BEIRUT: After suffering the worst slowdown in 2016 since the 2009 financial crisis, the fashion industry enjoyed glimmers of recovery in 2017.
And there is still plenty of light at the end of the tunnel.
According to the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, global fashion industry sales are projected to almost triple this coming year.
In partnership with Business Fashion, the consulting firm released their in-depth report, The State of Fashion 2018, outlining the trends that will shape the fashion world in 2018.
These trends are divided into three major groups: the global economy, consumer shifts, and the fashion system.
In a time of political and economic turmoil, unpredictability has become the only predictability.
Major world events seem to be consistently on the rise, from terrorist attacks to geopolitical unrest, such as the ongoing tensions between Qatar and the rest of the GCC, the refugee crisis and the renewed nuclear threat menacing the world.
Add to that the increasing number of natural disasters all over the world, fashion businesses need to remain vigilant and quick in order to adapt and adjust in a world where uncertainty is the new normal.
Fashion executives will need to direct their focus on what they can control and to put in place flexible supply chains and delivery models that can adapt quickly whenever a trouble strikes.
While right-wing nationalism seems to be on the rise everywhere, a new era of globalization is taking shape in a digital form. Thanks to digital connectivity and data flow, the world is more connected than ever before.
Over 900 million people have global connections on social media, with the big online platforms, like Facebook and WhatsApp, building a user base larger than some country populations.
New ways of connectivity will also see the light; by 2019, 40 percent of worldwide devices and connections will become machine-to-machine. Thanks to digital globalization, fashion companies can go into new markets with no need for a physical presence.
The fashion industry has been growing steadily in Asia, thanks to a strong economic growth. Today, the Asian market accounts for two-thirds of the world’s e-commerce unicorns (startup companies valued at over $1 billion), more than half of worldwide online sales and has become one of the most important regions for the industry.
The McKinsey FashionScope estimates that this year, Asia Pacific will make up for nearly 40 percent of clothes and shoe sales, and the apparel market is expected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020.
This year will also see more Asian brands establishing themselves and increasing their presence in the fashion world. Furthermore, Asian fashion companies will show off their global dominance beyond just sales, through large ventures.
In recent years, a number of Asian businesses have made big investments in Africa, taking advantage of low labor costs and geographical proximity to raw materials as well as western markets.
Guests attending the Chanel Spring Summer 2018 show during Paris Fashion Week. (AP Photo)
Long gone are the days of assimilation, nowadays it’s all about individuality and standing out. Which is why personalization and curation are predicted to be an important aspect of the fashion industry in 2018.
Whether through customisable products, personally curated recommendations or storytelling that relates to individuals, it’s all about personalizing customer experience as much as possible.
Shoppers have become pickier, and are always looking for original and one-of-a-kind items that will make them stand out, whether in pursuit of “likes” or to reinforce their image.
Social media platforms are here to stay. They will further cement their roles in the fashion world, as they become increasingly the first point of search for consumers.
This is primarily because these online channels offer a more extensive collection of products, which is highly curated thanks to insight-driven marketing, seamless logistics, and customer care.
Brands will have to find new ways to attract and engage shoppers through these platforms that have also become essential and powerful sale channels.
Everything is turning mobile, from relationships to end-to-end transactions. Studies show that consumers spend an average of six hours per week on their phones researching fashion. And now, they are seeing the convenience of mobile payments, whether through mobile wallets or by tapping to pay with their phones in stores.
This year will also see further integration of a shop and pay concept on online platforms, such as Instagram, where shoppers will be able to buy products directly from within the app.
Guest during Paris Fashion Week. (AP Photo)
THE FASHION SYSTEM
AI GETS REAL
2017 witnessed a rapid rise in artificial intelligence, and it won’t slow down in 2018. In fact, AI will most likely grow even more this year and get further incorporated in industries.
The fashion industry will explore the prospects of AI across all parts of the fashion value chain. For instance, AI can significantly improve speed, cost, and flexibility across the fashion supply chain. It will also greatly benefit brands in terms of predictive forecasting, capacity planning and merchandising. However, AI integration will go beyond supply chain tasks.
Fashion businesses will take advantage of it on the creative side as well, making use of it when it comes to processes such as design and product development.
Sustainability will no longer be solely the talk of environmentalists and will take the forefront in the fashion world in 2018. Fashion corporations have started to take into account the importance of sustainability and integrating it into their models.
One main drive behind this embrace is the realization that sustainability can be a major source of differentiation and appeal to consumers. Studies showed that 66 percent of millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable. In simpler terms, sustainability = sales.
While the concept of outlet malls is not new, it has become an integral aspect of the fashion retail landscape and will continue to grow, as consumers still want lower prices. Off-price retail is also useful for companies as it gives them a quick and easy fix for excessive inventory.
In 2015, the excess inventory alone added up to $472 billion of total lost retail revenue globally. The United States is one of the leaders in off-price concepts, with two-thirds of customers shopping at an off-price store in 2016.
However, some say that the off-price market in the US has reached a tipping point and may have a more damaging effect than a beneficial one, such as was the case with Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren.
While the US market is quickly reaching its saturation point, other regions, such as Europe and Asia, are just getting into the off-price pool.
The number of outlets has more than doubled in Europe between 2003 and 2017, and in China, the market is predicted to reach $12.2 billion this coming year.
If there is one mantra to live by in the fashion industry, it’s “innovate or die”. In this fast-paced industry, there is a constant urgency to always innovate, or you cease to exist. Which is why fashion corporations will need to look at and emulate startup culture when it comes to agility, collaboration, and openness.
Big businesses across various fields have already implemented the startup model to their own, as it showed to be highly effective, improves speed and innovation.
Another way to do so is through the acquisition of new and original startups. Fashion companies are expected to heavily invest this year in startups, especially those relating to technologies in fashion.
Ghida Abdel Sater is a fashion journalist. She received her MA in Fashion Journalism from the London College of Fashion and has a background in journalism and public relations.
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