What Now?

By Revekah Echols

Retailers scramble to stay afloat amid pandemic.

Like most other industries in the world, fashion will have a remarkably different horizon than it did before our present circumstances buried it two months ago. The steam engine of spring fashion, which was approaching top speed, grounded to a halt within days; and production, distribution and stores quite literally fell off the rails. At the time of writing, big retailers like Neiman Marcus are preparing to file for bankruptcy, and other major retailers like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nike are still closed with hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees and inventory, whose clock continues to tick.

Every industry and economy will have to find their way back (or forward, depending on one’s perspective), and it will be wrought with tricks and hurdles. Retail, especially for clothing, is mostly sunk irrevocably for the season, as even a worldwide virus does not keep the months from passing or seasons from changing. Many stores and brands began to discount inventory early last month to try and capture revenue, even though the sale window for spring goods usually falls closer to the end of May. While this may have been a welcomed sight for the population who have remained mostly confined in their homes, for stores and designers who often operate on thin margins, cutting into sales now means that they are parlaying the pressure onto the unknown fall season to make up the lost dollars. In addition to the massive production delays all around the world, the premise is a little unsound.

Other, larger questions for the fashion industry remain outside of just staying afloat, namely how fashion and the values that it signals — luxury, excess, an aloofness to reality — stay relevant when national unemployment has exponentially increased in a matter of weeks and consumers are constantly gaslighted with news of toilet paper shortages, riots and people dying. If Fendi or Yves Saint Laurent made N95 masks, would that be considered an insult or a measure of cooperation? Most likely, people’s appetites for things outside of food, shelter and water will ramp up again as productivity, money and life stabilize. But it is also possible that life has changed fundamentally and that the way we dress and eat and travel may be upended for the foreseeable, if not permanent, future.

In addition, with the flash sales and designer mask-making and the constant, pervasive gimmickry that has been assaulting consumers ever since people went into quarantine, it seems like fashion has at least temporarily lost some of its ability to be ungettable and mysterious. Of course, it is nice when suddenly the thing you wanted goes on sale, but it is dangerous to one of the basic tenets of fashion: it is special, it is creative and therefore an emotional commodity — and it is ephemeral. Without this, fashion loses its power.

Lastly, the biggest challenge for the fashion industry and the world at large is how to promote solidarity and unity when simply being together has become such an anathema. In some ways, the world has become a much smaller, cozier place with people being proverbially connected, but it has taken a worldwide tragedy for us to realize the extent to which we have been starved of physical touch, of dinner parties, even of crowded fashion shows. We do not live just to exist, we live to further ourselves, to have goals, to pursue happiness. I guess that’s what fashion symbolizes, and why it still matters, especially 6 feet away.

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