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Has COVID-19 turned fashion into an endangered retail species? - RetailWire

Apr 14, 2020

Nikki Baird

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the blog of Nikki Baird, VP of retail innovation at Aptos. The article first appeared on Forbes.com.

Outside of travel and leisure, no industry will be more affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than non-essential retail, and in that category, no vertical will be impacted more than fashion.

The only apparel that could be argued to be essential might be kids’ clothes and maternity wear. Kids and bellies grow. Everything else can wait.

Fashion isn’t going to come back fast, either:

  • All the wrong inventory. Everything stuck in stores right now is pre-Easter. That all has to go in order to make room for summer, back-to-school and even winter seasons.
  • Hard-to-get quantities of the “right” inventory. The supply chain is frozen, with retailers canceling brand orders and brands canceling factory orders. Key production centers such as Indonesia and Malaysia are just feeling COVID-19’s impact. Cash flow crunches all along the supply chain, coupled with wild uncertainty for the future of demand and supply, means brands have to operate very conservatively. Yet if too conservative, will they have anything to refuel the cash tanks during the holidays to power the spending they need to make in 2021?
  • Distribution channels at risk. Department stores like J.C. Penney and Macy’s were already in precarious shape pre-pandemic and any major exit will put more pressure on other retailers’ ability to clear old inventory. Some brands haven’t taken direct-to-consumer seriously, and that will have to change — and fast. If the wholesale market for fashion collapses, how much time will they have to ramp up a direct-to-consumer model on the scale to make up the difference?

To compound these issues, staggering unemployment figures mean discretionary income just took an enormous hit. Most fashion brands are also too large to qualify for the paycheck protection program, and other relief for them has yet to be defined.

A vaccine, a surge in testing and aid programs that additionally bolster consumer spending may yet offer some hope. In the meantime, however, just like you’re buying takeout to help support your favorite restaurant, buy something if you can from a fashion brand you love. They may not make it past this next holiday season.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How will the pandemic reset the fashion marketplace? What particular challenges do fashion brands that rely on traditional wholesale channels face in their recovery efforts?


"What the final shape of fashion will be is unclear to me. Cheaper than luxury, but more durable than fast fashion for sure."

"People will always want to express themselves through clothing, so the apparel sector isn’t at risk for going extinct."

"All in all, the brands that are still around will be the ones that see the crisis as an opportunity to re-invent themselves for the new normal."



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