Wednesday, 01 April 2020 15:38

ChicGeek Comment COVID 19 Fashion’s P45

is fashion redundant? covid 19 coronavirusHow redundant is the handbag if you don’t leave the house? Same goes for shoes. This sounds like a surrealist-type manifesto of some ancient and useless items of dress or culture, yet perfectly sums up how quickly something can go from essential to unused. Fashion has always had a intertwined relationship with ‘want’ and ‘need’, they coexist; one propels the other, and, the other way around, it justifies it.

We’ve suddenly lost a lot of the need and therefore the want has waned. For many, clothing is a need only option and, apart from a new pair of joggers or PJs, all those prom outfits, wedding outfits, birthday outfits and all the other fashion treats that keeps the wheels of fashion turning have lost all momentum and become a missed sale.

The latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, saw online retail sales growth was down -2.2% year-on-year in the first week of the Government’s lockdown guidance, but the clothing sector saw growth plummeting -26.7% year-on-year, and -22% week-on-week. Those result were even more stark across footwear, with growth tumbling -38.2% year-on-year, and -22.9% week-on-week.

Online sales too will grind to a halt with some large retailers closing their websites. 

But, there has been an online boom, it's just that it doesn't include fashion. Adobe Analytics analysed data from trillions of visits to retail websites and from millions of product SKUs, finding that online grocery purchases are leading the eCommerce boom. Among the most popular items in people's internet shopping carts: Health products, gym equipment, toilet paper and canned foods. Online orders for fitness equipment like kettlebells, dumbbells and treadmills a saw 55% boost.

People too have begun spending money on board games, puzzles and video games. Notebooks are flying off the shelves and Mike Norris, chief exec at Computacenter - one of Europe's largest resellers said he has been signing "500, 1,000 or 2,000 laptop deals" with business customers that are equipping employees for remote working. He noted similar spikes in sales of monitors, virtual private network services and wireless LANs.

Fashion may not be fully redundant, just yet, temporarily and creatively furloughed, you could say, but with so many things cancelled in the future, even months after lockdown finishes, fingers crossed, those occasion spending needs will take even longer to turn into wants.

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coronavirus speeding up retailers end of lifeRecently, a government advisor, Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the modelling programme at Imperial College London's MRC centre for global infectious disease analysis, estimated that up to two thirds of people who die from coronavirus in the next nine months are likely to have died this year from other causes. He said that many of those deaths were likely to be old and seriously ill people who would have died from other conditions before the end of the year. What COVID-19  is doing, sadly, is speeding up the end of life and it’s the same for brands and retailers. 

Some retailers have started to fall into administration, pointing the finger of blame at the COVID-19 coronavirus. The majority of these brands and retailers were sickly patients to start with. Brands like Beales, Laura Ashley, Carluccio's and BrightHouse were on wobbly ground way before this devastating virus was on the horizon. The coronavirus has just cut short the inevitable. Bournemouth based department store Beales closed earlier than scheduled and left unsecured creditors £17.6m out of pocket.

Left - The Beales flagship store in Bournemouth

Other patients at risk are brands like shopping centre group Intu, struggling under a £4.5bn debt mountain, and who failed to secure new funding before the crisis hit. They’ve also been hit by stores holding back their rent payments recently. Frasers, owner of Jack Wills, has been cutting off vast limbs of its retail network to save their critically ill patient, Cath Kidston is looking for a buyer to save the business and up to 800 jobs and coronavirus speeding up retailers end of life Laura AshleyNew Look has requested a three-month rent holiday from landlords. H&M has threatened landlords with walking away from 300-plus store leases if sales fail to match pre-coronavirus levels once the pandemic passes. How others like Debenhams and the Arcadia come out of this pandemic is anybody’s guess.

Right - Laura Ashley has fallen into administration

The patient metaphor has one big and important point; the third of previously healthy people who could potentially die. This is where the government efforts to help businesses should be focussed. Those businesses who were previously healthy, but, due to unforeseen circumstances, have been thrown into jeopardy should be given the largest help. Whether it’s down to the sector they are in or the way they sell, these previously healthy retailers should be given the ventilator of loans and payment holidays to give them life. 

The longer this crisis goes on the larger that third will become. It is survival of the ones who were the fittest going into all of this.

Read more from TheChicGeek Archive -  Comment Fashion For Clean Air

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menswear product of the week antique gold belt buckle Edwardian ring PI LondonNow is the time to invest in gold and PI London is a company creating a refined edit to stop you trawling through eBay and being able to trust what you are buying.

They’re trying to put a rift on gold jewellery being sustainable, but then we already know that. I actually saw a company mention ‘recycled silver’ the other day. Eyeroll.

PI London Founder, Isobel Procter says, “I’m keen to disrupt the current interpretation of ‘antiques’ because, given the chance, I really believe they can answer some of the most timely needs of both the people and the planet. 

menswear product of the week antique gold belt buckle Edwardian ring PI London

“My Mother, an antique’s dealer herself, instilled a great appreciation for unique pieces in me from a very young age. But there was always something about the industry that felt a bit inaccessible, often associated with dusty old shops or elitist auction houses.” she says.

Left & Right - PI London - Buckle Keeper Ring - £790

There’s something about antique jewellery that has a depth and life to it. I particularly like this Edwardian belt and buckle ring. Made from 18ct gold, circa 1910 with a diamond, it symbolises protection, authority and victory. And, couldn't we all do with plenty of that right now!

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Below - PI London showing you how to load the rings on

menswear product of the week antique gold belt buckle Edwardian ring PI London

will fashion skip a season covid 19 menswear paris cancelledThe Board of Directors of the Fédération de la haute couture et de la Mode has said that Paris Fashion Week Menswear, set to take place from June 23 to June 28 and the Haute Couture Week scheduled from July 5 to July 9, will not take place. Alternatives are in the works.

Menswear usually starts in London with LFWM in early June, and then onto the most important menswear trade show, Pitti Uomo. The Pitti Uomo organisers had hoped to keep their 98th edition on track for mid-June, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely with the announcement above.

Left - Florence's Pitti Uomo 98 has now been moved to Sept. 2nd-4th

It’s not just about the trade show for the SS21 season, it’s about the exhibitors who have to complete designs and samples in order to have something to show at the fair and make it worth their while. As time keeps leaking, it looks harder and harder to be able to make that up and pull something together. This begs the question whether fashion will skip a season?

While they’ll still be product designed, made and sold in Spring 2021, it will be a reduced offering with a more narrowed scope.

I predict the men’s shows will move to Sept/Oct, when the women’s usually show, and the women’s will be slightly smaller. It will mean they will need to turn all that product around in a couple of months or stagger it more into the new SS21 season. (Don’t mention ‘drops’!).

It will be interesting to see the gaps in schedules and on the trade show floors of brands who have disappeared. It’s a long time to go without cashflow. If you don't make anything you're also not selling anything. The Cruise collections from the big designers were already cancelled. I think they’ll just repeat the core pieces from the previous collection to carry on through.

In terms of retail, the SS20 collections were well delivered. There was disruption in China, but most retailers would have had their deliveries in full. I suspect many orders from the Paris AW20 shows in February would have been cancelled or reduced hugely.

Retailers will try to cancel as much as possible - Read - ChicGeek Comment COVID 19 Cancel Everything - and worry about having something to sell when the time comes. Many big, luxury department stores work on a concession basis, so the brands will have to deal with the problems with product and what to sell themselves. It will be brands who can easily turn production on and off who will benefit. The smaller brands who often fit around these production timetables, when times are quieter, will suffer.

Retailers are currently looking at the peak of the SS20 season and have lots of stock on their hands. No holidays means a lot of spring/summer sales lost.

But, the longer this goes on, the more you can skip. It would probably make it less bitty and then designer retailers can coast it with the product they've got until the new AW20 season drops in July and August. The high summer collections will have already been scrapped and they'll go straight to production on AW20 when the factories in Italy and France finally reopen. The Cruise 21 collections will be squashed into SS21. The samples, to be shown at the Oct/Sept fashion weeks, for SS21 will have to fit around this. 

But, this all goes back to cashflow and means they will have to slim down, particularly with manpower, between now and then if no money is coming in, which has always been the problem with the fashion wholesale model. Some retailers may offer to pay on friendlier terms, it's in their interest too, and, many luxury brands will have to be more understanding and supportive of their suppliers and producers.

Will fashion skip a season? It can't afford to.

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fashion covid 19 net a porter closed in store warehouseBetween the ‘loungewear’ emails and the ‘we-give-a-shit-please-buy-something’ emails, some brands have been hoping to offset some of the losses of physical retail with online. Online has the potential to be many brands’ life support machines; keeping some form of cash flow ticking over and the lights on.

Left - Net-a-Porter has closed its American website & warehouse

Dixons Carphone has said sales surged by more than 70% as Britons rushed to buy laptops, games consoles and freezers to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. Online sales in the UK and Ireland surged 72% in the three weeks to 21 March.

“There will be some recovery through online operations but overall the loss of sales will adversely impact our full-year profitability and cash position,” it said. The group said as a result it would still miss out on about £400m of sales between now and the end of its financial year in April.

Fashion has a lot less ‘need’ and as such will be harder hit. Fashion brands have huge amounts of stock sitting in stores, not going anywhere anytime soon. These shops have now become in-town warehouses, but they still need manning and this has become a problem for some brands. Many consumers seem to think that online and offline is separated, robotically picked and magically appears on their doorstep. 

The family owned department store chain, Fenwicks said in a statement: "Our people, both employees and customers alike, are at the heart of our business... Therefore, we have taken the decision to temporarily close our website as well as our stores, to ensure the safety of our teams and customers.” Fenwicks only went online in 2017 and pick the items from in-store stock.

Schuh, the footwear retailer, too has closed its website. Chief executive Colin Temple said: “At this point in time, the UK government guidelines include that online retail should ‘still open’ and ‘is encouraged’ along with advice that if staff cannot reasonably work from home, they should continue to go into work.

“However, with the Schuh head office and DC operations based in Scotland and Scottish Government advice conflicting with UK government advice, Schuh management have made the decision to close their website, in addition to their stores that already closed from the evening of Sunday 22 March.”

He added: “A number of DC staff continue to indicate that they want to work within the warehouse to support the Schuh online business, along with other departmental employees offering their support also. However, Schuh management have confirmed that the website and stores will remain closed until there is updated UK and Scottish government advice.”

No doubt demand has fallen overall with many people tightening their expenditure and only buying what they need. But, what about the exclusively online retailers? Most surprising is Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter has closed its American business. Customers visiting the US site are now met with a message that reads: “In line with local government guidelines, and for the health and safety of our community, we have temporarily closed our warehouse. We hope you are all staying safe and look forward to welcoming you back soon.”

This is a nightmare for fashion brands selling products with a shelf life. The discounts have already started, and they’re big, Liberty of London went straight in with 50% off. Some retailers are doing okay at online, but even the best figures won’t replace physical retail, representing a 20/80 split between online and offline. To shift all this stock they will need to discount heavy, eating into profit margins, and consumers, used to a never-ending supply of ‘Just In’ will have to adjust to a new  shopping landscape with less choice.

Update - Next, River Island & Moss Bros have announced their websites will close.

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