How the Denim Industry Has Been Responding to COVID-19
2020 will be a year that defines the future of fashion.
The past quarter has seen the coronavirus upend supply chains, forced the closure of brick-and-mortar stores, crush consumer demand and left retailers sitting on mountains of inventory. The industry is already in the process of significant transformation, but now as many parts of the world begin to strategize post-coronavirus exit strategies, the crisis becomes the catalyst for truly seismic change. It’s clear that the industry will be irrevocably different post Covid-19. But while it seems as if uncertainty is the only constant, many fashion businesses are using experience and new technologies as a way to navigate their way through the pandemic. Here we take a look at some of the ways brands are using the crisis to galvanize a path forward and come out on top during this uncertain time:
Levi’s, a company history of 167 years and one who’s survived the Great Depression, two world wars, earthquakes, fires, and even the 1918 flu pandemic, is placing innovation at the core of its recovery plan. In Levi’s Q1 earnings call in early April, LS&Co. president and CEO Chip Bergh touted the brand’s F.L.X. technology will be an advantage during this time, as it is able to bring newness when stores reopen regardless of when that is. The company is also leveraging digital tools throughout the organization and accelerating the rollout of new technology developed in its Eureka Innovation Lab, including photo-realistic 3D renderings of denim garments and samples. “This allows us to digitize the sampling process, enabling us to sell to merchants from images, rather than requiring physical samples,” Bergh said. This technology and others like it, Bergh added, will drive efficiency and speed to market, and reduce waste, while improving the company’s operations through and beyond the coronavirus pandemic. Likewise, Tommy Hilfiger has been investing heavily in digital design and the company is already largely powered by 3-D design, and experimenting with avatars and holograms at its Amsterdam innovation center. While much of the technology supports the internal Hilfiger business, the founding designer has stressed he is open to new possibilities, especially as the coronavirus pandemic topples fashion weeks and prompts a rethink of industry practices. “As soon as this virus is over, and we are back to the new normal, we will try to implement that within a few months. The technology is already around, technology tested by us, and we see great opportunities going in that direction” Hilfiger said in a statement to WWD. During April, Kingpins organisers introduced the brand’s first Zoom-hosted digital event during the original schedule of April 22–23. The two day online event hosted a series of talks, trend presentations and panels discussing industry topics. Without face-to-face appointments, vendors were invited to offer virtual collection presentations that introduced their latest innovations. The move to digital forced fabric developers to prioritize quality over quantity and this meant being hyper-selective in the designs they presented online. While there were discussions around how digital samples could be introduced for future virtual shows, many designers cite there is still an importance to see and touch the base fabrics. Many voices also stressed the importance of physically attending trade shows in terms of connecting with suppliers, networking relations and developing spontaneous ideas. Calik Denim recently opened up its operations at its production and research centre in Turkey after being closed between March 23rd and April 11th in order to enact vital social distancing measures. As the mill moves back into full capacity in accordance with social distance and hygiene rules, the company has introduced a number of new technologies to help protect teh safety of their workers. Thermal cameras at factory entrances monitor for signs of fever and the company is distributing masks and face shields to workers in close quarters. Calik is also implementing hygiene and safety training and information for employees as part of their comprehensive precautions.
With stores closed across the world due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Paige denim is looking to new virtual shopping experiences as a way to keep its retail staff connected with shoppers. The virtual styling feature, held via zoom, allows consumers to virtually chat with a Paige stylist who can walk them through the new collection, answer questions on fit and color and make personal recommendations the same way they would in-store. G-Star looked to engage with its online audience via a ‘Stay-at-Home Catwalk’ that was showcased on Instagram live. The initiative invited influencers and fans of the brand to walk the runway (aka the hallway in their own homes) and showcase the brand's latest seasonal offerings. A mainstay on the festival circuit, Levi’s is filling the void left by the cancellation and postponement of music festivals this spring with a month-long virtual musical festival, the Instagram Live 501 concert series. “Each week night at 5:01 p.m. [PT], artists such as Snoop Dogg and Bret Young are performing live in their Levi’s connecting with our fans while they’re doing their part to stay home and curb the spread of the virus,” Bergh said during Levi’s Q1 earnings call. Wrangler has been encouraging denim fanatics to stay creative during lockdown by taking part in their Denim DIY programme. For a week during April, the brand hosted a series of events that helped consumers upcycle their old jeans with customisations and easy alterations that they could do within the comfort of their own homes.
Major corporations like Prada, COS and Louis Vuitton are among the leading fashion brands that are pivoting to manufacture surgical face masks in response to the shortage caused by Covid-19. It's not just corporations that are doing their part though. Independent brands like Reformation have taken a lead by partnering with the LA Mayor to mobilize the Los Angeles garment district to jointly produce some 5 million masks through the L.A. Protects Initiative. Other denim brands including Greg Lauren, Double RL, Raleigh Denim, Citizens of Humanity, Marques Alemida, along with many more, have all been providing effort to support their local communities by participating in the production of PPE, donating funds and manufacturing facilities or pleading a portion of sales to support reliefs.