2020 has been transformative for the fashion industry as protests, a global pandemic, and a growing awareness of the environmental impact of the sector have been in the spotlight. Much of the year has been spent adapting to new trends influenced by COVID-19. Despite initial fears that shoppers would abandon style in favor of comfort, creativity, conscious consumption, and a continued desire to maintain normalcy have led the year.
We have discussed several affected areas including resale and secondhand, athleisure, cosmetics, and beauty as they continued to evolve over the past few months. Given the rapid changes, it has been crucial that companies remained on top of the evolving landscape. As we close the year, the following three key trends in the social data highlight how people will interact with fashion post-lockdown.
Fashion as a Political Statement (Politics are in fashion)
Fashion labels have taken diverse approaches to addressing ongoing political movements and protests. Engaging in these conversations in an appropriate manner can reinforce brand values in the minds of shoppers. However, some companies remain wary of balancing activism or political statements with their general brand messaging. While brands should be cautious of cultural sensitivities, dare to boldly embrace social moments as they align with your core values in 2021.
There is a long history of clothing being used as a political statement, whether that be in the suffragette movements of the early 20th century, or in modern civil rights movements. As we’ve seen in 2020, clothes can move fluidly between ornamental and utilitarian uses for brands and consumers alike.
Socio-political movements present an opportunity for companies to stand by their corporate values. Balancing consumer centricity and placing values at the core of marketing initiatives is a winning strategy. Customers connect brand values with the products they choose to consume. By ignoring the current climate, businesses run the risk of becoming irrelevant. For brands like Patagonia in particular, impactful involvement comes easily.
The message is clear and in line with their previous engagement in environmental and political issues. The image and related conversations were retweeted by over 55k people and spawned the spinoff hashtag, #votetheassholesout. This simple tag pushed a wider conversation on many of the issues the Patagonia brand also supports, but which have been negatively impacted due to the current political policies. The social post appeared organically, at the right time, and in the perfect climate.
The summer of 2020 saw several fashion related hashtags take an activist spin, including #craftivism (65kposts), #subversivecrossstitch (42k posts), and more. As we continue to contend with social distancing measures, fashion presents an opportunity for people to further express themselves without leaving the safety of their homes.
Source: Instagram, #craftivism, #subversivecrossstitch
China: Homegrown Brands Lead the Way
For global brands, there may be no single market more important than China in the post-COVID recovery period. Carving out a piece of the projected growth in this market will be quite the task in a crowded field of homegrown and international competitors. Shoppers in China are hyper aware of a brand’s reputation, and similarly to customers in the West, they expect the companies they support to maintain a good standing.
Although luxury spending is expected to nearly double between now and 2025, the impact on the wider market is worth a re-examination, particularly when searching for new ways to engage Chinese shoppers. Young people and their buying habits are key in driving growth. They keep an eye on what's trendy instead of focusing on branded products. With a growing detachment from luxury and well known marks, comes an embrace of homegrown players. Western brands need to act quickly if they wish to stay relevant.
There is an increased sensitivity to marketing and fashion shows that promote “Orientalism”. Western labels have learned that it is a slippery slope from appreciating Chinese culture to pandering to Asian culture generally. The further threat of a trade war with the United States has accelerated feelings of national pride and Chinese identity, particularly in younger consumers.
Source: Linkfluence Radarly, Young Chinese Consumers Embrace Homegrown Streetwear Brands
This trend is particularly evident in streetwear. With a growing domestic market, Chinese brands could soon surpass foreign marks on the mainland. Companies in China already spend significantly to create e-commerce ecosystems with social platforms like Weibo, WeChat, and T-Mall in pursuit of larger market share. Western logos have been steadily adapting but these native players are already making huge waves on social media. Events like the #taobaomakerfestival in 2020 (2.4bn views) and T-Mall “Guochaolaile” or #chinesetrendiscoming (3.9bn views) attracted huge audiences on social media with millions of posts between them.
Source: Linkfluence Radarly, Chinese Trend “Guo Chao” before and after the pandemic
Further, pushing this trend is a mindfulness among Chinese consumers of previous marketing missteps from western brands. Conversations on the social web signal not everyone has let go of these slights. With consumer confidence redounding faster than projected, solid online support for homegrown Chinese brands, and a disdain for western misinterpretation of their culture, the time to act is now. For labels in this market, a laser focus on meeting buyers on native platforms and remaining aware of cultural considerations is a key way to ensure success in the coming months.
A New Relationship with Consumerism
Gen-Z is championing the move towards a more meaningful relationship with the clothing and fashion they consume. No longer content to be the material girls of the late 20th century, the younger audience is focusing on eliminating fast fashion and “upcycling” older items. Creativity, sustainability, and innovation are key.
As more people opt for conscious consumption, clothing and products that can be repurposed into second and third forms are gaining popularity. Shoppers in the space have turned small designers into viral celebrities as the trend grows.
Just as brands needed to adapt their marketing and sales perspectives to adjust for the secondhand and resale market, so must they adapt to the terms used by this generation of consumers. The shift toward the term “seasonless” as used by brands and influencers versus the more popular term “slow fashion” used by consumers highlights a disconnect. Of course, adjusting to seasonless clothing collections has wider ramifications for the industry. Fashion houses that typically showcase new products at fashion week events have had to re-asses during the pandemic. As they conceptualize new formats, there is an opportunity for brands to reimagine shows in a more consumer centric way.
Source: Linkfluence Radarly, Interest in Sustainability & the Environment during the pandemic
With a shift to slow fashion, more clothing lovers are keeping older designer items to incorporate them into their wardrobe in new ways. Being fashionable no longer means being on the cutting edge of the newest season releases, instead, creative restyling and upcycling is the way forward.
Many have already identified common offenders in the space and credit them with increasing pollution and undesirable labor conditions in developing countries. By highlighting eco-conscious initiatives, championing second-hand resellers, and putting an emphasis on sustainable business practices, fashion marks can solidify their commitment to improvement. Quality over quantity will drive sales in 2021. Less waste, sustainability and an appeal to users of second hand or upcycle will be key.
Adjusting to At Home Fashion
With people spending the majority of the year staying safe at home, it’s no wonder athleisure and home wear has grown exponentially in the last few months. Although both men and women choose more comfortable options for their work from home wardrobes, men are more likely to relate this trend to working out whereas women have developed a new relationship to homewear.
Source: Linkfluence Radarly, March to May 2020 Discussions of Athleisure by Gender
Adapting to an “always home way of life” has brought back fashion trends from the early 2000’s. Here, Nike wins again with its extensive apparel and shoewear offerings. Nostalgia is a key theme in this category, with velour sweatsuits making a comeback in the form of clothing lines from both large brands and celebrities like Kim Kardashian.
Loungewear and sleepwear featuring fabrics like silk, cashmere, and organic cotton are favored by many women working from home. Finding outfits that can go from day to night has been a long-lasting trend, 2020 has just pivoted the conversation from the classic little black dress to comfortable sets and loungewear.
Comfortable work from home clothing is a trend that is here to stay. As political and economic factors continue to put pressure on the fashion industry, it’s important to not only track trends but understand how shoppers experience your brand. As businesses weigh the future of work and the forthcoming end of pandemic regulations, consumers have shifted minimally on the athleisure trend. Although women still overwhelmingly dominate the category, brands need to be sure to continually take the pulse of the landscape.
Source: Linkfluence Radarly, June to September 2020 Discussions of Athleisure by Gender
A Strong Start to 2021
Fashion and beauty brands should take advantage of these trends and marketing wins to create a base of enthusiastic customers in 2021. Focusing on values, remaining sensitive to the global factors affecting consumers, and tracking how individuals relate to products will impact success rates. As the context is quickly evolving, it is imperative that brands manage the pressure to deliver on their target markets’ needs. Social intelligence is an important tool to have in the marketing toolbox in an effort to maintain consumer centricity.
Now, more than ever, customers are prone to take their money elsewhere when brands are involved in controversy. Real-time, no-touch research can strengthen marketing around a product and identify both benefits to key consumers and the issues they care about. Get to know your tribes, engage with emerging trends, and monitor your brand reputation in all key markets.