Is the Future of Fashion Online and Sustainable?

Avatar for Katerina Kadlecova
future of fashion

A lot is changing in the fashion industry. Are the times of crowded shopping streets filled with predominantly fast fashion stores over? Probably not, though slowly but steadily, we see developments towards a more sustainable future of the fashion industry, where online plays an even bigger role.

Is fast fashion still cool?

Voices calling for a sustainable revolution in the fashion industry are nothing new. However, for a long time, these seemed to remain unheard. Only in the last couple of years has sustainability in fashion become a serious topic for both companies and more conscious consumers, as well as other entities in the fashion industry such as magazines. And it was about time, as the fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter, topped only by the oil industry. This applies especially to fast fashion – a very popular concept designed to prefer quantity over quality. With new collections of clothes going on sale almost every day, fast fashion is a huge issue for the environment.

But do we really need to buy cheap clothing items that we are going to toss after several wears? More and more fashion brands think that we do not. One good example being denim brands such as Levi’s® or G-Star Raw that offer their customers free repairs on their denim or recycling their old pieces into new ones. Another great way to limit the waste in the industry is passing worn but still good clothes onto someone else instead of tossing them.

Next to consumer-to-consumer second-hand initiatives such as Depop or Vinted, also many brands and retailers nowadays focus on re-commerce. A few great examples are About You’s Second Love, Zalando’s Pre-owned, The North Face’s Renewed, or Lululemon’s Like New. While these initiatives will not solve the environmental issue altogether as the main issue remains the speed at which fast fashion chains produce new clothing lines, it is definitely a good place to start.

Is the future of fashion online?

2020 was tough for brick-and-mortar stores, as the non-essential ones remained closed for a good part of the year. In times of need, consumers switched to online and a significant number of them are there to stay. But how are companies addressing this situation?

While most companies are trying to find the right balance between online and offline, some are making braver steps. For example, Gap recently announced closing all their brick-and-mortar stores in the UK and Ireland. The company made this decision because they see online as central in their vision of the future.

The online-only approach undoubtedly brings a wide range of benefits for fashion retailers. Cost-effectiveness, round-the-clock availability and the opportunity to offer a broader assortment to a broader audience are all significant advantages. Nevertheless, a big part of the target audience is not ready to give up offline shopping. Reports show that the offline conversion rate is almost 4.5 times higher than online. Therefore, it seems that for now, a combination of both channels might be the best way after all.

However, it is important to treat the channels as complementary to each other, rather than competitive. Furthermore, making good use of each channel’s benefits is key to satisfy the customers. From the tips for an effective omnichannel strategy, the most important ones for the fashion industry are providing consistent product information across platforms, recognizing and making use of the role of physical stores, and smart use of aspirational products.

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