COVID-19 Impact: How the pandemic changed the fashion industry

Posted at 7:58 AM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 11:21:00-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — While the pandemic is improving each day thanks to the vaccine, COVID-19 and its impact is still spreading.

One of the many industries not immune to the effects of COVID-19 was the fashion industry.

Granted, there was a major spike in online sales and a demand for comfortable “work from home” clothes, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the overall drop in sales and hit on the global economy.

“Already in March and April, we were talking about how this was going to hit the fashion industry, so hard,” said Lori Faulkner, fashion studies chair and associate professor at Kendall College of Art and Design.

The industry faced challenges like the rest of the world, as people lost interest for buying clothes.

“So, the things that we're wearing at home, have really increased in sales. And the more professional attire has decreased,” said Faulkner. “People switched to ecommerce; they were already moving in that direction, but this was just a bigger a bigger push.”

The pandemic caused online shopping sales to skyrocket, stores and manufacturers closed their doors, workers were laid off and major brands like; J Crew, Brooks Brothers and JCPenney filed for bankruptcy.

“This pandemic has really pushed on the fashion industry to move forward and to move faster. So increasing the digital reliance of the industry and everyone in the industry,” said Faulkner.

Many brands stopped working with overseas manufactures because it was too expensive, which also inspired consumers to shop more consciously.

“We've been doing this for 18 years. So it's kind of now everyone's catching up,” said Doug Phillips, Chief Financial Officer of Conscious Clothing, a clothing manufacturer in Rockford, Michigan.

While Phillips and his team at Conscious Clothing have always had a focus on ethically made and organic clothing, the biggest change they’ve experienced during the pandemic was the uptick in online sales and demand for lounge wear.

“Our biggest challenge has been just keeping up with all the extra orders from everyone ordering online. It's been busy,” said Phillips. “The trend is here for lounge wear and comfortable clothing. I think everybody likes to feel comfortable.”

While not as comfortable, high fashion was also forced to have an online focus, especially during fashion weeks.

Grand Rapids based celebrity designer, RC Caylan, recently participated in Arab fashion week.

While Caylan has participated in various fashion weeks, including New York, London and LA, Arab Fashion Week was his first virtual show.

“Instead of the, you know, physical runway show, we did it virtually,” said Caylan. “We made a movie for my fashion show, and then presented it worldwide through our Fashion Week in Dubai.”

Throughout the pandemic though, Caylan said he struggled financially because events were canceled and nobody needed gowns.

“The whole entire revenue of the year was gone," said Caylan. "Most of my clients, they're, you know, events, or the dresses that have custom from me, or wedding dresses, they were like postponed or canceled.”

Despite these hardships over the last year, these fashion leaders say change for the good is already in motion.

Caylan says he’s designing more gowns as events begin to come back, thanks to the vaccine and easing restrictions.

For manufacturers like Conscious Clothing, they’re still busy filling online orders and anticipate this busy wave will stick around.

Leading fashion experts to believe a fashion resurgence in just around the corner.

"I think we'll see a huge resurgence in fashion because it's fun, and fashion is a way to express yourself,” said Faulkner. “We're not spending a lot of time outside. So, I think we will, I think it'll probably be bigger than what we saw in the roaring 20s. I think people will just go wild with fashion and I hope they do.”

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