Fashion world goes online to beat coronavirus

Tan Weiyun
The fashion industry has been badly hit in the novel coronavirus epidemic since the turn of the year. But Internet is making fashion brands adapt and reinvent themselves.
Tan Weiyun

The fashion industry has been badly hit in the novel coronavirus epidemic since the turn of the year. 

Fashion shows have been either canceled or ended abruptly, yearly sales’ plans, branding and promotions fouled up and, worst of all, some stores have been closed down.

China is one of the world’s most important markets for the fashion business, and the country has suffered a bigger setback than most. 

Chinese supermodels, fashion bloggers, KOLs (key opinion leaders), celebrities and designers all had to cancel travel plans to the world’s top four fashion weeks in Milan, New York, London and Paris, because of the epidemic.

“For one reason it is to control the spread of the epidemic, and for another, the media exposure of celebrities and luxury brands in this situation is unfavorable to their images,” said Flora Zhang, a brand marketing director. 

“It would be awkward to get their names running with the news of the country’s effort to fight the disease, which goes against mainstream values and will cause much social criticism.”

But Europe and the United States aren’t the only places to be hit by the epidemic.

Ralph Lauren just announced the cancelation of its fashion show in April, and Prada has postponed a showing in Tokyo. Fashion weeks in Seoul and Tokyo have also been ruled out, while the Baselworld watchmaking and jewelry show has been rearranged for next year.

The domino effect of the coronavirus is serious. Four of the biggest fashion tycoons — LVMH, Kering, Hermes and Richemont — lost more than 35 billion euros (US$39 billion) last week.

Chinese New Year is the most important period of the year for the retail industry and luxury brands, as promotions help generate record sales across the counter. But the epidemic has destroyed it all. 

“The golden holiday’s sales are generally tripled, but it has been only 10 percent of the usual this year,” said a sales girl, wearing a face mask in the empty HKRI Taikoo Hui on Nanjing Road W.

The European Investment Bank estimates that the global sales of luxury goods will drop 8 percent in the first quarter of this year, while the decline in the Chinese market will reach 40 percent. 

Japanese fast fashion brand Uniqlo closed 130 shops in China, while Levi’s, who just completed its largest Chinese mainland flagship store in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province and the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has shut half its stores.

But never underestimate the retaliatory consumption power of Chinese customers.

Hangzhou Tower, in the capital of east China’s Zhejiang Province, scooped 10 million yuan (US$1.4 million) in sales in five hours after the shopping plaza resumed business on February 20. 

L’Oreal’s online sales of make-up and skincare products in China last month were stronger than that in the same period of last year, the brand’s CEO Jean-Paul Agon revealed, adding that it’s seeking further cooperation with online marketplaces like Alibaba and to make up for the offline sales.

Shanghai Fashion Week was initially postponed, but it will be moved online with the cooperation of Alibaba Group, which owns the world’s largest online shopping platform.

It will be a seven-day online mega-show from March 24 to 30, with more than 100 fashion houses displaying and selling their new collections in Tmall’s various live stream virtual shopping rooms. It means fashionistas won’t miss out on the coming season’s latest trends. They can interact with the hosts online and directly place their orders.

“It’s a brand-new exploration for fashion designers and traders. It’s also a watershed moment for the future of the industry,” said the Shanghai Fashion Week Committee.

As new coronavirus cases are being confirmed around the world, big brands such as Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior, Lanvin, Moschino, Tod’s, Versace and MSGM have turned to the Internet to release their fall/winter collections.

The British Fashion Council has opened up an online platform for Chinese buyers and the media, so they can get first-hand news, photos and videos of London Fashion Week. 

Meanwhile, Milan Fashion Week’s organizers opened a Sina Weibo account to interact with Chinese followers and provide updates on the stage and behind the scenes. 

French luxury brand Lanvin also got into the act online, linking up with iQiyi, a Chinese online video platform, to live-stream its fashion show with virtual reality technology.

It’s undoubtedly a new challenge to the fashion industry, which previously dismissed the online platform to promote their shows, but it’s making them adapt and reinvent themselves. Lookbooks can be accessed on the Internet and through WeChat, but they are just for eyes to see, not for hands to touch.

The online shows are sure to generate massive Internet crowds and exposure. Buyers may be a bit more conservative in placing orders at first, but it’s a step forward to get the fashion industry wheel turning in the current virus climate.

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