As the industry grinds to a halt, some analysts believe there’s an opportunity for brands to not give up but to further re-evaluate production processes to be more sustainable.
Five months on from the first case of coronavirus reported in Wuhan City, organisations are scrambling to respond and react to a global pandemic, still increasing in scale and speed.
As of March, 30, 2020, the outbreak of the disease has spread to six continents, and is rapidly changing how we live, work and consume.
The fashion industry is refactoring to adjust to unpredictability and uncertainty, as the pandemic continues to impact the behaviours of fashion consumers and the brands who seek to stay connected to them, and more immediately, exposes critical vulnerabilities right across demand and supply chains.
Counting the cost of COVID-19
Even before coronavirus hit, UK retail had seen its weakest performance in nearly seven years. Sales volumes were flat in February compared to the same month in 2019 after growth of 0.9 percent in January, the Office for National Statistics said.
Now, in countries with major outbreaks, retail is one of the hardest-hit sectors with sales plunging by 25 percent in Italy and as much as 50 percent in China.
Primark and Matalan are among retailers cancelling orders estimated at £2.4bn, with a catastrophic impact on the environment, garment workers and P&L accounts around the world.
Facing a crisis in both demand and supply, every brand is taking reactive measures to mitigate impact in the short term.
But there should be grounds for cautious optimism too.
The current situation provides an opportunity to reevaluate practices and may accelerate positive changes that have already been in motion.
We think many brands will, in time, come to view this crisis as a valuable time of reckoning.
COVID-19 is exposing and accelerating weaknesses among brands who are heavily dependent on wholesale, and lacking a direct consumer relationship.
In many ways the unpredictability and uncertainty caused by COVID-19 is an extreme example of what the industry has been experiencing over the last five years - shorter consumer trends, more divergence in demand across segments and geography and the challenges the supply chain faces in rapidly responding to changes in consumer preferences.
Today we are seeing the fastest, most extreme change in consumer demand the market has ever seen.
COVID-19 hasn't created a new problem for brands, it's just truly exposed the weakness and challenges they were already suffering from.
The new digital imperative: Linking Demand and Supply
We’ve been beating this drum for some time now, but the pandemic is truly driving home our message - the fashion sector MUST change.
Moving from mass production to on-demand is the future. Brands need to get better at engaging actual consumer demand. Becoming demand-driven is a key way to mitigate future pressure and crises: a future where no cancelled bulk orders or warehouses of unsold inventory is not only a possibility but an achievement that can be realised today.
Today, we’re working closely with our own customers to support them through the uncertainty. In many cases, with distribution centres closed, products created and manufactured using UnmadeOS are the only products they are able to fulfil.
Only by tightly coupling actual demand, production and distribution, is this possible.
Senior stakeholders have started to have conversations about digitising demand and supply chains to be more efficient and how UnmadeOS can accelerate this.
The coronavirus pandemic is a humanitarian and economic emergency. But it could also be the catalyst for lasting change for brands with vision and conscience.
And so in that regard, we hope COVID-19 is the thing that will make the fashion sector change forever.
Business as usual died last week. We are operating in a new world where flexibility, agility and alignment with consumer values is paramount. Once a business is congruent with consumer consciousness, that is when things get interesting and we will see progress very quickly.
Sooner rather than later, fashion companies need to become more efficient, adaptive and ultimately more sustainable, both economically and environmentally.
In fact, sustainability will soon be a regulatory requirement, forcing brands to review their operations, from environmental practices to ethical considerations around the environment and waste, labour and working conditions.
At that point, running responsive demand and supply chains will be critical. And so brands can either act now, or wait for legislation to drive change.