Images: Kenneth Ize, Super Yaya and Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood
Has lockdown forced the fashion industry to rethink its environmental impact? From brands opting out of the seasonal schedule to companies shifting the way they communicate, Relevé Fashion’s Raia Gomez speaks statistics with Tagwalk founder Alexandra Van Houtte to find out which key trends have emerged since the outbreak began.
Every season, trend forecasters analyse consumer data to predict the key fashion tendencies that will influence the upcoming collections. Yet speaking from halfway through 2020, it’s safe to say no amount of analysis could have ever predicted the events of this year and its massive impact on the entire fashion industry. Undoubtedly among the hardest hit, there has been much speculation as to how luxury and fast fashion brands alike will begin to remerge following the pandemic.
With major show dates rapidly disappearing from the diary, where better to turn to than Tagwalk: aka the Google of fashion, to identify the potential tendencies changing how many leading brands operate. While before, looking for a particular trend or a specific outfit meant hours of digging through fashion archives, Tagwalk has made it possible to search for any fashion keyword in a few clicks. As the industry’s leading search engine, founder Alexandra Van Houtte and her team have a wealth of information right at their fingertips – from top searches to the behaviour of their users. They are then able to use this data to credibly advise brands from an informed and insightful place.
In the time since Alexandra and I first discussed this feature, both Saint Laurent and Gucci announced that they would be stepping away from the traditional fashion calendar. Brands, both big and small, have not only had to find ways to pivot and survive the current global situation, but also implement initiatives to support their communities. Alexandra believes that sustainability will become more and more important even after the pandemic, because people will want to spend more time looking after the planet and each other.
Our conversation naturally progressed to the importance of brands supporting communities, firmly believing that if you can, you should. With the 2020 pandemic fast becoming a defining moment in ongoing social justice movements, the future of fashion looks beyond sustainable messaging to brands that actually hold themselves accountable for the messaging they put out. Not just campaigns that communicate real values, but brands actually practicing said values. That’s definitely the kind of fashion we’re all searching for.
How do you see the pandemic shifting consumers’ priorities when it comes to fashion purchases? What changes have you seen in user searches and hits?
We recognised a major shift during last season’s fashion shows towards sustainability. The number of sustainable looks more than doubled. However, the consumer is still shy on this subject. At the moment, only 54% of our 900 Instagram survey respondents answered that they check if a brand is sustainable before buying. While the consumer is still shy on this subject, we hope that there will be a major shift post confinement.
People are, however, going towards slow fashion; our survey showed that 70% of respondents are willing to invest in a piece of jewellery post confinement.
We also noticed within our survey that people are looking to take care of themselves in a healthy way through buying skincare products and sportswear. Durable clothing and healthiness are among their priorities.
What are you seeing in terms of changes in brand communications? A recent Medium article said that consumers should prepare for the ultimate gaslighting. Do you think we should now be more concerned about gaslighting and greenwashing?
The best initiatives were those of brands which used their power on social media to do good, before selling goods – highlighting the fight against Covid-19 instead of their products. Gucci is a good example of this. This shows a major shift in brand communications. There are and there will be more and more in the coming years, very strong and influential platforms and media outlets to promote causes in an efficient way.
Brands have started to auto-produce much more and work with groups of micro-influencers, who are more approachable and attainable. I think this is healthy. I also think that they have become more and more aware of the sustainability aspect of their production, even though we may not see it yet. I think there is real effort being put into this.
How do you now see the role of influencers changing? Many are saying that this will bring the end of influencer culture, what are your thoughts on this?
I think influencers are a huge drive to business for luxury brands. However, this pandemic has shown a new light on influencers – what consumers are willing to accept and what they would like to see less of. Authenticity is key. Real people with real passions in life seems to be what consumers lack seeing nowadays. They would prefer seeing women photographed in more natural situations instead of in front of a fashion show. Again, I find that healthy.
As the industry adapts to the current situation, with upcoming fashion shows already being cancelled and the uncertainty with September shows, how do you see fashion shows evolving?
I think brands need to go towards more storytelling, more spontaneity. They need to focus less on expensive ad campaigns that are disconnected from reality. Jacquemus is a good example of the power of speaking true, fast and in a genuine way. For fashion shows, it will be the same paradigm. Brands will need to think about subliming the product whilst putting know-how, transparency and storytelling under the spotlight. Clothes and ethics need to be at the centre whilst not losing the magic of the ‘story’, which makes the fashion industry so appealing. This will be the challenge.
As our lives have been forced to slow down and with the recent call from the BFC and the CFDA, do you think that the fashion industry will finally slow down, especially in terms of the industry’s seasonal calendar?
To be honest, I think there really shouldn’t be any seasons. It’s great to respect the designer’s vision and if the designer wants to draw up a collection in January because it sounds good to him or if he wants to drop a ten-piece collection in May because creativity works for him. You know, at the end of the day, the average consumer doesn’t go to the fashion shows so it’s more of what’s in store and what the offer is online.
I think it’s really good to slow down. It’s really good to start listening to what people want and what the fashion chain needs. Production was becoming too much and too high. Changes need to be accepted because everything is going to change. It’s good to go with what’s needed.
As a fashion startup yourself, what unique challenges and opportunities has the pandemic brought about?
At Tagwalk, we realised that people were spending more time on their phones, laptops etc. So, we created a newsletter that had a good title and informative data. This got relayed by everyone, from Forbes to Vogue, as well as French national television, bringing us huge traction.
This newsletter was thought out during the confinement because we had more time to concentrate on what is needed and important to keep on going. We’ve understood our strengths and weaknesses because we took time to listen to our instincts and analyse the numbers.
What’s your advice for other founders and entrepreneurs in these unprecedented times?
I think it’s a great time to take time! No one is going anywhere so look at your assets, what needs to be improved, what could be accentuated, where you can push and where you should slow down. Cut down your expenses to the most important ones and seize the moment.
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