With COVID-19 putting a pause on the world, the fashion industry has been forced to adapt accordingly, and with the year’s second season of fashion weeks fast-approaching unsurprisingly, they are not proceeding as normal. Unwilling to disrupt the economy and put designer’s work to waste, the industry has followed in the footsteps of most other businesses and moved its highly-anticipated event online.
London led the way by streaming its virtual fashion week from the 12th to 14th June. Hosted by londonfashionweek.com, the three-day event offered a selection of interviews, podcasts, videos and digital showcases of SS21 collections for viewers to tune in with. Supposedly due to the disruptions in the production line, there was significantly less of a focus on the garments themselves and fewer of the leading fashion houses made an appearance. However, this did offer the opportunity to strip the industry from its jam-packed schedules and theatrical catwalk performances, providing the time and space to reflect on its contribution to current affairs as well as its hidden talents in the form of smaller designers.
A time for reflection
The digital London Fashion Week opened with a poem by James Massiah, which captured “all the things that are fun about Summer and all the things that we might miss because of lock down.” It further emphasised how fashion should no longer focus on “peoples’ identity, race or class. You can choose the clothes you wear, the people you hang out with and the places you go and I really wanted to focus on those things more.” This recognition of current affairs and pressing global issues set a striking tone of reflection for the days to come, in line with the slowed pace of life COVID-19 has encouraged us all to adopt. I’m sure we can all agree that taking the time to appreciate what we have got and could work further to achieve is a habit many could adopt.
Research has shown a relationship between being mindful and having more sustainable consumption – both of which have also been shown to improve long-term wellbeing. This brings to question why the fashion industry hasn’t adopted a greater focus on enhancing the wardrobes we currently have, rather than what we should add to it (Geiger, Grossman & Schrader, 2019). What’s more, adopting a mindful approach can also benefit those around us too, as being aware of our actions makes us more likely to adopt them to become more prosocial (Donald et al, 2018).
Telling a story
The benefits of these new forms of Fashion Weeks may not lie only with the consumer. With approximately 4.57 billion people actively using the internet in April 2020, hosting catwalk shows online hugely increases the accessibility of live content worldwide – if you compare it to the handful of chosen celebrities and industry experts who sat in the front rows each year. By exposing the work of designers to thousands, if not millions, of more people it significantly increases the profiles of professionals and ultimately ends in more sales.
One of the most powerful aspects of the Fashion Week showcases are the stories that each collection conveys; and it is this narrative that allows people to connect with both the designers and the garments themselves. People are more likely to remember information presented in a story format, rate the brand more positively and be more likely to purchase the products (Lundqvist, Liljander, Gummerus & van Riel, 2013). Furthermore, stories are easy for consumers to attend to. From a young age many of us are presented with information through stories, we learn to connect to others by learning about their experiences and appreciate the world by engaging in its history (e.g. Woodside, Sood & Miller, 2008). Although we have begun to see live streams of catwalk shows made available to the public in recent years, it is perhaps surprising that it has taken a pandemic to push the fashion industry into expanding its online presence during Fashion Week, given the accessibility, adaptability and arguably increasingly effective nature of the internet.
This wave of innovation is something that has been deemed as an inherent human instinct; we are driven to adapt to environmental and situational changes, or pressures in order for us to survive – both in physical and organisational terms (Reiter-Palmon, 2011). However, as in most cases, a first attempt is not perfect, so with this season pioneering the new fashion week modality, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made.
Researchers have shown that innovation and creativity however is not always as simple is learning from and acting upon mistakes. In fact, there are a number of specific factors that foster change more effectively than others. Axtell, Holman & Wall (2006) noted how a high initial level of external support for new suggestions is needed, followed by structural job changes like the level of autonomy which allow individuals to freely adapt and generate new ideas. Finally, team members and colleagues must also be supportive of and willing to implement such changes. Although not a complete explanation, this may help to explain why this seemingly obviously beneficial method of communicating Fashion Week has been resisted until now.
Similarly, while we do indeed love to adapt and innovate, we are also creatures of habit. And one thing digital Fashion Weeks threaten is a love for tradition. These historically social and creative events have been held biannually ever since 1943, which provides us a sense of security. Their predictability subtly indicates that everything is constant and ‘normal’ – which is when we naturally feel most comfortable (Psychology Today). As I’m sure you are all aware, the current global situation is somewhat abnormal, and moving these events online only signifies this further by disrupting the predictability, constancy and normality that we crave.
It is still too early to see whether digital Fashion Weeks will be responded to with resentment or seen as a revolution, but whatever the case it is no secret that this new digital scene will take some getting used to. Hundreds of photographers, reporters, celebrities and stylists congregate in the world’s fashion capitals to observe the next-season’s trends, so to see these cities silent in what is usually one of their busiest times of year will be a significant change.
However, this new wave of innovation could be somewhat exciting. Technology is continually advancing, such as the introduction of shopping in virtual reality (Hur, Jang & Choo, 2019), leaving the possibilities for the future of fashion almost endless. Could we be witnessing a momentous change in the fashion industry, or do you think the tradition is too strong for any changes to have a lasting impact?