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Wednesday, 04 November 2020 13:23

ChicGeek Comment How Will Fashion Wake?

how will fashion wake post covidHibernation, coma, mothballed; however you want to label it, fashion would have been in a very deep sleep before all of this is over. Even if we’re being optimistic, and life returns to a sense of normality in the spring, it would have been nearly a full year of disruption. Fashion would continue to be affected well into 2021, without fashion and trade shows in at that time to show AW22 and and we would be not fully back to normal until spring 2022 at the earliest, when the fashion cycle would have resumed.

Left - Sleeping Beauty woke up to something good, but what about fashion?

In the classic fairytale, when the princess was cursed to sleep for a hundred years she was awakened by a handsome prince, but what will be waiting for ‘fashion’ and what state or style will it be in?

Let’s recap where we were at the beginning of this disaster. All the Kering brands - Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga - were flying. Gucci was slowing but still steaming ahead and was hopeful on becoming the world’s largest luxury brand. Bottega Veneta was gaining momentum and hype was translating into sales.

At LVMH, Louis Vuitton was still the major cash cow, Dior seemed to be doing well in sales rather than critical success and Celine was doing a stealth commercialism which, I’m sure, was being reflected in sales and exactly what Slimane was hired for and what he did previously at Saint Laurent. The main style was a mix of Gucci’s dress-up maximalism and embellishment and contemporary sportswear based on fugly chunky trainers and overpriced loungewear.

So, what can we predict for the future?

It might be worth casting an eye back in history. We’re told by the Bank of England boffins that this will be biggest recession in 300 years. Based on the bank's own best estimate and historical data, the coronavirus crisis could push the British economy into the fastest and deepest recession not seen since the huge economic slump of 1706 and the Great Frost of 1709. This was a baroque period at the beginning of Georgian Britain when fashion designers became more recognisable and fashion magazines appeared for the first time. While we’re too far away to know the minutiae of hemline changes, but it was certainly the beginning of a new era of British style and design.

The most popular comparison has been with Spanish Flu in 1918-19. After that came the Roaring Twenties, one of the most modern and dynamic decades of the 20th century. After WWII we got Christian Dior’s New Look. And while it was a feminine look back, it propelled fashion forward into the next decade and was hugely influential.

China luxury fashion gdp

The troubles of the 1970s gave us punk and the recession of the early 90s was reflected in American Grunge.

The most recent 2008 financial crash was all about the rise of China, and, undoubtedly, the growth in billon dollar brands and the associated logos and status.

Right - GDP growth of the world's three biggest economies - USA, Japan & China

While this is all simplistic, it offers some form of hope.

During the 20th century many economists cited the 'Hemline Theory'. It being the current fashion’s skirt length are a predictor of stock market direction. According to the theory, if short skirts are growing in popularity, it means the markets are going to go up.

Probably lucky everybody is wearing tracksuits right now.

And then there’s the ‘Lipstick Effect’, which is when consumers still spend money on small indulgences during recessions, economic downturns. For this reason, companies that benefit from the lipstick effect tend to be resilient even during economic downturns.

Market research firm Kline found evidence for the lipstick effect through four recessions from 1973 to 2001. Though during the financial crisis of 2008 lipstick sales dipped disproving this theory. Add a face mask and it doesn’t look like lipstick sales will be picking up anytime soon...

So, where does that leave any predictions post-COVID?

Here goes:

1) China will dominate even more. GDP Annual Growth Rate in China averaged 9.23 percent from 1989 until 2020. China’s gross domestic product expanded by 4.9 percent over the third quarter of 2020 on rising trade and consumption. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is “putting China’s economy back toward its pre-coronavirus trajectory half a year after the pandemic gutted its economy.” Brands are using China and Asia to currently support their businesses and as such more products will be tailored to these markets. China will fuel the growth in ‘Power Brands’ owned by the big groups and events like the Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition opening in Shanghai, following its success in Paris and London, will help to further educate and create this branding magic within this market.

2) Fashion will be more woke when it wakes, but the progress we were making on greening fashion will slow as many firms fight for survival and any expensive new initiatives will be put on the back burner. This is a fight for survival so we’ll see inexpensive greenwashing.

3) We’ll see a whole raft of new start-ups in the middle of next year, to launch later on that year, or in 2022. Many will be kitchen table brands with a strong and individual personality behind them.

4) Local will continue to be a focus and we’ll see more ‘luxury’ Bond Street type brands consider smaller stores in affluent neighbourhoods and design them in a less international and generic style and more of the locale.

5) They’ll be a slower reaction to the bad quality of most ‘luxury’ fashion, which will further fuel ‘fast fashion’.

On a purely aesthetic level, will people continue to want the escapist approach from brands like Gucci and what we saw during the glam 1970s downturn, or will we see a more austere and minimal look mirroring the rise in unemployment and shrinking of people’s disposable incomes? Well just have to see. Whatever happens it can't be too literal or obvious. The consumer is more sophisticated than that.

Fashion is too big now to follow the dictatorial approach of hemlines and lipsticks theories of the previous century. But, what is positive is the desire for consumption. That hasn't gone anyway. While remaining, big brands will try and monopolise for a while, we’ll see fast growing start-ups, from the most unexpected of places, give them a run for their money in a less competitive landscape which will have plenty of scope for growth due to brands disappearing.

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working from home windfall COVID 19Money greases the wheels of our consumerist society. Without this continual flow of finance the economy contracts and many people lose their livelihoods, especially in retail.

It is completely natural, and prudent, to want to save in periods of uncertainty. Talk of entering the worst recession for over 300 years would make even the most optimistic of people think twice about a big purchase or being frivolous with their cash.

COVID 19 has been a tale of two working economies; those, generally, white collar workers working from home, whose wages weren’t affected, saving money on travel and lunches, and those reliant on these workers being made redundant or having their hours reduced. Many workers on furlough have been in an economic form of limbo, and while they have not seen most of their income disappear, this is quickly coming to an end and some will be made redundant. Many of these jobs will not be deemed ‘viable’ in the short term.

Left - Results of website loveMONEY poll

A small poll by the website loveMONEY, in June, found readers say their finances have actually improved under lockdown. A remarkable 23% said they were significantly better off, while the biggest amount, 36%, said things had improved slightly.

At the other end of the scale, 13%, more than one in eight, reported that their finances had been hammered since the lockdown came into effect, while a similar percentage (14%) said they were slightly worse off. Finally, 14% of respondents said their bank balance looked largely the same at the end of each month.

The vast majority of people spent less during lockdown because they had less things to spend money on and most not leaving the house.

According to a study by AA Financial Services, 85% of UK adults spent less during lockdown. The average Brit saved (per month) £49 a month on petrol, £57 by not going to pubs or restaurants, £53 by not going to shops, and significant savings in other areas, totalling £617 a month on average for those still receiving their full income.

The report also found that 31% of people with savings accounts had increased their monthly deposits since the start of lockdown. This was confirmed by Bank of England data, which found that personal bank deposits had grown by three times the recent average. The Bank revealed that consumer debt was down by £7.4 billion, to just half the level seen in February. Those who are benefiting from excess income are in many cases using their spare money to pay down debts, while choosing not to take out new loans due to increased uncertainty.

According to Aviva, women seem to have been affected more strongly with 38% of women vs 29% of men saying they have less money to spare at the end of the month than they did pre-lockdown. This could be due to the types of jobs women do, like part time and in customer-facing roles.

Young adults have also been hit hard. Almost a third of 25- to 34-year-olds (32%) are concerned about their ability to save. This age group is also the most worried about losing their job due the impact of COVID-19 (28%).

Aviva Head of Savings and Retirement Alistair McQueen says: “Female savers look to have been disproportionately affected during the lockdown, as workers in sectors like hospitality and retail are more likely to be younger females. Younger people across the board also face a significant challenge. Those under 34 typically struggle to save under normal circumstances, but the current conditions have exacerbated this. For example, this age group typically spends a greater proportion of their budget on housing, and bills, which remains unchanged.”

In August, there was a big government push to get white collar workers back to the office. Then a recent u-turn, telling people to work from home again with positive COVID 19 cases rising. Many commuters don’t want to go back to that lifestyle and it’s easy to understand why.

DJ Sinfield @BigSino on Twitter said, “I am WORKING from home. I am saving £500+ a month and getting an extra 3 hours a day family time. This money and time is being spent at farm shops, local butchers etc and not Southeastern Trains. Why would I want to go back to commuting? Why?”

John Bye @_johnbye said, “The fact is many of us have enjoyed working from home, and companies have realised they're wasting money on big offices they don't really need. I save £300 a month and 2.5 hours a day by not commuting. Why would I want to go back to a London office full time?” and Paul Chapman @Paul_C-Chapman said, “I am saving around £30/day on rail fares and food, I have 3 hours/day of my life back, I have a much better work/life balance and my health is better. Why on earth would I want to go back to daily commuting?”

With interest rates dropping like a stone for savings, for example, the government backed NS&I just reduced its ‘Income Bond’ from a paltry 1.16% to an almost zero 0.01%, the incentive to save has been reduced. What we need is people to spend our way into a U shaped recovery. We need the people, on the positive side of the COVID recession, with this additional monthly money, to spend it.

This is a call to arms for work-from-homers to spend. It’s not about people spend their savings, it is also not about people spending more money than they would usually, it’s about those with this worker windfall - what they would have otherwise have spent on lunch and travel etc.- to inject that into the economy. It’s tempting to save it, but it’s money they wouldn’t have had on a monthly basis.

Put it into retail and services worth supporting, and retailers and brands they don’t want to see disappear and are rewarded with their custom. This isn’t about lazily rewarding shops or travel companies that aren’t very good or really are past their peak, it’s about supporting new or established businesses which resonate with you and make or provide great services or products.

It could be ethical or green products or services. It could be new business, crowd funding and start-ups. Look at it like an investment in the future you want to see. It’s time to put this bonus money to good use. 

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