What’s been happening since March 2020 in the world of clothing…and where to from here?

Let’s start with the time of social isolation. Pyjamas bottoms were a go-to look. Many a zoom attendee admitted that while the top seen on screen was smart, the bottoms off-screen were PJs. Comfort was what we craved, and it was great for our wellbeing. We still shopped online, with some brands reporting up to an 80% increase on normal sales. But what we bought reflected our new reality. We wanted to pamper ourselves.  Shoppers ordered cosy pyjamas and slippers. The e-tailer also saw increases in relaxed activewear and effortless pieces that have been comfortable to wear around home, from loose pants to hoodies.

But what’s happening as we transition back into the world beyond WFH? Will we pick up the sort of shopping habits that we did before – that drove buyers to purchase 80 billion garments a year? Or will that I-need-a-new-dress-for-Friday-night thing, the shopping-for-entertainment thing, the idea of an “It” bag or a “must have” feel frivolous, unimportant, and unnecessary? It seems investment items will be high on the list, whether a great coat, a pair of timeless boots or a statement piece. It’s now about access to beauty, longevity, integrity and things that are meaningful.

The question is, how do we invest in better pieces with tighter budgets? The economic slowdown is affecting our wallets. The answer, is it’s now very chic to repeat! With all the time we had on our hands, we got to survey what we owned, and put it back into circulation – in our lives, or someone else’s life. Imagine the collections coming your way!

If you haven’t already, think about smartly whittling down what’s in your wardrobe, keep what you cherish, and move on what you’re ready to part with. The notion of wearing something only a few times is old-fashioned, and it’s clear in everyone’s consciousnesses that purchases should have a longer life. It makes sense to spend more on a quality classic, unique piece that works with much of your wardrobe, than on the one-occasion dress. The dollar per wear wants to be low. The new context is: wardrobe curation replaces trends.

As we all know, clothing can bring pleasure, but it shouldn’t be a passing moment of pleasure, it’s time to make more memories in the things we own.

There has been a “quarantine of consumption”. And, the big realisation has been that we need much less than we ever thought we did, and we need to think harder about what we do consume — including what we wear. We’re not even halfway through 2020, but the new decade has so far demanded a radical and urgent rethink of how fashion is manufactured and consumed. Ambitious efforts to tackle waste, from renting clothes to shopping sustainable labels only, were already driving change pre-COVID19, but this reset has been the waste-conscious wake-up call we’d all been waiting for.

Fashion was broken even before the pandemic, and a reboot is just what it needs. They say, fashion, as a business, has been an unsustainable lie. Not all of it, but much of it. It didn’t start that way, but observers say that’s what it ultimately became. It’s been an industry of smoke and mirrors, where, for years, designers spun whimsical garments to tantalise the imagination that mostly didn’t sell. It was their more pragmatic styles that did. Bricks-and-mortar retailers opened outlet after outlet, and e-commerce expanded its reach, all while discounting merchandise that customers refused to buy until it was discounted even more, because…

Most everyone had learned to shop by the mantra: Never pay full price.

Now, for so many domino-effect reasons, the fashion cycle has come to an abrupt halt and the industry is trying to work out what needs to be discarded and what can be salvaged. Some big-picture remedies under consideration include reducing the number of runway shows and the volume of clothing that’s produced, delivering garments to stores in-season rather than months early, marking down merchandise only twice a year and even abolishing the discounting feeding frenzy of Black Friday.

What’s been happening in Australia? The Australian fast-fashion industry has inevitably been hit by COVID19, forcing it to look at a slower future. The crisis struck at a time of growing concern about the environmental impact of fast-fashion and Australian designers were already up against lower consumer spending. And, this change has required a fast-fashion re-think – a reset. Besides consumers reducing their shopping activity due to social distancing, negative consumer sentiment and declining discretionary incomes are discouraging them from spending, even online.

The fast-fashion industry is struggling. This was shown in the results of a survey released recently by the industry’s peak body, the Australian Fashion Council (AFC). AFC found only 1 in 3 of its members was confident of riding out the COVID19 shutdowns, and 84% had been left with excess stock.

The AFC represents 182 companies (boutique to high-end design houses), and it found 43% said they were not confident they’d rebound financially, 34% were confident they would bounce back, and the remaining 23% were certain they would never recover.

So, what will this wake-up call look like in terms of clothing? Many labels are poised to embrace seasonless collections, and for a generation who have prioritised low-cost secondhand clothes over low-cost new clothes, modern fashion’s clock has been beautifully scrambled.

All those variations on vintage themes on social media, from ’80s silk scarves worn as tops, home-knitted cardigans, and the return of the flared jeans, mean fashion trends are far more abstract. In reality, the blend of meaningful handmade and hand-me-down pieces, alongside considered quality preloved purchases, offers a future where individual curation carries more weight than any must-wear trend. When markets get to reopen, it’s going to be a fabulous time for preloved clothing shoppers!

A magical mash of articles by: #getyourgreens BY Dana Thomas April 2020; Michaela Boland and Mary Lloyd April 2020; Julia Hobbs May 2020; and Robin Givhan June 2020

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