The world is watching the fashion industry unravel as its retail stores remain closed and supply chains are in lockdown. How will the industry adapt and emerge from the global COVID-19 crisis? A deluge of mainstream media coverage has revealed the humanitarian crises emerging in manufacturing countries,including Bangladesh and India, as a result of fashion brands canceling garment orders, while many retailers are facing a previously unfathomable absence of demand for discretionary fashion. Comment from global brands has been largely contained as the spread of coronavirus places them in unpredictable and changing circumstances on a daily basis.
For the first time since lockdown began, and following the postponement of key industry events including the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and COP 26, Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks is gathering the fashion industry online for two days of discussions on April 20 and 21, with over 80 speakers addressing the industry challenges and potential solutions. The event is free to attend online and speakers include fashion designers, academics and educators, sustainability and supply chain experts, journalists and broadcasters and software and technology providers alongside business analysts.
Founded by Jordana and Marcelo Guimaraes in 2018, Fashinnovation began hosting events in New York to offer fashion industry decision-makers transformative technology solutions, alongside keynote speeches and panel discussions. As adoption of technology-based solutions accelerates rapidly during the lockdown, the Fashinnovation team assembled this online event due to an overwhelming response from fashion industry leaders wanting to discuss how the industry should adapt to current challenges now, and re-construct the industry in the months and years ahead.
I spoke to a number of industry leaders taking part in Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks to ask their views on the current industry crisis, potential solutions, and what their message during the talks will be. Industry veteran, Kenneth Cole, will share his views on social impact and “giving back” at a time when fashion businesses are in financial turmoil. Cole says business and community are “interdependent” and “the proverbial hand that feeds each other.” Reflecting on 35 years in business and adapting to market challenges throughout that time, he said that: “We have been referring to KennethCole.com as our global flagship for over 5 years now, so the focus on e-commerce (during COVID-19) is not new,” which is no doubt a relief during retail store lockdown. His message? Fashion is here not only for good, but to do good.
“Our corporations are struggling, as are our already underserved communities… their mutual dependency has never been more real.”
Kenneth Cole, Designer
In a similar vein, Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of international institutional relations at Kering, summed up the current global industry position as bringing “to the foreground the extent of how social and environmental sustainability is intrinsically linked to our global well-being.” Daveu will take part in a fireside chat with Marie Driscoll, Managing Director of Luxury & Fashion at Coresight, who asserted that we can see how the environment has benefitted from lockdown, and could, therefore, embed sustainability in the founding of the “new world order.” On the subject of sustainability as a business metric, she went on to say: “A bigger group of investors are asking about sustainability, which means that Wall Street cares about sustainability.”
What action does Driscoll believe we need to take to create a more resilient, sustainable industry? “The scale business-model needs to be examined,” she said. Does it really make sense, she asked? Core to the problem of overstock, she said, is that: “We’re not tracking in an accounting way the overstock that doesn’t sell—we have to bring the environmental teams and accountants together to really look at the cost (to) the rest of the world, not just what it was (priced at), or how much it cost to get rid of.” Pointing to algorithmic modeling as a solution, she concedes that access to the required data, both in type and volume, is probably the first challenge here.
“Consumers care about brands that have values. It’s not (just) about transactions anymore.”
Marie Driscoll, Managing Director of Luxury & Fashion at Coresight
Chief Innovation Officer of the hybrid material science lab and cult ‘basics’ fashion label, Pangaia, Dr. Amanda Parkes, will conduct a fireside chat with her colleague and founder of Future Tech Lab, Miroslava Duma. Parkes revealed that COVID-19 has “sparked a rise in consumer’s expectations for brands and corporations to behave not only responsibly and transparently, but with empathy.” Hinting at their core focus, she said: “Pangaia was founded on the belief that science and technology can provide solutions to the issues that are plaguing the fashion industry,” which right now, include overstock, toxic chemical and material processes and opaque global supply chains. The first patented product launched by the brand was the FLWRDWN puffer jacket—containing plant-based down in place of the animal-origin equivalent, with no compromise on performance. In Parkes’s opinion, the current situation is an opportunity to accelerate and prioritize the adoption of scientific and technological innovation.
StockX operates a phenomenally successful eCommerce site for rare sneakers and sportswear, with 3 million Instagram followers tracking their latest product drops, shoppable directly from the app. Founder Josh Luber will take part in the panel discussion “Innovating Via eCommerce” on day one of the conference. When asked about the opportunities afforded by the current crisis, Luber said: “(the) StockX platform has remained strong and stable throughout the pandemic. We’ve all seen the massive toll COVID-19 is taking on brick-and-mortar retail but as a secondary marketplace, we are in a unique position. Brands themselves aren’t able to provide the level of access to the sneakers and other products that comprise our catalog, so consumers are turning to StockX as their first point of destination for these coveted products.”
When asked why he chose to take part in the event, he said: “Fashinnovation is creating a forum for accessible, authentic, transparent conversations about the industry. At a time of uncertainty when we’re all being forced to pivot, knowledge-sharing is perhaps, more important than ever.”
African Fashion Foundation (AFF) will be hosting a panel discussion on African Heritage and Design, including founder Roberta Annan and Alexis Rai Gaynor Hernandez, Director of Digital Strategy and Partnerships. Hernandez explained the importance of the AFF’s involvement in the online talks: “Fashion and aesthetic are major components of African Heritage, but because of the limited funding, resources, and opportunity on the continent, designers, fashion professionals, and other cultural and creative professionals are not able to produce and display at competitive standards.” Despite this, there is a “renaissance occurring on the Continent of Africa through its Orange Economy,” she says, “resulting in a rise in global interest in Africa’s cultural, economic, and technological ascension.” The discussion will include viewpoints on how Africans are increasing their stake in the global economy by designing scalable solutions to include their cultural and creative talents, instead of conforming to the Euro or Western Standards.
At the time of going to press, there were 16,000 registrants to the conference spanning Asia, the Nordic countries, Europe and the United States, with a rate of between around 2 signups per minute. With panel titles spanning How to Adapt & Thrive in Times of Crisis, How Sustainability Can Be Part of the Solution in the Current Crisis and Circular Economy & Supply Chain from A to Z, the content addresses technology, ethics, sustainability, new business models and more.
This Fashinnovation event promises to be a jumping-off point for new, strategic thinking, that examines global supply chains, questions failing metrics and business models and ask what role science and technology will play in the fashion industry’s reinvention. Register here to take part.