Reflecting on how 2020 has affected the fashion industry

Well, stating the obvious, 2020 has been a year like no other. What started off as what we thought was a normal year soon changed, and life as we knew it became a whole new experience. And what of the fashion industry? With stores opening and closing, it’s been through its own tumultuous journey, as we look back and reflect on a year that none of us could have ever imagined.

The High Street

Few of us will forget, Boris Johnson’s first stay-at-home order back in March. Non-essential retail was told they had to shut their doors, making our local high-streets a no-go zone. Some stores, such as Topshop, Selfridges, John Lewis and more had already taken that decision, but Boris’ statement left the rest of the retailers with no choice.

What was originally set to be three weeks left shops shut for almost three months, as online trade was relied on to keep them afloat. However, this wasn’t enough for some companies to survive, as we lost TM Lewin, whilst Oasis, Warehouse, Cath Kidston amongst other high street favourites went into administration, the former surviving as just online businesses.

After stores were able to reopen, the High Street did what it could over the summer and early autumn to draw people back in. This, alongside Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme brought people back into its city centres, but this also started to drive Covid cases back up. By October, and the start of the colder season, numbers were edging higher and higher, until a second lockdown was announced for the month of November, meaning that shops would be shut at the busiest time of the retail year. This lockdown was the final nail in the coffin for some of the biggest names in fashion, with Arcadia plummeting into administration, and, as a result of that, Debenhams’ buyers dropping out (Arcadia is their biggest concession), changing the High Street as we know it forever.

Now, as 30% of the country is in a new, higher Tier, which is effectively another lockdown, we wait to see what will happen for the rest of the country, and, what that will do for our High Streets in the future.

Online Retailers

Whilst it’s been a bad year for our High Streets, this year, the shift to online shopping has meant online retailers have kept many companies afloat. Some of our favourite brands had to completely rethink their marketing strategies to put the focus on online, whilst strengthening their relationships with their consumers. Social media has been more important than ever to develop brand trust, and to also see our favourite shops as lifestyle platforms, engaging with them directly as ‘friends’.

This year, perhaps the most important shopping weekend in retail – Black Friday, pressure was on solely online to perform, with physical stores unavailable. Whilst numbers were up for online, there was still a big fall in UK sales compared to last year.

When physical stores are shut, retailers are still able to offer a click and collect service. Some brands, such as Ted Baker and Whistles also have the option to Ship from Store, meaning they’re able to sell their store stock and post it, rather than sending warehouse produce, which means they can help their physical stores to profit. 

Whilst we know the pandemic is set to come to an end next year with the implementation of the vaccine, we don’t know the fate of our stores over the coming months. With the possibility that retail will be closed again, it will be interesting to see how online retailers tempt their customers post peak.

For Jobseekers

How has this all affected the job market? At the start of the pandemic, understandably, things drew to a halt. As the world was filled with uncertainty, so were hiring managers who reassessed their need for new employees. This was far from ideal for those hoping for entry level fashion jobs once they finished university in the summer, but it also left others unemployed, after they gave notice to leave their jobs and, due, to the pandemic, were unable to start new ones.

In fashion particularly, jobs were affected, as profits fell. Even fashion ecommerce jobs were hit, despite the boom in online retail. The furlough scheme meant jobs were able to be saved, but as stores reopened, many companies had to rethink their strategies, and restructures cost thousands of jobs in the industry, as many brands had to streamline their business to cut costs.

However, once our favourite brands picked up the pieces, the job market picked up, and, in fact, new and exciting roles have appeared. Fashion jobs have always been competitive, but, with us having more spare time on our hands, candidates have had the chance to make their applications more creative than ever, and impress future employers onto remembering them.

As we look forward to 2021, I see the job market continuing to evolve. This year has undoubtedly changed all our perspectives, and brands will carry on shifting their narratives to fit into this. Whilst it’s been a tough year for the fashion industry, people have still turned to it, seeing retail as a therapy as well as a necessity. We may have been sporting more loungewear than heels, but clothing has continued to be important to us, and as long as that’s the case, our industry will continue to reign supreme.