The Week Here: May Day
7 May 2020
American icons are floundering, Gen-Z gets crafty in quarantine, and independent brands tap into the creativity of their communities.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
J. Crew became the first major retailer to declare bankruptcy during the pandemic, but its demise was largely perceived as an overdue one. “There’s no question that the current pandemic… was the immediate cause of the company’s ills… But there is another, more essential reason for its failure: an inability to give urgent, desirable expression to who we are now,” wrote Vanessa Friedman in The New York Times.
With that in mind, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that The Gap signaled that they too are in dangerous waters. “Once upon a time, The Gap was the brand… it was a generational reference point… but that world, of course, has been fading away for a while,” wrote Rob Walker in Marker.
Pandemic be damned, banking on ‘90s nostalgia won’t be enough when you are a global megabrand that has lost its way. Friedman continues: “In this moment of great stress and change, when we are all reordering priorities, questioning value systems and rethinking our own choices, what a brand stands for is crucial to its relevance and survival.”
China continued the cautious un-pausing of daily life – but younger Chinese are not ready to spend yet. The Business of Fashion reported that they are apparently more interested in shedding – rather than acquiring – possessions. #DitchYourStuff is trending and transaction volumes on Idle Fish, the country’s biggest site for used goods, have hit a record high.
Resale sites in the West are also seeing a flurry of activity. Sales on mobile marketplace Depop are up 150 percent in the US and have doubled in the UK, where a third of 18-25 year olds are registered on the platform. In addition to generating extra cash, an urge to create is also fueling its popularity.
For the Gen-Z cohort – more interested in “access over possession” – the pandemic has amplified its propensity for personal expression through customisation and upcycling. Brands like A-COLD-WALL are taking notice, “selling or giving away deadstock fabric or branded hardware to establish connection with a burgeoning audience that, in lockdown, is looking for hobbies,” wrote Lucy Maguire in Vogue Business.
Ben Harms, head of insights and strategy at youth creative agency Archrival, told Maguire: “How much product are we all sitting on right now? We can take some of this stuff and empower a movement of young people… That’s a story piece that Z will remember forever.”
BUT MAKE IT FASHION
“One thing that makes fashion relevant is that it adjusts to the times,” milliner Stephen Jones told WWD. And in the time of corona, sartorial choices can be more than just a welcome distraction – they are a conduit to building community.
Brands like Ganni and Shrimps are running creative challenges, encouraging followers to share their WFH set up or send in sketches of their dream outfits. Barcelona-based Paloma Wool invited their friends and followers to submit self-portraits styled in their favourite pieces.
Leave it to sustainable labels like Araks and Collina Strada to make us want to accessorise with face masks. Perhaps we’ll even soon see a contemporary interpretation of the original social distancing apparel – the voluminous Victorian crinoline.
When the going gets tough, the tough get imaginative.
Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.