Consumers are beginning, tentatively, to plan for a post-pandemic world. That means hope for the fashion industry too after months of slow sales.
But luxury marketers also face a new, more contagious strain of Covid-19 ravaging Britain and a lag in the global rollout of vaccines, making investments trickier.
London’s Heathrow Airport expects to see travellers start taking holidays as early as February. Summer season partying is prepping for an early start too. Universal Music owner Vivendi and brewery Molson Coors, which both allocate significant marketing budgets to the Ibiza party season from June to September have both agreed to participate in a hugely extended season starting as early as April and continuing into October, says Mark Sinnock, Havas group chief strategy officer for Europe.
Experts warn that brands should brace for “an atmosphere of uncertainty” to persist through the spring and leading into the summer months of 2021. “Our data shows that more than 60 per cent of consumers are anxious over the possibility of a more severe recession due to Covid-19. This may result in consumers choosing to delay summer plans and travel until there is more evidence of Covid containment and availability of vaccinations,” says Jay Pattisall, Forrester’s principal analyst focused on advertising and digital marketing.
It’s only a matter of time before the hospitality and travel sectors open back up, and when they do, “consumers will divert their disposable expenditures back into these sectors,” says Sinnock. “We can see a real desire in the near-term from consumers who want to escape from Covid social restrictions. This will impact the fashion industry because brands will need to think about how they can leverage [these social events] and serve those experiences better.”=
Looking ahead, Sinnock forecasts many more collaborations and partnerships between fashion brands and the music industry. In a survey by Billboard and Nielsen Music, Americans reported spending 60 per cent more time with music and other forms of entertainment like television and social media, with a surge in music video streaming in particular. Fashion started to tap into music’s impact during Covid-19. Brands including Lemaire, Alexander McQueen and Supreme all recently launched Spotify channels featuring music from their runway shows and inspirational playlists. “More than ever brands will want to be in those places and have a real presence,” he says.
Designers stay positive for the summer
In London, fashion designers are daring to be optimistic. Han Chong, the Malaysian-born and London-based founder of label Self-Portrait, is hoping for exceptional sales in 2021, particularly for Self-Portrait’s strongest season — the summer. Occasion dressing has been an important part of the business since he launched in 2013. “We expect that once people can start getting together again, and events and parties can take place, customers will want something new and memorable to wear,” he says.
Throughout the pandemic, Self-Portrait focused on maintaining a conversation with its customers and “telling stories beyond just the clothing”, Han Chong explains. It’s reflective of a broader shift among brands to build engagement strategies with shoppers. The goal is to incentivise them to shop over longer periods of time as opposed to a specific moment. For 2021, Self-Portrait will complement its usual high profile at “big flashy public events” such as the Venice Biennale with an emphasis on “private moments” in customers’ lives, says Chong.
British label Suzannah, known for its elegant dresses, is another strong performing business in the summer season, its customers flocking to events such as Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the Cartier Polo. Founder Suzannah Crabb hopes for a bumper year, but predicts that events will be “probably scaled down”. For her Spring/Summer 2021 collection, Crabb has pivoted away from her usual structured aesthetic towards more relaxed pieces, softer fabrics and versatile separates.
Brands should not underestimate the power of smaller, special occasions, like birthdays, weddings, graduations and anniversaries, says GlobalData managing director of retail Neil Saunders. “Even simple things that people have had to put on hold this year, such as going out to eat or meeting with friends, will have a positive effect on fashion. If things do go back to normal, people will be very keen to capitalise on that. Fashion is a great way of making yourself feel good.”
Retailer and brand inventories for winter products have been light, reflecting cautious buying. “As designers, we are trying to forecast the needs of the people buying our products — and in the current situation, it seems a bit bizarre to do party dresses when everybody seems to be working from home,” says Rikke Baumgarten, co-founder of Danish label Baum und Pferdgarten, which sells to the likes of Selfridges and Mytheresa. Early gaps in retailers’ inventory in the new year are predicted, further encouraging retailers to introduce new Spring/Summer stock more quickly than usual.
In the search for a competitive edge, fashion companies across the globe are revising their plans and processes. Baum, for example, plans to shift to 10 annual drops in 2021 rather than seasonal collections. “Hopefully, this will create synergy between retail and marketing, where the pieces can be more true to season,” says co-founder Helle Hestehave.
Mark Sinnock of Havas says the opportunity to surge back from the disappointments of 2020 is certainly there. But brands will need to “have the right product, at the right time, in the right channels, to be able to soak up all of that demand”. Timing, he says, is going to be super-important. “The luxury and fashion companies that can leverage that will win big.”
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