In March of 2020, the coronavirus turned our world upside down. As the COVID-19 pandemic set in, we found every aspect of our lives transforming.
We lived with lockdowns, virtual school, and work-from-home setups. Businesses shut down, and restaurants moved to a curbside pickup model. We all found ourselves struggling to cope with the new reality we were living in.
Now, almost a year and a half later, we’re discovering the ways the pandemic has changed our world for good. Read on to discover the future of the clothing industry post-pandemic and what savvy companies are doing to keep up.
Devastation of the Pandemic
Before we get into all the changes the clothing industry will be making, let’s talk some about the event that launched them. The pandemic was devastating to clothing retail stores, with stores having to close and lay off employees.
Sales dropped significantly as people began staying indoors rather than shopping. Thousands of small retailers found themselves having to shut their doors for good. Retail security towers went silent as malls and shopping centers shut down.
The manufacturing industry was no less devastated. In normal times, they may wait weeks or months after they produce their goods to receive payment.
But as stores shut down, they canceled orders for clothing that had already been made. Manufacturers took enormous losses on these canceled orders, and many of them laid off enormous swaths of employees, too.
Greater Focus on Fair Trade
One of the biggest changes we’re seeing come out of the pandemic is a greater focus on fair trade in the fashion industry. The pandemic called into sharp focus the exploitative practices of the clothing industry. Customers saw exactly how thin of margins clothing industry employees live on, and they’re demanding change.
Customers want to see companies giving their employees fair wages and the kind of protection that will enable them to live dignified lives. They’re choosing brands that take that accountability seriously and engage in more fair trade practices. This includes fairly compensating everyone from the person weaving the fabric to the person ringing customers up at the cash register.
Increased Focus on Sustainability
In addition to justice for clothing industry employees, customers are also starting to focus more on justice for the planet. The clothing industry has historically been one of the biggest contributors to global warming and pollution. In fact, the fashion industry accounts for about 10 percent of global carbon emissions and nearly 20 percent of wastewater.
Customers are working to decrease their own carbon footprints. That includes buying from brands with a focus on sustainability.
Fashion companies are working to ensure that their brands use materials from renewable sources. They're ensuring that their shipping practices help to offset carbon emissions. They are also focused on using more sustainable practices in their manufacturing and reducing the amount of pollution they release.
While customers want to see all these changes we’ve discussed, they also don’t blindly trust what companies tell them anymore. The pandemic has made us all question the sources we get our information from. Customers want to be able to fact-check what they hear rather than simply accepting what someone in a position of power tells them.
This means clothing companies need to focus more on being transparent with their customer base. It’s not enough to say you’re focusing on fair trade labor or sustainable practices. Customers want concrete details about what you’re doing to make sure your company is making your community and the world a better place.
Shift to a Circular Model
One of the major questions the fashion industry has to answer is what happens to clothes after they sell them. In the past, customers have been left on their own to decide whether to throw away or donate their clothes when they finished with them. Clothing companies did not offer any recycling options for customers after the clothes were sold.
But now, clothing manufacturers are looking for ways to make their business models more circular. They are beginning to provide recycling services through which customers can return old clothing. This helps them to reduce the amount of waste their company generates and may even reduce their virgin material requirements.
Dawn of Rental Market
Between the influence of Marie Kondo and the additional push for environmental responsibility, customers are moving away from buying new clothes on a regular basis. The pandemic has also hit everyone financially, and new clothes may not be in the budget for everyone. Instead, customers are getting the wardrobe refreshes they need through rentals.
The rental market is becoming a more central part of the fashion market. Customers are looking for more affordable, sustainable ways to get their clothing fix.
Clothing companies can give customers access to luxury goods, including name brands, for limited periods of time. Customers return the clothes when they’re done with them, and the same piece can go on to live in someone else’s wardrobe.
Shift to Online Buying
When customers do buy clothing, they’ve changed where and how they buy. Given the shutdowns of the last year and a half, customers have started moving more towards online shopping. While the online market already represented a huge share of the industry, the pandemic accelerated its growth.
Clothing companies who want to stay with the times need to ramp up their online buying offerings. Websites should be beautiful, easy to navigate, and fast. Studies show 40 percent of customers will abandon a page that takes more than three seconds to load.
You need to make sure your online inventory is up to date and that you process online orders quickly and accurately. This may include setting up new systems to process your EAS tags on inventory.
More Clothing Repairs
As the pandemic raged and we all moved our lives indoors, people found that throwing away old clothes wasn’t as simple a choice as it had once been. In many cases, people couldn’t go out to buy new clothes, and if they could, those who lost jobs might not have been able to afford it. So people turned to old hobbies, and, along with baking bread and working puzzles, they learned to mend worn-out clothing.
Although many of us are returning to our normal lives, the skills we learned during lockdown are sticking. More customers are choosing to repair clothing when it wears out rather than replacing it. This means that retailers will need to account for an overall drop in sales that may continue on into the future.
More Home Sewing
In addition to learning to fix our clothes, some people took their sewing skills a little further. When PPE was in short supply, many people learned to use a sewing machine to make masks for healthcare workers around the country. They also sewed masks to protect their friends and family who were working in essential industries or who had to leave the house.
Once they’d started sewing, many of these customers realized that they could make much more than just face masks. They began to dabble in making their own clothing, including repurposing old garments to give them new life. While homemade clothing will never replace store-bought, it accounts for another long-term drop in sales.
Increased Demand for Comfort
The pandemic changed more than just how we get our clothes; it’s also changed what we look for in our clothes. Before the pandemic, many of us were accustomed to wearing suits, blazers, slacks, dress shirts, and other business wear every day. But since the start of the pandemic, many people have found that their daily wardrobe involves much more comfortable clothing.
Since we all spent the last year working in yoga pants and t-shirts, our tolerance for uncomfortable clothing has shrunk. Customers want clothing that feels good to wear while still looking great. And women are demanding clothing that doesn’t pinch or pull in strange places and features functional pockets.
Greater Demand for Quality
In addition to losing patience for uncomfortable clothing, customers are done dealing with low-quality clothing. In particular, women have suffered through decades of shoddily made clothes that fall apart after just a few weeks. But the stress of the pandemic has made customers unwilling to settle for clothes that don’t deliver their money’s worth.
Customers want clothes that are well-made and will last them for years to come. This means high-quality materials that will be durable, as well as solid seams and buttons that won’t tear off the second time they’re used. Customers are buying with an eye toward the future, and clothing companies need to adjust to meet this demand.
The last year has been a financial disaster for companies and consumers alike. More than 20 million people lost their jobs during the pandemic. And finding a new job was harder than ever as companies closed down, either temporarily or for good.
As budgets tightened, customers began to look for clothes that would fit into their financial constraints.
While making clothes that are good quality and affordable may seem impossible, keep in mind that customers aren’t necessarily looking for clothes that are cheap.
Let's say a customer can pay $40 for a sweater that will last them for the next five years. This saves them from paying $20 for a sweater that will be in the garbage next winter. They'll go for the $40 sweater every time.
Clothing companies will have to strike a balance between keeping prices low and still making excellent clothes.
Another way customers are cutting back their clothing budgets is by making sure each piece works harder in their wardrobe. Statement pieces are wonderful, but you can’t make an entire closet out of them. Customers these days want clothes that they can rewear in multiple different outfits without having to buy new pieces.
The capsule wardrobe has become more popular in the face of this new focus on multifunctional pieces. Clothing companies may want to focus on adding new pieces that use classic colors and cuts. You may even want to consider setting up a capsule wardrobe lineup so that customers can get everything they need, all from your brand.
The last year has been hard on all of us; many of us haven’t even felt like putting on outfits most days. When we have gotten dressed, we’ve gravitated towards drab greys and blacks or schlubby t-shirts. We haven’t worried much about what we looked like, given that we wouldn’t be seen by anyone anyway.
As vaccines continue to roll out and pieces of our lives go back to normal, people want to celebrate their return to the sun. Outfits are becoming more colorful, and statement pieces are in! Clothing companies should look into making brighter colors and bolder patterns.
Discover the Future of the Clothing Industry Post-Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world in a variety of ways, not least of which is the clothing industry. Customers are demanding more accountability from companies.
Customers are looking for clothing that functions better for them day-to-day. They want comfortable, versatile pieces, as well as some statement pieces that let their personality shine.
If you’d like to learn more about the future of the clothing industry post-pandemic, check out the rest of our site at Sensor Nation. We provide loss prevention solutions that help companies to prevent shoplifting. Shop our value packages today and start making your store a more secure place the easy way.