In Times of Crisis: The Fashion Industry’s ‘Great Awokening’

In Times of Crisis: The Fashion Industry’s ‘Great Awokening’

Written by Aqilah ZailanApril 3, 2020

In Times of Crisis: The Fashion Industry’s ‘Great Awokening’

The fashion industry’s hand in aiding relief efforts amid the COVID-19 crisis grows greater each day. At the time of writing, the novel coronavirus has affected over 800,000 people in upwards of 200 countries. Fashion is one of the industries bearing the brunt of this crisis – the combination of shifting consumer mindset and key operating activities taking its toll on brands and retailers. 

Younger consumers’ stance on social and environmental advocacy has garnered irreversible momentum. Their beliefs dictate consumption habits – preferring brands that uphold values close to their hearts. As the pandemic continues to threaten the livelihood of society, the fashion industry must mirror this evolving sentiment among consumers.

The extent of the global pandemic has brands getting increasingly ‘woke’ – another term for social awareness – and finding new ways to connect with audiences. In this case, brands should pay special attention to consumer shifts, not just how they shop, but also how they consume content. It goes a long way in attaining perceived value. 

Customers’ priorities change during a crisis, and it’s important for brands to recognise and acknowledge them.

Let’s have a look at how fashion brands rise to the occasion in times of crisis

The COVID-19 Crisis

As the pandemic rages on, so do the collective efforts of fashion brands to help contain it. In recent weeks, new brands have followed suit. Brands are aiding those on the frontline by raising funds, repurposing their supply chain or simply spreading awareness of the pandemic to educate the public. At this critical stage, every little bit counts.

Raising funds

Luxury fashion brands have the means to donate huge sums to the COVID-19 cause. In the early days of the crisis, French luxury titan LVMH offered $2.2 million to the Red Cross in China – where the COVID-19 outbreak is most widespread. 

In America, Ralph Lauren pledged $10 million to be split between financial help for employees and contribution to the World Health Organization COVID19 Solidarity Response Fund. 

Italian fashion designers, entrepreneurs and households are desperate to help their compatriots and have contributed over $2 million to intensive care units, hospitals and research departments. The list of contributors includes Donatella Versace, Chiara Ferragni, Bulgari, Sergio Rossi and Giorgio Armani.

Others have organised fund-raising initiatives. For instance, Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour joined forces with Tom Ford, Chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Together, they launched ‘A Common Thread’ to support struggling designers and manufacturers in the US. 

Additionally, brands have pledged percentages from sales towards the cause. Staple, Kendra Scott and Alejandra Alonso Rojas are among those brands donating upwards of 50% of profits.

Pivoting the Supply Chain

The virus is crippling the medical community as the number of cases continue to skyrocket. With antiviral supplies and protective gear running low, brands have allocated their supply chains towards producing medical supplies.

To illustrate, LVMH converted some of its perfume and cosmetics factories to produce free sanitising gel for distribution to local hospitals and authorities in France. Estée Lauder and Bulgari followed suit, repurposing their factories to produce hand sanitisers for frontline medical staff.

Additionally, fashion brands are banding together to replenish supplies of protective medical equipment such as medical masks and scrubs. Numerous brands, including Prada, Brandon Maxwell, H&M, Gap and Uniqlo are turning their facilities into production centres for core safety gear that will be distributed to hospitals and healthcare practitioners.

Direct Value to Consumers

While consumers are stuck at home, brands have taken great strides in helping them maintain their physical and mental well-being. Nike made its workout app, the Nike Training Club (NTC) free for its consumers in the US. This increased its weekly active users by 100%.

In Times of Crisis: The Fashion Industry’s ‘Great Awokening’ - Nike's COVID-19 initiative
Nike’s ‘Play Inside’ initiative. Image credit: Nike

Nike’s initiative came following its success in China, where it implemented the same strategy. At the epicentre of the pandemic, Nike managed to boost its online sales due to an 80% spike in NTC workouts. Over the last quarter, Nike’s digital sales in China saw a growth of 30%.

Adidas has implemented the same strategy, likely with the intention of replicating Nike’s success. Adidas is offering free premium access to its training and running apps, as part of its #HomeTeam initiative.

The fashion industry has previously banded together as a collective to aid those stricken by crises. Most recently, brands lent a helping hand to Australia.

The Australian Bushfire Crisis

The new decade is off to a grim start. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the world’s thoughts and concerns were for Australia. The Australian bushfire season peaked between December 2019 and January 2020 – the most intense and deadliest the country has ever seen. Its effects were catastrophic – an estimated one billion animals were killed and 34 lives were lost to the flames. 

During the crisis, some of the most powerful figures in fashion sought to aid the afflicted. For instance, luxury fashion group Kering donated one million Australian dollars to various local organisations during the bushfire crisis. Balenciaga – part of the Kering group – launched a T-shirt and hoodie collection featuring koala bears, with proceeds channelled towards Australian organisations of the brand’s choosing.

In Times of Crisis: The Fashion Industry’s ‘Great Awokening’ - Balenciaga's Exclusive T-shirt & Hoodie Collection
Balenciaga’s exclusive koala hoodie. Image credit: Balenciaga

Best Practices for Brands

During challenging times, brands have to operate with greater sensitivity. Finding a balance between relationship-building and selling is imperative due to this. Increasing communication efforts to maintain a dialogue with consumers as a crisis unfolds goes a long way in providing value.

Engage consumers online

At this time, consumers are turning to social media more than ever due to lockdowns and social distancing orders that are in place. For this reason, brands should re-invest their offline marketing budget towards digital marketing efforts. This is the perfect opportunity to foster ongoing communication with consumers while brands have their attention. Use creative tactics to boost engagement such as live-streaming and TikTok videos. 

To effectively connect with consumers, finding the right tone-of-voice is crucial. Tread carefully when creating content and avoid stepping on any toes with offensive or frivolous posts. Moreover, brands should practice transparency, by actively communicating product delays and out-of-stocks that are affected by the crisis. 

If budgets permit, brands can consider allocating resources to donations. However, there are other ways to contribute and help soften the blow from the crisis. Many brands have taken this opportunity to send out warm messages to consumers. Regular updates, information, connection through loneliness and reminders of preventative measures are all valuable to consumers in a crisis.

In Times of Crisis: The Fashion Industry’s ‘Great Awokening’ - Brandon Maxwell's COVID-19 Message
Brandon Maxwell’s warm message. Image credit: Brandon Maxwell
In Times of Crisis: The Fashion Industry’s ‘Great Awokening’ - Jacquemus' COVID-19 Message
Jacquemus’ ‘Stay at Home’ message. Image credit: Jacquemus

Focus on sustainability

The pandemic is giving us an idea of the challenges humanity would face as a result of climate change. A likely outcome of this experience is a heightened focus on sustainability among post-COVID-19 consumers, which will be reflected in their purchasing decisions. This shift in priorities is already taking place in retail.

Omnilytics data detected that Lyocell, a fully biodegradable fibre of botanic origins, is trending upwards. Concurrently, Lyocell activewear has been outperforming other categories in the US market. Activewear, loungewear and other comfort attire have emerged as work-at-home essentials amid lockdowns.

The surge in sales for Lyocell activewear indicates a strong demand for both comfort attire and sustainable materials that brands should take into consideration as they navigate the rapidly changing industry.

In Times of Crisis: The Fashion Industry’s ‘Great Awokening’ - Trend Movement of Lyocell Activewear

Key Takeaway

In the midst of a crisis, brands have to strategise from a value standpoint to align with consumers’ priorities and mindset. When done right, brand purpose fosters consumer loyalty through shared values – just as effectively as hyped new releases or discounting schemes. 

The current shift in values among consumers will have a long term impact beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Brands must act now to connect with consumers if they wish to come out stronger on the other side

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