Keeping a distance: in times of corona, lockdowns, contact restrictions and stores that have temporarily closed or are limiting access have become part of everyday life all around the globe. At the same time, a lot of people are spending more hours in front of their screens – and that is in addition to the time spent working online from home. Which means that, in a matter of weeks, digital sales channels, also for the global fashion industry, have become more relevant than ever before.
This is not a new phenomenon, of course: even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, e-commerce, social media and digital solutions at the point of sale had been shaking up traditional retail structures. This development should now pick up speed considerably as the retail sector needs to focus more on online channels to even reach consumers in the first place. At the moment, no one can say how long the pandemic will last. Even though the situation is easing somewhat, it will take time to get used to a ‘new normal’: social distancing could remain in place and consumers might even continue avoiding large gatherings in city centres.
The digital transformation in the fashion industry is demanding that companies change their mindset and begin to operate like purely digital players. That is one of the central takeaways from the recently published “Coronavirus Update” to “The State of Fashion” study by McKinsey and Business of Fashion: “Rather than asking what benefits online can offer offline channels, players should ask how their brick-and-mortar presence can support e-commerce sales.” To make the most of future opportunities, companies not only need to invest more in existing digital capabilities but also find pioneering new ways of engaging with consumers online.
At the same time, the digitalisation of retail offers opportunities to further drive forward the topic of sustainability: Neonyt exhibitor Staiy, for example, has launched the first online retail platform that offers sustainable brands only. Staiy evaluates the eco-credentials of the brands based on five criteria: their water consumption and air pollution during the manufacturing process, the materials they use, their working conditions and their social and ecological commitment. And they also use artificial intelligence to recommend personalised styles to their customers.
Digital solutions help the retailers themselves – online or offline – to integrate sustainability into their offer more easily. This is being demonstrated by Katag AG, Europe’s largest fashion service provider. As explained by Chairman of the Management Board Dr Daniel Terberger at the last Fashionsustain conference in Berlin: “As a platform between retailers and manufacturers, we want to create transparency about what the most important fashion brands are doing in terms of sustainability.” That is why Katag assesses brands in a standardised way – in terms of their supply chains, standards, the types of dyes they use etc. – and provides specialist retailers with all of this information in a database.
So it seems that the tides are turning in fashion retail. And if, as a result of the coronavirus, not only digitalisation but also the development towards more sustainability do actually gain ground, then at least one positive aspect would have emerged from the current crisis.
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Image: Christin Hume
 McKinsey & The Business of Fashion, “The State of Fashion 2020: Coronavirus Update”: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/its-time-to-rewire-the-fashion-system-state-of-fashion-coronavirus-update
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