In today’s blog, we will be talking with Bianka Ivanova and Desislava Boyanova – Account Manager and Account Executive at United Partners. They work with leading fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Fjallraven. Bianka has experience being a journalist for fashion events in the UK, while Desi begins her career while being at school, climbing the retail ladder in brands like Decora and H&M. The discussion is hosted by Bogomil Atanasov, UP Creative Team.
Nowadays we are living in very interesting times for the fashion industry, however, it is not the first time something like this has happened. During the Spanish flu at the beginning of the 20th century, masks became a staple item that is worn both indoors and outside. In times of crisis, innovations are born leading to industries’ transformation.
The pandemic effect over the fashion industry
Bianka: The pandemic began in Asia, in a period, which is very important for the fashion industry. The industry is based on seasons, or at least it was, thus heavily affecting the production and delivery cycle. We see several psychological factors that affected the industry. One of the reasons to buy new clothes is to show them in public, and that opportunity was taken away even online shopping got affected. On the other hand, many people were released from their jobs and or saw a risk to their income. To sum all that this chain of events was negative for the entire fashion industry, happening during the most important spring season when the customer activity is at its highest. I may have described a negative picture, but this is reality. Later we will talk about new trends and potential positive outcomes.
Desi: As mentioned in the beginning, many brands have reported a drastic drop in sales during the strongest period – spring. Many brands had a drop of between 30-50%, which is very serious. On the other hand, many of the luxury brands had no opportunity to deliver the unique customer experience that resulted in a 60% drop in sales. The worst side here is that the industry is expected to recover as early as in two years, due to the fact that luxury brands prepare their seasonal collection a year ahead. In addition, this process was slowed since factories in China and in Europe were closed. Now we can just watch the fashion industry reengineering. From what we can see at the moment, many brands are turning towards online sales and users’ online experience.
Communications tendencies in the new set-up of the fashion industry
Bianka: The fashion industry went through severe transformations as periods and seasonality, which have been strictly followed over the last centuries. The calendar dictates the operational model of all brands starting from small family-owned boutiques and ending up with multinationals. From the communication point of view, many brands have started to distance themselves from seasonality in communication since the product lines are not developed and produced in the same rhythm. We hear the confirmation of it from other communication agencies engaged with fashion brands. Digitalization is another trend, which has been in brands’ agenda, but due to the pandemic has become even stronger.
Desi: Digitalization is something that is growing and more brands are turning towards it. A good example that we can give here is with Tommy Hilfiger, which has been developing their “See now. Buy now” concept. The moment the brand shows the collection it is immediately available for purchase to everyone around the world. Other brands are trying to be digitally active and connected with their customers. Overall, this pandemic has shown us how important it is for brands to have a good online connection with their customers.
Bianka: We should also note a new trend – luxury brands have been sought out by consumers outside of traditional target groups. For example, thanks to the internet and bloggers many young women dreaming of owning an item like Dior or Chanel bag, are not only considering but easily buying an accessory to mix up their style. Of course, fast fashion brands are trying to follow up, not plagiarizing, but transforming the trend to be accessible to every consumer. Something interesting has been happening lately – big bloggers have been talking about the benefit of buying second-hand items, especially at second-hand boutique shops, where one can find vintage models of big brands and designers at a more accessible price. A lot of actresses have been appearing on the red-carpet wearing vintage dresses by designers of previous decades. Noone considered it to become a trend, but it became a new philosophy on how we should approach fashion, that fashion is not always about consumerism, and one should not change their wardrobe every season. This also leads us to the point of sustainability.
Desi: Sustainability has become a very big focus nowadays and many brands have been trying to do as much as they can from a communication standpoint. While I am a big supporter of second hand and hope this trend can last as long as possible, many big brands are trying to find their niche to survive and leverage on it. Consumers ask brands not to dump liters of water in order to make a single pair of jeans and think about better alternatives, like recycled denim, even elements, and using more environmentally friendly products. And at one point the fashion industry realized how much impact they have on the planet.
Effective brand communication in a post-COVID world
Bianka: It is important to remind how fast is this industry developing, how much it changes, and even if we described a pessimistic picture in the beginning, the truth is there are many communication tendencies that have started even before the pandemic, and surprisingly, it gave new opportunities. I think they are mostly positive, one of them being influencers. The truth is, influencers have been involved for a very long time as communication channels, but since recently authenticity is in priority. The unauthentic posts, with girls being in a magical place, with magical sunsets, the Eiffel tower in the back are not what people want to see. I’m sorry to disappoint the ones who still rely on this type of communication. If you still think this still works for you, maybe you should incorporate authenticity in another way. Users want to see the real influencer, the real blogger, the real person in their life, either it is a male or a female. Many agencies in Bulgaria should think about this, even if we implement some trends with a bit of a delay, we have to see what the young users want to follow – pictures that are not professionally edited, natural scenarios. Why not even show how bored some of them are? Many brands, even luxurious sent their spring/summer collections to bloggers who posted by wearing dresses on their couches. Users want to see and feel the emotions through social media, and this can happen when the posts are natural and authentic, not made up and edited to perfection. This is a tendency that will stay for a long and I advise everyone to think how they can implement it into the brand’s communication one way or another.
Desi: We also see that influencers are fighting to protect their own ideas of product communication. When talking to influencers, who mostly are Gen Z and Millenials, like consumers, they share the importance of brand identity, in order to establish a personal connection. I could say we are headed to a more meaningful fashion, which is not just about the trend, but the legacy and impact we leave in the long term.
Bianka: I would even add that we are actually going back to such type of fashion – defending the ideas, lost in recent years. As the second piece of advice, I would point out the definition of brand identity. While a couple of years ago it wouldn’t have been a problem for a brand to not have an identity, just good products that are easy to remember, but today this is highly important for the audience. One could consider the Black Lives Matter global movement add as a trend. Yet, it was not strongly present in Bulgaria, but on a global scale, brands that were not alongside the movement or hypocritically defended their past mistakes were exposed to criticism.
Inbound PR in fashion communication
Bianka: The fact is that inbound is something not many people understand. Let me try to define it, if anyone is interested, they can reach us out. For the fashion industry, inbound should be used in their specific way. The philosophy of inbound is creating content valuable for end consumers, not an advertisement, thus attracting them to your platform, be it a blog, a store, or social media channel. The idea here is brands to create content from the domain of fashion magazines – useful to the client. By creating relevant content, brands attract people and give them an opportunity to explore the products on their own. Instead of creating different advertisements, create a post about how this bag can be stylized, what it can go with.
TikTok influence on the fashion industry
Desi: Here in the agency, we’ve been talking a lot about TikTok and what is happening around. I have some impressions from Asia, where this has become an enormous phenomenon that has taken over almost the whole market from a communication viewpoint and users’ free time. This is a very interesting platform that is gaining a lot of popularity even in Bulgaria, however, it does not offer the same possibilities, due to the fact that the majority of the users are Generation Z, who do not like flashy ads. They prefer things to be offered in a subtler way and prefer to explore things on their own. There was a very interesting example, which even Vogue talked about – a vest by JW Anderson, which has not been very trendy, but TikTok users started to wear it and express themselves through it in various ways. This phenomenon is mainly due to Harry Styles wearing it, which skyrocketed its popularity just in a couple of days. In my opinion, TikTok is a platform where fashion can be integrated very easily, due to the fact that most of the time people video themselves wearing something. That something can be a brand, presented in a natural and casual way. Brands are still adjusting to it, but they may be the first to experiment with TikTok.
Bogo: Looking through the window, we can see that summer is already here. I suggest we end this blog with you sharing what are the actual fashion trends. I think some very bright swimwear that can be seen from a distance so we can have space between us.
Bianka: I won’t say a mask, since this is not a trend but a necessity, such as underwear! You have to wear it, even if you prefer not to wear them. You choose what types and what colors to have. The idea is not to be trendy but safe. In the time of COVID-19, this is an undying trend, so you should wear to be protected.
Desi: I agree. This summer gives us the opportunity to express ourselves through the brands, since as we said in the beginning, not all of them managed to prepare themselves for the season, so fashion borders were blurred this year. That’s why I think 2020 gives us an opportunity for the personal style. And in that way, everyone will set their own personal trend.
Learn more about advanced communication in post-COVID era in our dedicated blog article.