The McKinsey Podcast digs into a transformative year in the technology, trends, and tastes in fashion.
In this episode of of The McKinsey Podcast, Anita Balchandani and Achim Berg talk about the challenges and trends shaping the next wave of fashion. What follows are edited highlights of their conversation. Click the link above to listen to the podcast episode in full.
Diane Brady: Hello, and welcome to The McKinsey Podcast. I’m Diane Brady. What a year for fashion it has been. In this show, we’re going to talk about it with two people who know it like few others. Anita Balchandani is a partner in the London office who leads our work in apparel, fashion, and luxury in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Achim Berg is a senior partner in Frankfurt and global leader of McKinsey’s Apparel, Fashion & Luxury service line. Together, they co-led The State of Fashion 2021 report, which McKinsey publishes jointly with The Business of Fashion. Anita and Achim, welcome.
Achim, let’s start with you. What is the state of fashion?
Achim Berg: It’s a challenged state. We’ve seen a year like no other. It’s going to be the worst year for the fashion and luxury industry since collecting any figures. On development, it’s unprecedented. It’s not comparable to a financial crisis. It’s probably closer to what people must have seen during the Great Depression. So it’s a really bad year and devastating for the industry.
Diane Brady: Now, Anita, it’s understandable. We’ve been sitting home. In fact, when I told somebody I was doing this podcast, she said, “The state of fashion is sweatpants. I haven’t left my home in seven months.” So is this simply a question of obviously retailers have been closed, and that’s simply impeded sales?
Anita Balchandani: Great question, Diane. It’s clear that athleisure and casual-wear sales have seen a huge acceleration over this pandemic. But let’s not forget, so has digital. While overall industry sales are down—there’s no question about that, especially earlier on in the pandemic when food and health and safety were far more important than fashion on the minds of consumers—what we have seen is a huge acceleration and step change in online channels.
In many countries, as of this year, 40 percent of all sales will be digital. As players have seen stores reopen, digital channels continue to grow. So we think that has been one of the silver linings and one of the areas of opportunity that the industry has been able to play with and work with over this last year.
Achim Berg: We’ve also seen a casualization underway.
Diane Brady: Casualization? That’s a great term. What does that mean?
Achim Berg: It means dresses have become much more casual. But that is not an invention of COVID-19. It’s a trend we’ve seen for a long while: moving away from more formal wear, having casual Fridays not only on Fridays but also from Monday to Thursday. Of course, working from home without the restrictions that you typically have in an office has an impact on how you dress.
On the other hand, we should not forget that we’re lacking many occasions for which people dress up. Weddings have been canceled and postponed. Concerts have been canceled. A lot of culture and people-gathering had to be canceled due to the pandemic. All of that has an impact on how we dress, what we shop for, and how we shop for it.
Diane Brady: So when I look at the reports from previous years, Anita, you do talk a lot about the disruption in the industry. Has this accelerated the trends that you were already watching?
Anita Balchandani: What we’ve seen through COVID-19 is indeed an acceleration of a lot of the trends that were already underway. Whether you look at digital, sustainability, or even athleisure and casualization, these were all trends that we were seeing before the crisis. If anything, they’ve been amplified over the course of the crisis.
There definitely have been a few things that you could pin specifically on the crisis. One is clearly international travel, which has driven segments like luxury and travel retail and has clearly stalled. That was probably one of the areas where we saw a stalling or reversal of a trend. But in everything else that we look at, COVID-19 has accelerated many of the trends that we’ve seen.