How fashion is adapting in 2020 and what the pandemic means for the future

September 2020 _ How fashion is adapting to the pandemic

Covid-19 has well and truly thrown the industry into a state of disruption and Fashion has never looked so different. How will the industry adapt to this new world we live in? 

The coronavirus has unfavourably changed more things than we care to count. Our lifestyles have been turned upside down, relationships with work, health, emotional wellbeing and social interactions have been tested, and the way we perceive fashion and the industry behind it, is no different.

Our focus has altered dramatically when it comes to fashion, moving from a want to need mindset, opting to buy sneakers over high heels and a noticeable shift in our short and long-term behavior as consumers.

The pandemic has also offered the fashion industry a chance to reset and revamp the structure and processes on which the industry’s been built on — not to mention an opportunity to reassess the values by which it lives by.

Let’s face it, the industry needed a shake up… And how it chooses to adapt and what it will look like in the future is something only time will tell us. 

fashion before covid

Fashion has had a long and beautiful history and has been impacted by every depression, plague, pandemic or revolution. It’s woven deeply into the story of humanity.

They say it repeats itself, it has cycles that become patterns. And that basically every style and trend comes back at one time or the other.

In recent years the general public have been privy to a behind the scenes peek into the booming trillion dollar fashion industry. Including its, at times, questionable practices behind manufacturing, production, distribution, selling, diversity, and employment operations.

When stories came out about a number of international well-known brands employing workers under slave-like conditions, having unsustainable farming practices and an immeasurable amount of product ending up in landfills, the consensus across the population was that of disgust.   

How did we let this happen?

It was evident that society's consumer mindset, pre-pandemic, was already showing signs of shifting in positive directions.

In comes the VIRUS to spoil the party

The pandemic successfully halted everyone and everything in their tracks, and millions worldwide, some estimate at roughly 430 million people, that relied on the fashion industry for employment were left scratching their heads.

Not only did governments close down manufacturing plants, brands shut their doors, and runway events cancelled, brands and retailers were also saddled with an overwhelming amount of stock, overflowing warehouses and not a consumer in sight.

Merchandise was now going to be almost impossible to shift. 

Bloomberg news reported in May that sales worldwide in the fashion and luxury industry plunged up to 70 percent from March to April.


A glaring disparate was also revealed to the wider public during the pandemic, and one that some consumers had already noticed, was the clear disconnect from when clothes arrived in store to when the customer actually needed them.

Have you ever tried to buy a coat in the middle of winter, only to find the racks full of bikinis and summer dresses? Unfortunately the fashion industry’s seasons are out of sync with actual meteorological ones. Fashion is built on forecasting for the future and as we’ve seen during these uncertain times, it’s almost become impossible to do.

So, now that the industry has received such devastating blows to both supply and demand, the game has seen an acceleration of the inevitable. And one that would have happened further down the road if the pandemic had not helped them gain speed and urgency.

Both the public and the pandemic have encouraged, or perhaps more accurately, forcefully pushed the Fashion Industry to begin the monumental change it needed to make.

They’ve demanded new and improved ways to face the sustainability agenda head-on, to create diversity across their marketing channels, to offer seasonless designs and to be transparent in their approach to fair employment practices. 

NEW TRENDS - Sweatpants are in, high heels are out! 

One positive impact lockdown life has afforded us was the unexpected gift of couch fashion.

We’ve seen a shift in the trends that were projected for 2020, as we’ve collectively decided to focus on not only protection, but also comfort. A rather obvious addition to our wardrobes is that of the infamous mask; there’s also been a rise in buying quality eco-friendly shoes and clothing that make you feel great. 


You either love them or you hate them, but it seems like masks, for the meantime at least, are here to stay. So why not jump on the mask-wearing bandwagon? The options are quickly becoming endless and any and every style is being offered. From paper disposables, to cotton flower designs and even the bandana is making a comeback.

2 _ Comfort and A Return To Minimalism

Retailers have seen a high increase in the purchase of sneakers, jeans and leggings and have noticed during post-pandemic shopping, the consumer leaning towards neutrals and basics. A return to a minimalistic style looks like it’s on the cards for the rest of 2020 and beyond.

3 _ Feel Great - Look Good

Our wellness and mental health have been a big talking point this year and the need to feel great is more important than ever before. People are noticing the natural fabrics that feel good on their skin and the younger generation more than anyone, are leading the charge.

Trend forecaster and consultant Marie-Michèle Larivée, stated in Teen Vogue:

“Natural dyes and natural colors come in as calming factors as well as natural elements in decors, but also the fibers used in clothing. Even though we’ll return to dressing up for dressing up’s sake, the trend of natural, calming colors and eco-friendly, natural fabrics will be an integral part of our fashion system.”

Diversity in Fashion - BLM movement

It’s impossible to ignore the impact that the Black Lives Movement has made on the fashion industry in 2020 and it’s future going forward.

In response to worldwide protests, retailers and brands alike are waking up to the complete lack of diversity and equal opportunities offered across their campaigns, organisations and advertising.

We've seen world-renowned, established brands pledge to diversify and provide equal opportunities across their platforms. On the back of that, there’s been a wide range of initiatives organised, donations offered, boards created to tackle diversity exclusion and business mentorship programs designed for black-owned companies. 

Shift to Digital

Runway shows and fashion weeks worldwide have been leading the way with the shift to digital as designers scrambled to find alternatives to sending their clothes down the runway. How were they going to make what is basically a sales pitch, if they couldn’t physically be there?

Designers began to showcase their product by streaming presentations online without a live audience present. It may not have been perfect, but it worked.

Commercial industries have obviously seen a surge in the utilization of e-commerce over the years. However, the fashion industry still almost entirely depends on physical retail, in fact more than 80% of transactions still happen in stores.

And as Marshal Cohen, a Chief Industry Advisor of Retail, states - a different kind of digital dialog is required, one that goes beyond traditional descriptions, and addresses the touch, feel, and quality of a product. This can be a powerful tool in making up for some of what is lost in the virtual shopping environment.

The future of fashion may very much be online.


There are many more promising positives coming out of this new found utopian world we find ourselves in, than negatives. We are predicting that the pandemic has offered a rich period of creativity. With less travel, commuting to work and social outings to deal with, there’ll be more time spent at home with imaginations, inspirations and creative bubbles.

They do say that creativity involves breaking out of expected patterns in order to look at things in a different way. The Pandemic qualifies as unexpected, right? 

Hope for the Future

"I feel very strongly that when we come out
at the other end, people's values are really
going to have shifted." 

Vogue editor Dame Anna Wintour

As we wait for the dust to settle to clearly reveal the aftermath of the pandemic, we wanted to do our own future forecast to guess just what fashion will look like in the future.

What we do know is that investment feels different after a period of uncertainty, it’s taken more seriously. People are shopping less, and focusing on finding a product that offers quality and value.  

Which has led retailers and buyers to think and plan more short term, buying for weeks in advance as opposed to years and also the opportunity to reshape their process, offering a more sustainable, high value product. The need to travel abroad will also be revolutionised and looking for manufacturing options closer to home is paramount.

Those companies that will be seen to ride the coronavirus wave successfully, will be the ones with great leaders, who make quick decisions in an environment of great unpredictability. They will need to be flexible, creative and skilful at lateral thinking.

The rapid changes experienced since the pandemic, has created a need to think differently to meet the demands of the consumer, and will continue to be vital on the road to recovery,

The future calls for a more streamlined approach to fashion. Anna Wintour, a guru in the industry, explains it perfectly: 

"It's going to accelerate the fashion industry's engagement with digital technology, and its desire to rethink the fashion calendar, but it will also accelerate the approach to sustainability and building responsible businesses. That means using supply chains that are creating clothing in a circular way and take into account the impact on the planet and the people who make our clothes."

Vogue editor Dame Anna Wintour

If the most influential and iconic figure in Fashion says it, it must be true, right?

It’s safe to say that no-one, not even the esteemed Anna Wintour knows exactly what the future has in store for fashion. One thing is for sure, we are looking forward to seeing how the landscape of fashion adapts in the next few months and years, and what style will look like post-pandemic.

Only time will tell.

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