Pandemic shakes up fashion
Sustainability rules as consumers rethink their priorities.
16 April 2021
The fashion world thrives on change, with looks coming into and going out of fashion continually but change has gone into overdrive over the past year.
As the fashion world continues to react to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new paradigm is emerging within the industry. Experts revealed the changes and opportunities at three fashion-related webinars held at the HKTDC International Sourcing Show | ONLINE last month.
In the webinar “The Perfect Storm: Future-Proofing Your Fashion Business”, Michael Ho, Marketing & Brand Partnerships Manager at Hong Kong-based retail fashion platform ZALORA, said 2020 had been a year of expansion. Thanks to more brands setting up shopfronts on ZALORA, the product categories carried by the platform expanded from fashion to luxury, beauty and lifestyle.
Mr Ho said with consumers unable to travel during the pandemic, sales at many of the physical stores of global brands have plummeted. This prompted brands to seek new sales channels, with ZALORA an attractive choice. For ZALORA, this development helped cover fashion-sales losses and boosted consumers’ average order frequency from three times a year to 3.3 times a year. The company’s fourth-quarter 2020 figures showed sales on ZALORA’s Hong Kong platform surged 60%, with further growth expected in 2021.
The seminar also featured CASETiFY, a brand known for its smartphone cases and tech accessories, opened five physical shops in Hong Kong last year despite the adverse economic conditions and achieved remarkable sales. “When there is a need in the market, we address it,” said Harvey Mok, Senior Vice President of Business Development at CASETiFY. He added that the brand released an ultraviolet sanitiser for smartphones and reusable cotton face masks last year to address customers’ safety concerns.
Hong Kong consumers were shopping online but still missed travelling and visiting physical stores, Mr Mok noted. Accordingly, CASETiFY offered experiential purchases at its shops, decorating each one differently to provide a unique consumer experience while allowing customers to try out smartphone cases and buy in-store or online. Mr Mok believed this “try offline, buy online” model will continue after the pandemic and that the two sales models can complement each other.
“Many people in Hong Kong are hesitant about spending HK$400 [US$51] on a smartphone case. But once they try our case in a store, they will be convinced of its value over a HK$40 case,” said Mr Mok, adding that this will directly increase their desire to buy.
Speaking at the “What’s In for Fashion: Sustainability is the New Normal?” webinar, Edwin Keh, CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), noted that the pandemic has changed the sentiment of many industry practitioners and consumers. They have gone from focusing purely on aesthetics to emphasising comfort and safety, and have also become more discerning about the materials used and the manufacturing process employed.
Mr Keh said consumers, in the face of the pandemic and the world’s mounting environmental problems, are participating more in creating solutions, which is helpful to companies conducting research and development (R&D) on different materials.
The speaker showed the audience some HKRITA-developed materials to illustrate how R&D in materials can address the needs of both the market and society. These include a material that can absorb carbon dioxide from the ambient environment and another made from post-consumer waste that feels like cotton to the touch.
Asked if only large companies can afford the resources to innovate, Mr Keh said organisations of all sizes can play a role in tackling the sustainability challenge. “A lot of innovations are coming from small start-ups that have great ideas. There is nothing wrong with being small, but one must make sure that the innovation can be adapted to the marketplace,” he said.
Global fashion retailer H&M, also represented at the seminar, explained its circular-economy approach. Malin Lundahl, Sustainability Manager of H&M Greater China, said that as the population continued to grow, H&M must become 100% circular in order to sustain its success.
To change the phenomenon that most clothes end up in the landfill, Ms Lundahl said H&M seeks to turn products that have reached the end of their lives into resources for something new. The company therefore encourages customers to bring used clothes to its stores, and H&M will take care of collection and recycling. This is part of the brand’s strategy is to engage customers and invite them to contribute to sustainability as they shop, Ms Lundahl added.
“Our goal is to use only recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030, and we passed the halfway point in 2019 when we reached 57%,” said Ms Lundahl.
For example, she said, 20% of the jeans the brand produces are made from recycled cotton, saving 1,000 litres of water producing each pair. H&M has also developed a material called Desserto, which is made from cactus and can be used as a vegan alternative to leather. The brand’s products are fitted with hang tags showing materials used in the products.
Minimalistic and soothing
Another International Sourcing Show | ONLINE webinar, “The Visionary Fashion Trends: Lifestyle and Retail”, explored how the separation and loss many people experienced in 2020 will affect fashion.
Michael Leow, Asia/Pacific Sales & Marketing Head at trend forecaster Fashion Snoops, said the four key trends they identified for spring/summer 2022 are all related to restoration of humanity and morality.
The first theme is “essential”, Mr Leow said. As countries went into lockdown, people went through separation and craved intimacy, meaningful relationships and protection. Consumers are shifting towards a simplicity of choice and a quest towards “less but better”.
The second theme is “nourish”. In addition to health, consumers cherish the well-being of their mind and soul. Consequently, there needs to be more human-centred designs with soothing colours that calm the senses without being too sweet.
The third theme is “liberate”, reflecting people’s desire to be free of pandemic-induced restrictions. Accordingly, brands should provide tools that proactively empower customers to contribute to social and creative issues. This leads to the last theme of “rebirth”. With people becoming increasingly concerned for the environment, brands will need to demonstrate their commitment towards issues such as sustainability and fair trade.
At the webinar, trend and consumer taste forecasting agency Trendstop predicted 50% of fashion businesses and jobs may disappear in the next five years with the changing post-pandemic business landscape.
“Having a great brand does not guarantee success. The product must be perfect and match the tastes of consumers,” remarked Trendstop’s CEO Jaana Jatyri.
Ms Jatyri cited the example of a famous brand that released a star-patterned clothing item that did not sell despite its good quality. A simple search on Trendstop’s online platform showed that the last time a star pattern trended was five years ago, which explained why the product did not become popular.
She suggested fashion suppliers use trend data to understand the colours, prints and graphics, materials, shapes and detailing that are coming into fashion.
“This way, everyone can produce only items that consumers will want to buy and not waste time, money or resources on creating products that are not going to sell,” she said. “This is also better for the planet and can avoid unwanted products ending up in the landfill or having to be burned.”
- Garments, Textiles & Accessories
- Hong Kong