How will you dress?
“Buy less, choose well, make it last”
Let’s not waste this crisis. If it’s true that every cloud has a silver lining, the pandemic that has ruthlessly travelled the world, terrorising all governments and almost destroying the global economy might have left a positive legacy. Surely, the teaching we can learn is that the world as we’ve always known it is much more fragile and small than we imagined. In a very short period of time any paradigm we took for granted and we adopted daily has been completely upset, and we have realised how the human being can adapt to almost anything, even to what only a few months ago would have been deemed as impossible. The partial deprivation of personal freedom, the closure of all commercial activities, the social distancing, the compulsory covering of the face, the impossibility to access places without orderly queuing will be impressed in our memory for a long time, and it is unthinkable that all we have faced hasn’t left an indelible mark in our soul, uprooting absolute certainties, indisputable dogmas and ingrained habits.
In the course of the gradual restart activated country by country, our sector too, i.e. the fashion system, will necessarily have to deal with a market that has been radically changed by this experience, and the professionals of the field are looking around bewildered as never before, in search of answers to questions they had never had to ask themselves.
The market will probably naturally resume its rhythm, even if it’s going to be a step-by-step process, not an impulsive one.
During the lockdown, we have all probably realised that we have filled our wardrobes with much more than we actually need and that we could easily not have bought many of the items. It is therefore reasonable to imagine that customers (‘consumers’ is a word that will soon become obsolete because this archetype is now perceived as vulgar) will experience a different kind of shopping, more careful, based on a more informed selective process, on deeper reflections and, I’m guessing, with a presumption of being more relevant in the choice of the product, with a request for a more immersive involvement than before, and with a desire to choose a product understanding everything that hides behind the sparkling windows of the most beautiful shops in the world.
It’s not a completely new process, but Covid-19 has certainly accelerated and widely spread it, the same as it has done with remote working and online selling.
Detoxified, by law, from compulsive consumerism, we’ll probably go back to shopping with new eyes and we will expect more than before: more competence from the assistants, more perceivable intrinsic value in the product, more respect and readiness when contacting a post-sale customer support service and, certainly, more credibility from the brands.
To put it simply, or better, if you love synthesis, we’ll demand to perceive a true company culture.
Brands will have to deal with a new world, and the culture, a new world culture, will have to become their focus for them not to disappear from the radar of a more demanding market looking for immaterial qualities.
Buying will definitely be done more consciously due to a general lower income level and the awareness raised by a situation never faced before, which has made humanity more frail. The brands with a strong identity and a glorious history, representative of strong ethical, environmental and social values, will probably be the ones less penalised by the buying choices of the near future, since they guarantee stability and certainty, as well as attention to our planet.
It will be necessary for all of us to focus on the quality of the product and on a consistent professionalism of the customer service representatives; the most precious asset the brands will have to protect is the creativity on which fashion itself is based, broadly intended as an intrinsic value of the goods produced.
Technology and online sales might represent a big opportunity for brands able to properly seize it, and if it is true that e-commerce won’t make physical shops disappear, it will definitely force us to rethink the modalities of mass distribution in general. There’ll be fewer shops, but they will have to be revolutionised into centres of amplification of the brand’s culture, becoming the main ambassadors of their values and advisors for their customers.
Who is only going to be a mere alternative to the online service, without offering an added value compared to the option of receiving a parcel with three clicks, will have an uncertain future.
The change in progress is epochal for wholesale too. In this area of business too, Covid-19 has accelerated a transformation that was already hushedly happening, imposing a social distancing completely antithetical to the modalities we were used to and which had governed the sector since its inception. The rush to set up digital showrooms is a phenomenon that will bring a radical change in this field. Presenting collections on digital platforms through 360-degree videos and images will allow professionals in the sector to manage their buying activity in a less stressful and more scientific way and companies to avoid expensive travelling in a constant chase of the next fashion week.
These new instruments will inevitably lead to a rethinking of the concept of fashion week, which, subject to a centrifugal force, will cease to be an essential event unless it modifies its vocation by welcoming not only a public of professionals, but adding a place at the table to accommodate the end consumers, with the consequent seasonal translation that will make the ‘see now buy now’ a driving force rather than a concept destined to failure.
Accordingly, shows will turn into more celebratory events combining the now (seasonal products) with history (the so-called heritage), promoting values, not only products, or products with value, necessarily overcoming the functionality of the traditional commercial dynamics of the sector.
The spectators of these new shows will therefore be the same customers that, in the past, didn’t have access to this type of events, conceived and dedicated only to journalists and professionals from the sector. This might create a new connection between the public and the brands, achievable only through an empathy with the taste, of course, but also with the corporate values the brand decides to represent and share.
In the wake of this paradigmatic revolution, the need for a productive culture based on efficiency and ethics (and not on the sclerotic presentation of collections) will trigger a change towards a more rational management of the operational timings of the sector, with a consequent saving of resources previously wasted in alternating moments of low and high artisan and industrial productivity, questioning, in a process that had already gradually started, seasonality, the umpteenth formerly untouchable dogma of our supply chain.
We’ll also assist to the shortening of that chain that used to be represented by the canonical links customer-shop-agent-brand-licensee-producer-fashionist, which will either immediately or gradually become a direct relationship between customer and brand thanks to online selling and to the centralist and acquisitive attitude of the most important brands.
It’s probably an irreversible process.
This mechanism will, or should, lead the value chain to become beneficial both to the customer, through an increase in the intrinsic value of the goods and their perceivable quality, and to the brand, shared – more or less equally depending on the decision makers – among the stockholder and their collaborators, also generating for the most virtuous ones a visible improvement in the work conditions of the employees involved in the productive process, usually the most weakly represented, as well as those in managerial and distribution roles.
The economy of the future will require brands to place the focus of their attention on their customers, who will have to be recognised as their most important and strategic variable asset, since customers govern the whole depth of their area of business. For this reason, they will have to make sure they build with them a more and more loyal and faithful rapport.
This tsunami can only be survived by those retailers who have always made research and set trends, and who manage their activity with culture, passion, competence, sensibility, taste, experience and professionalism; elements that can’t be replaced by an algorithm, at least in the immediate future, and that are often neglected in the maximalist development of the ‘touch and go’ distribution chains, which are probably going to be the ones that will suffer most from the epochal changes in progress.
Time will tell. If I had to imagine how we will dress in the near future, I’d say that we will do it with more freedom, with more attention than before and with increasing awareness; and I’m sure that these choices, which any of us will be able to carry out with more or less incisiveness or immediacy, will affect when, how and where we’ll buy.
Our role, in a customer-centred economy, is in fact central.
Let’s not forget that.