"One of the things we're trying to get out in the market is how do [brands and retailers] come out on the rebound side as a winner?" Avery Dennison RBIS Vice President Michael Barton is pondering the question that everyone in fashion in asking themselves right now.
That the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for the fashion industry goes without saying; the shuttered stores, the unsold stock, the lack of demand due to the cancellation of events and holidays and an increasing trend towards working at home. In the UK alone the British fashion industry's contribution to GDP is forecast to drop from its previous £32bn to £26.2bn while revenues are set to slump from £118bn to £88bn.
But, as ever when there are problems in an industry, there are opportunities in providing solutions to those problems. Avery Dennison, which creates retail branding and technology solutions, has been developing personalisation and customisation solutions for fashion and apparel for a number of years and now could be just the time to see them go mainstream.
To show its support for the COVID-19 crisis it has produced the Patched Together campaign, which has resulted in the company creating a series of patches, of the sort normally used to brand football shirts, featuring positive messages and imagery to spread some feel-good around the crisis.
Patches include messages such as "Stay Home", "Stay Safe", "Be Kind" and "Hero" and impactful graphic imagery of healthcare workers. The iron-on patches can be bought online in packs of six for $25 with the proceeds going to Medecins Sans Frontieres. The idea is for people to buy them and share them with their friends and family. Avery Dennison has been using them to brighten the days of healthcare workers by using them to decorate and donate scrubs and uniforms.
"The product is about bringing happiness. It's about elevating frontline people to heroes and making them feel good about what they are doing," Barton explains.
But, outside of the frontline of the crisis and the fundraising, these patches could provide the solution to many of fashions great current challenges such as over-stocks, making personalised product on demand and tapping into the desire for people to send a message through their clothing right now.
Around the globe brands and retailers are sitting on mountains of unsold stock, some of which is being "hibernated" until next Spring, when it is hoped the world will have returned to some form of normality. (Avery Dennison is also known for its RFID solutions that ensure brands have full visibility of their stock helping them to get it to the right place at the right time to maximise sales). But what if that stock could be used as a vehicle for an on-demand personalised clothing model? It's all possible, says Barton.
"That concept really does play well into this solution," he says. "Customisation could play a big role [in reducing overstocks]. It's not simple to execute but it is one solution to the problem. If you get it right you can up-sell that product and make it more valuable."
What you can also do is make product more relevant. COVID-19 is not the only big issue dominating society at present. The Black Lives Matter movement has taken centre stage and Avery Dennison played a role in helping the UK football community express its support in a quick turnaround project.
The company is the official name, number, and sleeve badge supplier of the Premier League. Once the League was permitted to re-start matches behind closed doors, Avery Dennison worked with clubs to replace players' names with the Black Lives Matter phrase on the back of their shirts along with adding BLM sleeve patches and an NHS chest badge. The shirts were then auctioned off and Avery Dennison donated to the to the Players Together fund in support of NHS workers and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.
"We turned that around in less than a week," Barton says of the project and adds that the trend towards making a statement with clothing is one that will endure and, of course, the application could extend beyond the world of football.
Through customisation brands can tap into global movements at speed and allow customers to express their feelings on the matter. "We believe it's going to endure. People want to be part of positive movements and they want to be individuals but tied to a collective voice. It's a mega-trend that started in last two to three years," Barton says.
While it clearly wouldn't work for all garments, thinking about creating a base product (thus introducing the efficiency of standardisation into the mix) that can be customised on demand (whether it's to do with a specific movement or just to create something to your own taste) is bound to grow in popularity and is already been adopted by major global brands such as Calvin Klein and Nike.
As with many trends, such as the consumer shift towards digital, COVID-19 has sped up a movement in customisation that was already gaining traction in fashion. For it to truly take hold across the market will take some doing, given the infrastructure and processes embedded in the industry. But those that do adopt it could be among the winners to emerge from the rebound.
"The supply chain [in fashion] has been built for 20-plus years. It's going to take time to move it significantly but it's gonna happen. Also it could be a good opportunity for the development of new brands," says Barton.
And that's where the excitement truly begins. While it's depressing witnessing the demise of many of fashion's best known names, the new technologies and approaches that are gaining momentum as a result of COVID-19, could open the door for many new and exciting names to emerge. And, when they do, the whole industry will emerge as a winner.