For Fashion Brands, Is Pivoting Enough?
Designer Imogen Evans (@imibyimogenevans) using a bag of old fabrics to make herself some new clothes
It is impossible to avoid both the word and effects of the Coronavirus. Covid-19 has changed the world and has drastically laid bare our failings. Everyone has had to change their way of life to keep the disease at bay. Many are seeing inefficiencies in the way they are doing business. Others are finding fundamental issues hitting at the core of their brand. The word pivot has been a buzz word of late, highlighting the immediate need to change the way we work. But for those who are finding that their core values and systems have been challenged, what is next? Is pivoting enough or is a grander overhaul, a rebranding, necessary?
It is important to highlight the difference between what we have lately termed pivot and rebrand. Pivoting in this climate means to change how we produce and consume, whether it is employee productivity or product offerings. In a new world where proximity is a threat, E-commerce, telecommuting, and media consumption are the vehicles we are left with. Companies have had to adopt ways of meeting while not being together and offer their products from a distance. While updating technologies is often the first step in rebranding there is so much more involved.
Rebranding represents growth, whether in ideas or structure. Introducing Zoom into an otherwise unaltered work day is not a rebranding event. However, if you see that telecommuting is a way to branch out, increase productivity and explore different avenues available in your industry, a rebrand may be in your future. Rebranding hits at the mission of your company, your values, and how you can and will improve. Rebranding will reshape your identity. In a time when many are grasping for straws of stability it may seem scary to undertake an overhaul like this. But this time may be the perfect opportunity for industries that continue to fall behind, namely the fashion industry.
Fashion is ever changing. Unfortunately the industry is virtually stagnant. From inception to production to consumption, the life cycle of garments and accessories is riddled with, at best, inefficiencies. (At worst, dangerous practices, threatening the health and well-being of countless humans not to mention the earth, wasting natural resources and leaving a dangerous trail of pollutants.) The life cycle of a garment begins with material. Materials are either harvested (pollutants from pesticides and harvesting techniques; labor rights of those forced to harvest) or created. (Dangerous chemicals, water wasted, factory conditions) Production wastes an immense amount of water and continues putting dangerous chemicals both in the air and water supply, usually in poor and underserved areas. Transportation garments use immense amounts of fossil fuels. While using the garment, there is the environmental cost of keeping it clean; washing via gallons of water or chemicals of dry cleaning. Finally, when the garment has outlived its usefulness it is disposed of. It will most likely end its day in a garbage dump, with hundreds of thousands of pounds of other garments wasted each year. And this is only for the fraction of garments that are purchased. Thousands of garments are made and unsold, partly because the cost of producing the larger number is less than producing a responsible number. Deficiencies can also be seen in the retail model of designer brands. Many companies have ailing e-commerce platforms, reluctant or unable to enhance the buying experience beyond the brick and mortar.
But now these designer brands have an opportunity. The artists that drive the industry can take this time and take more control. There is time now to research and source new and better materials. There are opportunities to use small local factories and craftsmen to make responsible amounts of product. Retailers will undoubtedly need to rethink wholesale arrangements, opening yet another opportunity for designers. Most importantly, in this time of distance, designers can and should be building their community like never before. They can position their brand (and not just their art) in a way that truly celebrates their vision. Designers can also be a part of the full life cycle of their garments. They can look to new technologies to help in this such as a NFC or QR code to create a digital life cycle.(Check out Blue Bite for more information on this) They can be more involved from the beginning and continue to be involved through the end of one wearer and possibly onto the next or providing the means to recycle through the brand. E-commerce is also a must but this too must be updated responsibly. Now is the time.
Beyond the fundamental changes needed by brands within the fashion industry, there are wide and varying idealistic changes one can’t help but consider in this uncertain time. For this, brands can use partnerships as a rebranding strategy. There is one thing both unique and universal: we are all home. We are all using technology. We are all taking serious stock of how we will resume our lives. This is the perfect time to restate what you stand for, redefine your ideals, and find allies. Quality over quantity will be felt not only in consumers but in community. Micro influencers have already seen big success in representing brands to a smaller, more loyal base. Larger brands can take note and spend more time establishing community instead of selling. No one wants to be the brand trying to profit from a pandemic. Many brands pivoted quickly to this reality and this spirit should be held onto and built upon in the future. This can even change the way we approach the industry’s biggest showcases i.e. Fashion Week.
Use your time wisely and take the time to take stock of your brand. We can emerge from this crisis with a whole new outlook, creating sustainable brands that are able to pivot when needed and thrive in good times and bad.
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