The Runway Rundown

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E-Commerce: The Digital Dash for Domination


Businesses of all walks of life have suffered as coronavirus has brought economic hardships upon the globe, and the fashion industry has been no exception to covid’s ever-expanding grasp. 

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Many designers have been pushed toward innovation, creating out-of-the-box runway shows and fresh social media content to generate buzz among a generation known for its ever-shortening attention span.

However, attracting consumers is only half the battle. Transforming a peaked interest into customers actually opening up their wallets and shedding out cash for clothes is an entirely different story.

“We designers, we started as couturiers, with dreams, with intuition, with feeling,” said Alber Elbaz, former artistic director at blue-chip fashion house Lanvin.

“We became creative directors, so we have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, creating a buzz, making sure that it looks good in the pictures.”

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With most in-person shopping experiences now inaccessible, the best way for brands to maintain cash flow and attract new customers is to fully commit to online retail, more commonly referred to as e-commerce.

The fashion industry has seen the e-commerce market expand rapidly over the past decade, catering to millennials “see now, buy now” mentalities.

This contributed to the dominant rise of fast-fashion retailers like Zara and H&M, which made business for themselves by knocking-off designer’s trendy garments as soon as they hit the runway. These fast fashion brands undercut the sales of more established brands by getting their sweat-shop manufactured rip-offs on sale quickly, months before the designer’s clothes they copied actually hit the market.

High-end designers started to fight back, with brands like Tommy Hilfiger releasing collections available for immediate purchase online the same day as their debut, to avoid competition with fast-fashion’s lower quality version of their own designs.

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Now, with people stuck in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic, e-commerce remains as one of the sole options for the purchase of clothes and accessories. In fact, online shopping has seen a growth of 32.4 percent since the pandemic started, reaching sales of $794.5 billion, according to eMarketer, a stiff warning for brands to hop aboard the e-commerce train or be faced with shuttering their doors, if they haven’t already.

Brick-and-mortar stores saw a 3.2 percent decline in sales during 2020, a multi-billion dollar loss for the trillion dollar retail industry.

Lord & Taylor, the oldest department store chain in the United States, went bankrupt in 2020 after nearly 200 years.

Macy’s, another traditional U.S. department store chain, shuttered 30 stores in 2020, with another 95 stores announced to follow in closure within the next few years, signaling the end of classical in-store shopping as we know it.

Despite hardships for some brands, according to Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), the coronavirus pandemic has spurred a lot of positive changes, saying there has been “10 years of innovation in the last 10 months.”

Lamar pointed to modifications in the e-commerce system, like many retailers allowing online ordering for curbside pickup, as constructive steps forward for the fashion industry, adapting the online and in-person sales models into one.

“That seamless integration is really becoming the rule,” said Lamar. “It used to be the exception and we’re going to see a lot more of that.” 

E-commerce is only expected to keep on expanding as the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, growing closer and closer to becoming a trillion dollar industry, big dollars that designers better cash in on, lest they become yet another casualty of the deadly covid-19 pandemic.

…Jan. 12, 2021

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