One of the most severely impacted industries from the coronavirus pandemic is global fashion. With $2.5 trillion in global avenues revenues, and employer to millions of people worldwide — in India apparel is said to employ anywhere from 45 to 65 million — it faces an unprecedented crisis in not just both supply and demand, but also in terms of conscience. It is, after all, the second most polluting industry in the world. To discuss the state of the global fashion industry, Weekend spoke to Imran Amed, founder and CEO of Business of Fashion (BoF). One of the most influential people in fashion, Amed’s media company has quickly emerged as a juggernaut in the fashion world. BoF’s daily email, comprising news and analysis go out to 700,000 registered users, and are a must-read by designers, industry executives, and pretty much anyone interested in the business. In recognition of its enormous influence, last year, the Financial Times invested in BoF.
Since 2016, BoF has been doing a State of Fashion report with McKinsey & Co, which was updated last month to reflect the pandemic’s fall out. In a Zoom interview, Amed discussed the report, its implications for India, leadership in a time of crisis, and how fashion could reap opportunity in these extraordinary times to re-invest itself. Key points from the conversation:
On leading during the pandemic
With a team of 100 scattered across London, Shanghai, Paris and New York, Amed had to prioritise employee health and safety. Once that was taken care of, he delivered a powerful message. “I reminded them that BoF itself was created and forged during the 2008 financial crisis.” In a talk he gave to his employees, he shared visuals of the headlines in the newspapers from those days. “I said these headlines aren’t from today, they are from when we first started. Just like we found opportunities back then, I am confident we can find opportunities in this crisis.”
On the distress facing the fashion industry
Despite the fashion industry’s rapid growth over the last decade, the spoils of that growth and profit were concentrated in a very small group. These ‘super winners’ dominate the industry, have the biggest brands, operate at the high luxury end of the industry but also at the fast fashion end of the industry. For the rest of the players, a lot of them were already in weak positions growing into this crisis. There’s a demand side crisis and a supply side crisis and the whole industry has come to a halt. It’s a double body blow.
On stimulating demand
In terms of resuscitating demand, there’s only so much fashion brands and the industry can control right now. Most executives have come to terms with that and are starting to re-think their relationship with customers. What will be the new spending and consumption behaviours? This will differ from region to region. Companies are completely re-factoring what we sell, how we sell, who we sell to in this time period. There will be some long-standing changes as a result of the shifts we are making now.
On #rewiring fashion as we know it
BoF is lending its support to a radical proposal towards resetting the fashion calendar, re-imagining fashion shows, and breaking fashion’s addiction to discounting. The truth is fashion’s approach to the market has been broken for some time. Rewiring fashion is something that came from the grassroots of our industry. If we were designing a system from a blank page which the coronavirus crisis has given us, how would we do it now? It’s about establishing a more responsible business model for the fashion industry which is hugely wasteful, exploitative, extractive by its nature. This is what customers are asking for.
On whether physical retail still matters
When I was in India in January, I had the opportunity to tour the new Reliance mall being built in Mumbai. It’s a massive space. As the lockdown happened I thought about the space and I thought, ‘What will happen to that mall now?’ It’s the same question people are grappling with the world over. In the short term, physical retail is going to be a challenge everywhere. Most people we are talking to are saying physical retail is going to be treated as a ‘by appointment’ luxury, a very personalised experience. When someone is making an effort to go into a store, then those people are very determined shoppers. That very determined, purposeful buying is going to be a very important part of the retail landscape. What’s going to be interesting is to see how the short-term experience of shopping with purpose and integrating that experience with digital journeys and digital interactions is going to carry over in the medium and long term of how physical stores work. People have been talking about the omnichannel experience for a long time now. This situation will accelerate that.
On localising fashion manufacturing
Most countries were self-reliant when it came to fashion manufacturing three to four decades ago. Now, whether you look at Canada or Australia or here in the UK, manufacturing of garments is no longer in the production expertise. They gave up on that many years ago. The fashion industry is extremely dependent on very few places for manufacturing and the supply chain is an intricate global chain of activity. I don’t see fashion manufacturing at scale in all of these countries appear all over again. That takes years to put into place. I do think many big global players will think carefully about putting all their eggs in that one proverbial basket where you are dependent on one region for your manufacturing.
On BoF’s live events business
I am still holding out hope that there may be a way for us to hold BoF VOICES in November as usual. If not, what I can say is that we are looking at other ways that VOICES can happen. One thing we are doing in the short term is holding a digital summit on June 17, about building responsible fashion businesses. That will be our first test case.
Advice for the Indian fashion community
Having hopped in and out of the Indian fashion scene over the last decade, I think there is so much room for more collaboration between the different players. The one thing that’s definitely true is that no one is in this situation alone. Everyone is facing the same challenges. There’s so much opportunity for people to band together, learn from each other and develop solutions in co-creation. As an industry and as a community, wherever we are, we need to come together to find solutions for the future.