Fashion Redesigned Itself in Lockdown

Fashion executives have spent the lockdown figuring out how to sell their products online. They’re learning lessons that may shape the retail trade even as America’s shopping malls reopen.

That’s just one of the abrupt changes forced on an industry highly attuned to shifting trends. Here’s another: If customers are more likely to be buying clothes from home, they’re more likely to wear them there too. In the absence of dress-up events, there’s a surge in demand for comfort.

From food to furniture, businesses are mapping out what they expect to be the new patterns of demand — and repositioning their companies accordingly. Fashion has faced some of the worst upheaval of all.

In the pandemic’s early stages, Americans all but stopped buying clothes. Sales plunged almost 90%, four times the drop in overall commerce. The demand shock threatened to bankrupt big-name retailers, and import-reliant companies had to grapple with supply disruptions too.

Wholesaler: ‘Week by Week’

Richer Poorer, which sells “elevated basics” like tailored t-shirts and sweatpants, had just rebranded itself in January when the shocks started to arrive. The coronavirus knocked out two factories in China. Retail customers began to cancel orders. And then its headquarter city of San Juan Capistrano in California imposed a work-from-home regime.

“That was our first round of ‘Oh, this is actually going to have big impacts for us,’” says co-founder Iva Pawling. “Not just for this season immediately, but through spring 2021.”

In a normal March and April, most of what Pawling does — from designs and fittings to factory orders — would be geared to the season starting 12 months later. This year, “it’s just been trying to survive week by week.”

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