In his poem “Couture,” Mark Doty says, “The world’s made fabulous by fabulous clothes,” and in a pre-pandemic world he might have been right. But following the pandemic, supply issues, an increased reliance on digital retail culture, and a larger emphasis on sustainability have shifted the world of fabulous clothes.
Today’s entrepreneur has to be well-versed in social media and digital retailing, must be linked in to the political issues important to Generation Z and Millenials, must move away from the clothing industry’s insistence on the way things have always been done just to get a foot in the proverbial fashion door.
There are a number of barriers facing the business person considering an entrance into the clothing industry. Fabulous clothes are not all that make the industry as we now know it thrive, and the savvy fashionistas looking to make a start need to consider the obstacles they face.
The Pandemic Effect
Post-COVID, skyrocketing inflation has driven companies to raise prices. McKinsey reports that “72% of fashion executives plan to increase prices in 2023” to cover rising energy, shipping, and material costs. But wages have not kept pace with inflation, which means today’s consumer doesn’t have the extra cash flow to pay higher prices.
Unfortunately, industry costs are driven even higher by continuing supply chain issues that were created by the pandemic. Because the fashion industry is so fast moving, companies have had to pay increased shipping prices to keep pace or make changes in their business models to rely more heavily on cheaper overseas labor to balance costs.
The result for the dollar-stretched buyer has been a decreasing interest in fashion. A Business of Fashion Study shows that 50% of industry professionals feel that interest in fashion has fallen since 2019. The problem is made worse by consumers’ largely pandemic-driven reliance upon online shopping. This has watered the market because of a larger pool of competition and caused a higher rate of returns due to a lack of sufficient tools to properly address customers’ needs digitally.
The Digital Market
Online shopping has created a number of barriers for the industry, not the least of which is the direct-to-consumer model. The fact that companies can cut out the time-consuming and expensive process of creating brick-and-mortar spaces should be a boon, but in an industry that relies on tradition, it means today’s owner must pivot to understanding online environments and honing social media skills. Furthermore, fashion’s need to quickly interpret the cutting-edge in the mercurial world of trends has only been accelerated by the even faster environs of the online world.
Not only do business owners need to understand how to conduct business in an online environment and to interpret marketing analytics in that space, but they also need to be versed in social media strategies and optimal promotional strategies for each platform with which they engage. Furthermore, they have to build a cyber-secure business plan in a world where the average data-breach costs $3.28 million. Finally, business owners who deal in the online world will need to develop tools to make online buying more reliable for the shopper, such as sizing tools and “digital try-on” technologies.
The Image Problem
In a world of sustainability, the clothing industry has an image problem. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that “fashion creates 40 million tons of textile waste annually,” that much of the waste is unnecessary, and that highly recyclable materials such as cotton are only being reused at a rate of less than 1%. The image is made worse by the fact that the fashion industry is among the world’s worst producers of carbon emissions.
The new clothing business then must deal with a distrust of the industry and try to build a more sustainable plan, including an increased focus on eco-friendly materials, a commitment to recycling materials, retooling of factories to decrease emissions, and a move toward responsible sourcing. In addition, current consumers look for attention to diversity staffing and representation, with a desire, for example, on more plus size fashions and more gender-neutral clothing geared for non-binary populations.
Written by Ivan Young in partnership with Arena Prints screen burning service.