• Rosie Burbidge

Covid and the digital future for the fashion industry

Updated: Jan 27



There is no doubt that Covid has been extremely challenging for retail in general and fashion in particular. These challenges have included everything from supply chains being put under increased strain through to demand varying substantially with product type and method of delivery. It's fair to say that Brexit hasn't helped matters.


Trade events

One interesting angle on this concerns trade events. The fabric fairs and international fashion weeks were once staples of the fashion calendar. In the last year this has all had to move online with varying degrees of success. Whilst digital catwalks have many advantages - more on this below - a major challenge to the global fashion business comes from the lack of a physical show room. It is hard to entice people to a digital stall - you don't necessarily know who is lurking outside and the casual conversations which are the backbone of a lot of business are lost.

The businesses that have fared best are those with long established brand equity and those who are particularly savvy at digital marketing. The latter are best able to adapt their existing social media and related channels. It shows how important it is to consistently invest in digital marketing, including but not limited to social media. Some brands have been able to truly come alive this year via a combination of broad appeal and exclusive access to particular content. This remains a winning combination for fashion. As with other industries, once covid is a thing of the past, it is likely that we will return to in person but there will be more digitalisation in some areas, particularly look books which have moved from static pdfs to virtual, integrated microsites.


The catwalk

There is a significant cost saving due to both people and merchandise not having to travel to make a brief appearance on the catwalk. It is hard to make a splash on a digital catwalk but those who succeed are remembered and shared in a way that can be harder to replicate on a traditional catwalk. It also gives everyone the opportunity to be in the front row.


Vivienne Westwood have long pioneered the digital catwalk. For environmental reasons they have relied on digital shows since 2008. They would still attend the fashion shows but rather than showcasing the products, they simply produced a presentation that would be featured and used lookbooks to demonstrate a variety of new products. This meant that the brand was incredibly well positioned in 2020.


In summary, the digital catwalk has many advantages:

  1. It is much better for the environment

  2. It saves a lot of time - models and clothes don't have to travel. Logistics are considerably simpler

  3. It saves money - which is particularly welcome at the moment

  4. It is much more accessible which is great for improving diversity

Clearly the major gap is the sensory element - personal connections and the tangible sense of the new collection are not possible on a 2D screen (or even in virtual reality). But the two major trends in fashion today are diversity and sustainability and the digital catwalk is perfect for both.


Digital fitting rooms


Finally, one less well known digital tool is a virtual fitting room. This places a particular garment on an avatar which resembles the person to be fitted with varying degrees of success. I worked on a digital fitting product over 10 years ago (and of course the concept is famous thanks to Clueless). The success of the technology tends to be quite variable. Currently, it makes particular sense for high value items such as wedding dresses. Whilst it is no substitute for trying on a wedding dress identifying "mismatches" at an early stage can cut down on visits to bridal stores and create an experience which can be shared with friends and family around the world who might not otherwise be able to go in person. To find out more contact Rosie Burbidge, Intellectual Property Partner at Gunnercooke LLP in London - rosie.burbidge@gunnercooke.com

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