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The Outside View: ‘Tis the Season-less

Evan Clark and Marci Zaroff
·5 min read

This has been a year of unprecedented flux — around the world and in fashion. This holiday season, it’s more important than ever to keep up with shifts in business model innovation and consumer values. E-commerce saw a 44.5 percent increase in sales year-over-year in the second quarter, while new modes of digital retail emerge by the day. Livestream shopping — a clickable, live, mobile experience — has had spectacular success in China. During a livestream event this summer, almost $450 million in sales were generated in one day alone, spurring tech firms to replicate the experience in America. Even better? Shopify reported a 50 percent jump in spending on independent and d-t-c brands from 2019. Consumers want to shop small.

RIP Black Friday

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In just a few months, the pandemic managed to locate and press the collective reset buttons of millions of consumers. First, they stopped shopping. Then, they realized they were OK without resuming their shopping habits. Now, the holidays are here and there’s suddenly a huge cohort of consumers who want to buy fewer, but better, high-quality and sustainable products. The number of brands that can deliver on those attributes lags behind. We can thank the abrupt halt in our routines for a long-overdue consumer awakening. Black Friday 2020 was anti-climactic — with shallower discounts, longer-running promos and no physical lines as people shopped online. Stores saw approximately half of the foot traffic of Black Friday 2019. With increased online spending came a surge in related shipping materials. Free shipping incentivized wasteful consumption, with a noticeable decrease in average order value this year. With about 60 percent of packages using plastic or polystyrene as fillers, the combined waste is truly staggering.

As we bury, or at the very least reimagine, this obsolete celebration of overconsumption, let’s turn our attention to the next generation of fashion and the future we hope for humanity.

Cocreating a Circular Holiday Season: Combining Value and Values

Our past of 52 fashion seasons a year is no longer viable. The more seasons there are, the bigger the industry footprint. Thankfully, the move toward seasonless dressing was confirmed during fashion week. Not only did designers nod to versatility, but fashion week schedules were largely ignored, with New York shows continuing straight through October. This disregard mirrors the slowing down of consumption, which in turn, reflects the slowing down of society.

The momentary pause in routine has offered us time to reflect on what matters. A recent study published in WGSN points to five growing consumer desires: value, wellness, unity, trust and comfort. Several other studies have shown a strengthened interest in sustainability, not to mention the importance of accountability, especially following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that followed.

This “ECOrenaissance” of renewed values — in stark contrast to material abundance and status aspirations of the past — are prompting us to ask what kind of holiday experience we want to offer our customers. How can we serve consumers in an authentic way when we all have to make up for lost sales?

Here’s where collaboration comes in. By partnering with like-minded organizations, we can lift visibility, amplify our mission and temporarily double our workforce. For example, the clothing rental market has suffered during the pandemic. Rent the Runway has partnered with ThredUp to offer a collection of retired rental pieces, benefiting both organizations. My latest brand, Yes And, is partnering with the rental platform Wardrobe to stock up their offering with sustainable brands and for us to increase our reach. Another recent example of cocreating a new experience around Black Friday was an initiative by Fashion Revolution. Instead of marking down products to increase consumption, brands donated a percentage of sales to impact positive change and drive the revolution for a fair, equitable and sustainable fashion world.

From Meaningless to Seasonless: The Art of Gift Giving

Americans spend more than $15 billion a year on unwanted holiday gifts. The art of gift giving has been lost — could this be the year it gets its groove back? With a renewed interest in DIY, craft, gardening, cooking and the outdoors, we should expect to see a shift in the way people choose to give this year.

Remember, many of us will not (and should not) be traveling. Gifts must be either digital or easy to mail. Giving for giving’s sake is no longer the name of the game. People are feeling insecure about the future and want to give the gift of comfort and love. My organic bed and bath brand, Farm to Home, is focusing on super cozy hooded robes and comfy throw blankets. In fact, I just read that blankets are becoming a new going-out accessory, as outdoor dining and open-air socializing extends into colder months. Putting some thought into our new normal when choosing a gift for loved ones will be paramount. Selecting items that are well-made, sustainable and durable says, “I care about you, inside and out, no matter the season.”

Other great gift-giving ideas during this transitional year are wellness-focused. As we spend more time in our homes, it matters even more what we bring inside them. Give the gift of a healthy home by choosing textiles or candles that are made with organic ingredients. Alternately, books that focus on positive transformation or hope make great gifts for 2020. Serving others is serving ourselves—a donation to a cause that is meaningful can be very touching at many levels.

Green Every Day of the Week

These changes in behavior are not temporary. We are all in this moment together — no one is immune to its challenges. Show gratitude beyond your family, friends and coworkers — remember your farmers and workers abroad. It will take everyone, awakened and united in cocreation, to face 2021 and shape it into what we want for ourselves. We are one humanity on this planet, with a desire to thrive. That can only happen if we collectively pivot every action in the direction of that shared goal

Marci Zaroff coined the term “eco-fashion” and is an internationally recognized eco-lifestyle expert, educator, innovator and serial eco-preneur.

More from The Outside View:

The Outside View: Wake Up to the Ways of Gaming

The Outside View: COVID-19 Has Made Virtual Communities Crucial

The Outside View: Turning Coronavirus Weakness Into Strength