The 'new normal' is crisis

Sophie Johnson, lecturer in Fashion Business and Promotion, reflects on a tumultuous period for the fashion industry where brands are collapsing, and others are unexpectedly thriving, despite problematic circumstances. Sophie is currently studying for her PhD: Fashion Retail and Public Relations: The New Norm is Crisis.

Sophie Johnson

Shopper outside store in facemask

2020 has been an exceptional year for all businesses, including those in the fashion industry. A time of crisis saw stores that were deemed unessential closing all across the UK. Brands began to place emphasis on their online presence, click and collect and most importantly place value on their existing consumer community.

What many brands haven’t realised is, they were already in crisis. Now retailers find themselves in a unique position with multi layers of crisis affecting their business, some internal where they ultimately have control, some external, where they have very little control of the impact.

Just last week the Arcadia group were labelled ‘another victim of the pandemic’, however, have brands been in denial about the state of their business for all too long? It can be argued that fashion retailers have been dealing with numerous crises for years, and the pandemic has been the make or break for certain brands. Crisis for fashion brands can range from sustainability and ethical wrong doing, supply chain issues and brand damage, now the looming prospects of Brexit approaching- which many retailers in the face of Covid-19 seem to have forgotten about.

As I remind all my students, although facing significant challenges, the fashion industry will survive. Whether we deem ourselves fashionable or not - we all need clothing, it's a necessity, rather than a 'want'. This unique time of crisis will simply act out as a survival of the fittest.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, if retailers do not have strong and positive relationships with consumers, they are likely to see a decline in brand value.This is especially true during crises. Could this be the reason that in spite of facing damning headlines in the summer of 2020, with the BooHoo Group facing legal action due to their working conditions in factories and unsustainable business model, BooHoo Group share prices and sales did not falter? Is this the reason that after our second lockdown, on Wednesday 2nd December 2020, Birmingham retailers such as Primark had queues outside their doors, yet Selfridges amongst others did not?

At a time where brands are so dependent on consumer engagement and building communities, PR becomes even more important in not only building, but sustaining those relationships. In true times of crisis for fashion, managing those relationships can bring retailers true value and ultimately keep their business afloat.

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