With a global pandemic, a presidential election and social unrest, fashion doesn’t seem to be the general population’s main focus.
Yet, along with various other industries, the fashion industry is drastically changing due to the 2020 chaos.
“There’s a lot of people in the industry that have either been laid off or furloughed,” Lisa Williams, associate professor of instruction at Ohio University, said.
Williams is spending her semester attending a webinar series with the National Retail Federation to learn how COVID-19 is impacting the fashion industry. Layoffs and furloughs are one of the most-discussed topics, as well as the impact on the supply chain.
“In some regions where things are produced and things were shut down, they weren’t able to produce what they needed to produce,” Williams said. “Plus, now that the consumer is—(like) a lot of us are—home and working, we’re not buying those clothing items that we would’ve bought for work.”
Manufacturers on the supply chain have reduced the amount of product they make. However, on the flip side, there’s been a drastic uptick of casual, comfortable clothing that people wear for working from home; that’s one market that’s seen an increase.
Overall, Williams has tracked that people are buying less and haven’t been increasing their wardrobes; instead, they’re wearing what they have.
Part of this has to do with safety of shopping in stores. Williams sees a strong preference for shopping in-person setting versus ordering online, simply because of the complex return process for online orders.
Consumers feeling less safe shopping in-person has contributed to purchasing habits decreasing altogether.
“I think there’s been a decline in overall fashion consumption,” Williams said.
Tacy Greenwood, an OU graduate with a degree in retail merchandising and fashion product development, has felt unmotivated to get dressed up and has adopted the comfortable clothing trend during the pandemic.
“I’m not leaving my house unless I’m going to work, so I don’t really feel the need to get dressed up,” Greenwood said. “Which is a little sad, because it’s one of my favorite things to do. A few times, me and my roommates have just gotten dressed up for no reason, because we feel like we need to be creative a little bit right now.”
Greenwood agrees with Williams about the headache and safety precautions from shopping in a store. She believes that online retailers are seeing a lot of success right now; however, that comes at the detriment of struggling local retailers who don’t have that option.
Another concern Greenwood carries is that major companies that hire students with her degree are hemorrhaging with layoffs and lack of hires. It’s been difficult for students to get a job in the industry’s current climate, she said.
In terms of the future, Aeden Grothaus, a junior studying retail merchandising and fashion product development, believes people will be more inclined to choose sustainable solutions that are both practical and formal.
“We focus our mindset to explain rates like consumption and production to more focusing on the actual product itself,” Grothaus said. “We’re realizing that we can slow down at times when it comes to fashion, and not everything has to be completely shoved out, as far as fast-fashion goes.”
Greenwood believes people will be itching to buy new clothes when stores reopen and the pandemic’s severity subsides. Williams believes the industry will see both: a spike in fashionable styles and a continuation into comfortable clothing.
“I think people have decided ‘Hey, I don’t need to wear these really uncomfortable items to work,’” Williams said. “Maybe there will be some revolution into making things a little more comfortable – more stretchy and all that but also have a professional look. But people are starting to dress up even on Zoom and Teams for work, because they’re tired of being at home and being in sweats … They’re actually wanting to get back to that feeling of being at work. I think when this is over, there will be a lot of people wanting to switch out wardrobes because they’re sick of what they had to stay in for months and months.”
Williams, Grothaus and Greenwood believe in the importance of supporting the fashion industry right now, even just something as simple as buying a gift card for loved ones for the holidays. They feel that something as simple as dressing up for Zoom or utilizing fashion-at-home can improve attitudes.
“The fashion industry is not just a retailer and a store – there are so many other components that go into it that when one of those components is restricted, it just affects the entire chain,” Williams said. “The whole industry is so connected with each other and globally.”