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The innovative ways fashion companies adapted to Covid-19

By Huw Hughes

3 Jun 2020

Fashion

International store closures, plummeting consumer demand in fashion and disrupted supply chains - the fashion industry has been massively impacted by Covid-19 in the past few months and will likely continue to be for a long time to come.

But amid the disruption, the fashion industry has also adapted to the changes thrown its way, proving once again the resilience of the sector. Those adaptations ranged from new marketing initiatives to complete reshaping of business models.

Here, FashionUnited has chosen just a select few examples of fashion companies around the world who have implemented innovative new changes to their businesses, either during or after lockdowns, in light of Covid-19.

In the US, contemporary ready-to-wear fashion brand Hanifa tackled one of the industry's biggest questions at the moment: what do we do when all the international catwalks are cancelled? The answer? Do it digitally. The brand’s founder, Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba, took to Instagram live in April to showcase a digital catwalk using photorealistic renderings of her garments. An array of dresses from the brand’s Pink Label Congo collection strutted down the catwalk on invisible models, showcasing in vivid detail the movement of the garments. Mvuemba told Teen Vogue that she had already planned to take her catwalks digital before the pandemic and had been using 3D mockups as a means to showcase her ideas to her team.

Canadian denim brand Duer developed a new production model in light of Covid-19, switching to a quick response method lining up demand with supply “to cut waste and drive efficiencies.” The company’s founder Gary Lenett said he launched the new on-demand model, called Next by Duer, when the shortcomings of the old business model became apparent in the wake of Covid-19 after seeing revenues plummet during the lockdown. The model begins with the company showcasing a prototype of a product, which customers will be able to order at a discount throughout a 3 week campaign period. If a minimum threshold of orders are then met, the items are manufactured and delivered to customers within 4 to 8 weeks.

“The old-world way of creating speculative inventory and then running costly marketing campaigns to sell it, is inefficient and wasteful,” said Lenett. “The world is changing and we have to change with it. We are introducing Next as a new way of doing business where we gauge demand and then produce exactly what's needed and the cost savings is passed directly to our customer.”

Dutch tailoring brand Suitsupply was faced with more difficulty than a lot of fashion retailers when reopening stores due to the fact the company specialises in customizations, such as on-site alterations and custom made suiting. In other words, services which rely on close proximity between the customer and retail worker.

To navigate this problem, the menswear tailor announced the introduction of new ‘Safe Shopping Screens’ in its stores (pictured), free-standing plastic partitions allowing up-close interaction without compromising health and safety measures during pinning sessions. The company has also introduced a guided virtual experience allowing shoppers to pre-select items with the help of live style experts on Suitsupply.com prior to visiting stores.

Fashion adapts to change in times of trouble

Bouclé Hommes et Femmes, a retailer from Spakenburg in the Netherlands, managed to hit almost 100 percent of its weekly sales average when FashionUnited spoke to them in April, partly thanks to a ‘surprise bag’ initiative it launched just a week and a half after the country went into lockdown. So how does the service work? First, shoppers share their size, brand preferences and a picture of themselves with a Bouclé employee. The employee then tailor makes a surprise bag of clothing for the customer and delivers it to them by car - or in true Dutch style, by bike. The employee then returns the next day to collect the items the customer doesn’t want to keep. Bouclé co-owner Claudia Boelhout told FashionUnited.nl in April that in one week it managed to sell 25 bags, with nine out of ten recipients keeping 80 percent of their bag’s content.

Austrian fashion retailer Kutsam managed to set up an online site within just seven days of its country going into lockdown in March. Once online, it sold 20,000 euros worth of brand vouchers to customers to be used at a later date. The company also made it a priority to keep in contact with its customers, another challenge retailers faced during the lockdown. It did that by phoning its loyal customers up individually. “We also called customers that we have in our file - our best customers, so to speak. But it wasn't really about selling something, it was about asking how they were doing. Then some nice conversations develop where people ask when we are open again,” managing director Johannes Behr-Kutsam told FashionUnited.de in April.

French brand Gémo has launched a drive-through shopping service allowing customers to safely pick up their online orders without even having to enter the store. Shoppers simply place an order online then park at dedicated contactless Drive spaces indicated outside of the brand’s stores. Customers then call the store with their name and order number, open their boot and wait for a member of staff to arrive with their order. Once the staff member has checked the customer's ID, which can be done through a closed car window, the employee will place the item in the boot and return to the shop, for the customer to close the boot and leave.

Designer Jean Claude Jitrois’ eponymous French label Jitrois has introduced 4-hour private shopping sessions in its store at 38 Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Shoppers will be able to visit the store alone or with one other person and will be guided by a member of staff. Between each appointment, the clothing the shopper has tried on will be heat-cleaned for four hours and the boutique and changing rooms will be disinfected. The label is also offering access to a personal shopper via Facetime, Zoom or Whatsapp.

Photo credit: Suitsupply