there were also financial consequences: no buyers to place orders, or magazine editors to drum up excitement about upcoming trends. Over the last six months, COVID-19 has pummeled the $2.5 trillion global fashion industry. With nowhere to go and unemployment on the rise, consumers have lost interest in buying clothes and shoes.
McKinsey predicts that the sector will contract by up to 30% this year compared to last; the luxury market will be hit even harder, contracting by up to 39%. Many across the global fashion supply chain have already been hurt, from the garment workers who have been laid off to designers stuck with piles of unsold inventory.
At the same time, however, many industry insiders believe that the pandemic could be a rare opportunity for the industry to reset itself. Designers are using this moment to start selling products online and connect with customers more directly. They’re thinking about how to rebuild the supply chain in a more ethical, sustainable way, to end the cycle of overconsumption and overproduction. “The rules were set in the industry a century ago, and we’re still following them,” Gurung says. “This pandemic has allowed us to reimagine everything.”
The Digital Imperative
The pandemic has forced designers to rethink how they reach customers. Since the beginning of American fashion, labels have sold their clothes through department stores and boutiques. But over the past decade, as brick-and-mortar retail has been on the decline, this has been an increasingly losing strategy. When pandemic-related lockdowns went into effect in March, these retailers were dealt yet another blow. With little revenue coming in, many were driven to the verge of collapse. Iconic brands such as Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus have declared bankruptcy. This affected designers, who were stuck with piles of unsold inventory at the end of the season. “American designers aren’t part of big conglomerates like LVMH or Kering,” says Kolb. “We’re an industry of small brands that don’t have access to big resources or teams. This contributed to a lack of preparedness for a crisis like this.”
At the end of the day, the consumer is the one we need to talk to.”