From suits to sweatpants during and after the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has sped up several trends in the apparel industry. Lockdowns resulted in more casual apparel and faster growth of athleisure wear. More and more often, customers are concerned with sustainability and conscious consumerism. Also, now more than ever, they buy apparel online.

The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for the fashion industry in many ways. Due to lockdowns, people stayed at home for large parts of 2020 and 2021. Lockdowns caused a shift to remote working and fewer social events such as weddings. Some stores experienced temporary or even permanent closures. As people lost their jobs, their spending power declined. All this led to a considerable drop in fashion sales. A recent McKinsey study shows that 2020 had record-low profits for the industry. McKinsey expects the instability to continue in 2021.

Besides sales declines, the pandemic has sped up existing trends:

  • increase in casual apparel;
  • increase in athleisure sales;
  • growth of digital channels; and
  • increasing consumer focus on sustainability.

Apparel is becoming more casual

The consumer trend of moving away from formal wear has been around for a long time. And the pandemic has strengthened it even more. During lockdowns, people spent more time at home. There, comfortable, well-made clothing became essential. Casual wear was one of the few categories that experienced sales growth. Industry experts expect consumers to continue demanding more comfortable clothes, even once the pandemic is over. But, there will also be a revival of demand for more unique and glamorous fashion.

Athleisure also popular

In contrast to the decline of fashion sales, athleisure segment sales have increased. According to Forbes, the increase in athleisure orders may be as high as 84%. This is in line with the casual apparel trend. Consumer habits strongly reinforced this trend. The increasing trend in home exercising increased the demand for leggings, sweatpants and loungewear. The increase in athleisure is not a new trend. But, the pandemic has solidified athleisure wear in the fashion industry. For more information on Athleisure, read the CBI market study on sportswear.

Shift to digital

Online sales have been growing steadily for some time. But, the pandemic has boosted online sales even further. Wholesale channels and independent retailers have suffered the last 2 years.  But online sales have increased by 30-50% a year in different apparel categories and regions during the same timeframe. In some countries, online channels accounted for 40% of all apparel sales.

Online channels are innovating their services. For example, many offer sizing and fitting analytics and personalised recommendations based on previous purchases and search histories. Online sales will continue to grow. This will give new brands access to global markets through digital platforms.

Sustainability is back

Sustainability is a long-term trend in fashion. It continues to be one of the drivers of the fashion industry. The pandemic has brought back consumer focus to sustainability issues. Consumers have been buying fewer clothes, but research shows that their fashion choices favour brands committed to reducing environmental impact and fair treatment of their workers. They are also looking for more durable and higher-quality materials.

Many fashion companies have used the pandemic as an opportunity to renew their business models, streamline their operations, and sharpen their customer propositions. This has resulted in a higher focus on sustainable and agile business, meaning fewer collections, fewer drops and fewer stock-keeping units.

For more information on the European apparel market and its trends, read the CBI market research on Market Demand and Trends.

M-brain wrote this article for CBI.

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