COVID-19’s effect on the fashion industry

Renee Minus White | 4/30/2020, midnight
Fashinnovation held its first virtual Worldwide Talk April 20-21, with a focus on COVID-19’s effect on the fashion industry.
FIT’s Jacqueline Jenkins, co-author of “Fashion Supply Chain Management,” at the Fashinnovation conference Renee Minus White/A Time To Style photo

Fashinnovation held its first virtual Worldwide Talk April 20-21, with a focus on COVID-19’s effect on the fashion industry. Open to the public and with thousands of registered attendees, the conference featured panelists, speakers and guests who shared opinions, thoughts and suggestions that addressed sustainability, ethics and leadership in the fashion industry going forward.

Founded by Marcelos and Jordana Guimarae in 2018, Fashinnovation brings international business leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs and fashion designers together to inspire and ignite conversations that lead to revolutionary changes within the industry.

As 106,000 viewers from around the globe watched and listened simultaneously via Zoom, Jordana Guimaraes graciously introduced each of the summit’s segments and panelists. Throughout the two-day event, there were several distinguished keynote speakers.

“New technologies must flourish. When we choose our clothes, we choose the future,” stated guest panelist Susan Rockefeller. “Clothes are for our protection…. We must rethink and reload our lives. Saving the planet begins at breakfast. Venice has recently reported crystal clear waters. The climate and environment must be considered.”

“Due to COVID-19, the fashion industry took a huge hit,” said Julie Gilhart, a pioneer in sustainability. “Technology will play a huge role in the industry’s comeback.” Many businesses have closed and are stuck with leftover stock and debt. Communities must come together.

“In the fashion luxury market, sales went way down,” claimed Gilhart. “When you think about being in business after COVID-19, you must be creative and willing to change. Sustainability will rule.”

Designer brands and stores must gain the trust of the consumer. People want to know that what they are wearing is not hurting them, their skin, or the environment. Restructuring how fashion is sold needs to be addressed. Some clothes hanging in your closet have never been worn, and still have price tags on. And note: fashion loses its value within the season. It goes on sale because stores must clear the floor for the next season’s line. What’s the rush? Vintage clothes continue to live.

A viewer called in this question: “What’s the new norm of business going to be like?” For starters, there will be sustainable clothes, more value and a better customer connection.

Footwear fashion designer Kenneth Cole commented, “Fashion is here for good…The new business must be leaner, greener and fair, while accepting corporate and social responsibilities. Designers need to stay viable. Engage in phone calls and constantly be in contact with customers.”

Aldjana Sisic, chief of the U.N.’s Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, reminded attendees that COVID-19 also impacts violence against women. One out of every three women are affected by domestic violence, especially now with stay-at-home practices. Their organization is involved in operating shelters for the homeless and providing shelter, medical assistance, food, and therapy for women.

Luisa Hererra-Garcia, senior vice president of Operations & Production of John Varvatos, felt that “luxury brands are the last in line.” Digitalization is the direction of brands today. Brands must diversify their supply chain and include international production sources.

Today’s consumers are savvy. “Folks want climate-conscious clothes,” said Andrea Kennedy. Designers must build a diverse team filled with people of different backgrounds, and not be afraid to collaborate and co-design.

FIT’s Jacqueline Jenkins is the co-author, with Michael P. Londrigan, of “Fashion Supply Chain Management.” Fourteen years ago, Jenkins came to FIT with a sustainable agenda. She talked about the importance of data and how it could help to make a difference, especially with everyone working remotely. Londrigan, a menswear designer, focused on the advantage of using Zoom to connect with people. “It’s not only about making the product, it also has to be eco-packaged. Take a holistic approach to fashion. Tomorrow’s clothes must be recyclable.”

Digitally designing a garment that used to take 17 hands to make saves time and money. Sustainability plus technology equals the winning formula for fashion’s future.

Diane von Furstenberg, famous for designing the wrap dress, closed the conference. Her advice to emerging designers included the following: “As a designer you should own your reality. Change, if you feel you can’t move forward.” When she created the wrap dress, she had no idea this dress would make her famous. “You can lose your wealth, health, and freedom, but don’t lose your character. It’s your strength…Remember, character is something you build.”