The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has created an enormous disruption to several sectors around the world, including the fashion industry, from end consumption to manufacturing and distribution. There was an estimated seventeen percent decline in the global sales of apparel and footwear in 2020 a back to normal scenario cannot be foreseen for the next couple of months.
Over the weekend, I had a conversation with one of Africa’s leading figures within the fashion industry on the challenging times the industry is going through. The established fashion entrepreneur, Mawuenana Ami Yomkepe is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the popular afrofusion womenswear brand, MOD.
I was warmly welcomed to The Mod HQ located in Osu, the heart of Ghana’s businesses district by an elated Ami who would offer me a glass of freshly squeezed juice after going through the covid protocols which is certainly a prerequisite to enter The Mod HQ.
Our conversation commenced on the current state of the fashion industry and further discussed possible solutions for companies to survive the challenging times and terrain. Ami is a positivist and expressed her confidence in the recovery of the industry in the shortest possible time. She perceives the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity for change within the fashion industry.
To make this possible, Ami hinted on the need for professionals in the fashion industry to create survival strategies in order to stay relevant in the industry. She mentioned Digitalization as the first strategy to consider. According to her, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to digital in the distribution chain through e-commerce and the fashion industry is no exception.
“Post-pandemic, consumers of all generations will have been forced to take the digital plunge and many people previously reluctant to purchase online are now becoming used to it as a way of shopping and as a way of engaging with brands. The good thing is that big and small retailers and brands can use tools such as Facebook Shops, with no-fees attached, to sell their products across both Facebook and Instagram,” she emphasized.
She added that “technology is expected to be used in all parts of the supply chain and the companies which do not use tech will be left behind. It will get to a point where majority of wholesalers will be required to work on automation, 3D sampling and virtual fairs to name a few. Immersive technology such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and live streaming technologies adopted by brands during the lockdown are also set to be used on a much larger scale in the wake of the crisis.”
Entrepreneurs will need to get more creative in their approaches than before according to the 2021 Standard Chartered Women in Technology Incubator Fellow. “Collaborations is the way to go and I truly believe businesses will need to collaborate effectively to address the unusual issues and complications arising from COVID-19.
Some of the great advantages of collaborating are the opportunity for knowledge sharing, saving money, solving problems and growing networks. In the United Kingdom, some designers joined forces to launch non-medical charity face masks and it made a great impression for their individual benefits,” she explained.
COVID-19 is accelerating brand purpose as a business strategy and Ami mentioned that fashion businesses should place a bit more emphasis on brand purpose.
Explaining further, she stated that “what do we see today? Consumers expect authentic and thoughtful messaging, seeking out companies that align with their own values and have a positive impact on the world, rather than focusing exclusively on profit. Many smaller and younger brands have been very good at building a cult following around core values that speak to people.”
While no one can predict what the next normal will be like, it is expected that many consumers will resume their pre-crisis habits once the conditions allow. In her estimation, it will be very important to anticipate the possible shifts in consumer sentiment and behavior, which will go a long way to help in planning.
“Many people will return to a fundamentally different work environment, one in which telecommuting, flexible working hours with an emphasis on work life balance are new norms. Comfort could become a top consideration in purchasing clothes and the trending word all around is casualization, which was already strong prior to the crisis, could further accelerate. A lot of fashion companies will start to value flexible supply chain over a low – cost one,” she indicated.
As the fashion industry adapts to social distancing, entrepreneurs can expect to see growth in the personal shopping experience, particularly at the premium fashion end. This will be an opportunity for brands to connect with their customers on a personal level and understand its customers’ needs, while the customer will benefit from having a great-personalized experience.
Ami cited the example of United Kingdom based retailer John Lewis launching a free, virtual personal shopping service for customers to receive the product advice they would get in the department store without leaving their home. Italian luxury brand Gucci is also betting on personalised video consultations spurring sales, having just launched its own video service, Gucci Live.
Concluding our conversation, Ami indicated that the pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse as a creative entrepreneur. Businesses have been pushed to pivot quickly to address the ever changing needs of their clients and in the current digital environment, creating and sustaining an engaging community online has been the driving force in maintaining the presence of a business.
“As entrepreneurs, we need to prepare for the future of the fashion industry in the post-pandemic era. We need to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global fashion industry and be able to analyze macro-economic factors shaping the global fashion industry. In addition, evaluating the attractiveness of the global fashion industry is key to assessing how to launch into the global market as an African brand whilst identifying key industry trends post-pandemic,” she added.