Paris - Political and economic conditions, statistics on the evolution of the fashion market, the potential of recycling and second-hand fashion and more. On Thursday December 1 2022, France's fashion industry was invited to the annual seminar of the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) to "rethink fashion". Rethinking, reinventing or, literally, "restarting" a system that no longer functions (definitively?) like it used to.
"Covid, the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis... Can we continue to do business as usual today?" asks Lucas Delattre, a former journalist who is now a professor at IFM and the energetic moderator of this seminar. No," replies the first guest, Alain Frachon, a journalist at French newspaper Le Monde. It's the end of the golden age of globalisation, the realisation that we are dependent on certain products and, by extension, the rise of protectionism. Is this enough to change the fashion business, which until now has been based on relocation and imports? It might very well be.
"The idea of everything, everywhere, all the time, right now has probably had its day, and we have to prepare for two years of recession," explained the second speaker, Denis Ferrand, Director General of Rexecode*, who gave a relentless explanation of the current concern: inflation. "During containment, the whole world stopped producing but incomes were maintained. As a result, post-Covid, people wanted to spend, companies wanted to invest, but there were few, if any, products left on the market. The tension on the supply side created a price slippage, which turned into a shock with the energy crisis. Denis Ferrand nevertheless balanced his demonstration with the fact that today, with demand stagnating and supply increasing, prices are bound to fall again. According to him, we should therefore not expect inflation to set in beyond 2023.
What can fashion professionals learn from the geopolitical and economic situation?
The apparel market has slowed down in 2022: 26 billion euros compared to 27.8 billion euros in 2019 (the only reliable year of comparison). Before proposing avenues of reflection for the future, Gildas Minvielle, director of the IFM's economic observatory, indicated the results of quantitative studies, which can provide guidance to fashion players. Among the positive facts indicated by this professional, we can cite: the renewed vitality of department stores (+35 percent), which is understandable given that the international clientele has returned; the increase in demand for menswear (which occupies 30 percent of the market share against 50 percent for womenswear); and an average shopping basket that has increased noted by 53 percent of retailers.
This enthusiasm should be balanced out with other data: shop traffic and conversion rates are down (47 per cent and 50 per cent respectively): independent multi-brands, department stores and hypermarkets are down sharply (19.4 per cent, 11.1 per cent, 17.8 per cent), even though sales by pure players and major retailers are up (+1.7 per cent for both).
Forgetting the years of growth, showing resilience, reinventing ourselves, and showing solidarity
Among the new perspectives, Gildas Minvielle points to the rise of second-hand (+38 per cent of retailers have implemented it), upcycled clothes (+36 per cent) and rentals (+9 per cent): "In 2022, 44 per cent of consumers bought an 'eco-responsible' product, 42 per cent are anxious about the possible toxicity of products and 8 per cent have environmental concerns. Is the near-import route the way to go? No, because even if Gildas Minvielle notes a drop in Chinese imports, they are number two (19 per cent), just behind Bangladesh (28 per cent) and ahead of Turkey (13 per cent). In reality, the explanation is simple: the French are full of good intentions, but when it's time to pay up, they are no longer in the same frame of mind. Isn't it said that "the French have their heart on the left and their wallet on the right"?
According to Franck Lehuédé, director of studies and research at Credoc**, purchasing power remains the main concern of the French. The financial situation has deteriorated, especially among the most modest populations (-1,500 euros per month), single-parent families, but also, and this is what worries this specialist, among families, craftsmen, shopkeepers and company managers. The French asking questions about income policy and social networks, flooded with posts about the high cost of living, are witness to this.
The well-known advice "consume less" does not necessarily mean "consume better", but also "consume even cheaper". The proof? In fashion, the ‘made in France’ label represents 3 per cent of purchases, while hard discount is gaining market share. All of this may lead one to question current consumer society and an observation: the French have taken over second-hand products, 38 percent of them to be precise. A reality that the fashion ecosystem will have to take into account.
From the age of ownership to the age of reuse via upcycling and second-hand
To address the fact that upcycling does not have a glamorous, dream-like image, the IFM invited Leopolda Contaux-Bellina, founder of Sed Nove Studio***. Her poetic presentation aimed to demonstrate the intangible value of upcycling: "The upcycled garment is a witness to a history, it relies on the sum of values before it (the original one with the raw material, the know-how, the prestige of a brand...)". And he cites fashion phenomena such as bootleg (re-appropriation of what brands do to create a new product), logomania or the event-driven, and therefore rare, aspect of an upcycled capsule.
On this subject, Jean-Marc Bellaiche, president of the Printemps Group, naturally echoed the Printemps ‘Second Life’ space for second-hand clothing, at the location on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. "They call me Mr. Wow because, in my opinion, we need to rediscover the wow effect of the in-store shopping experience," he says. To reinvent its magic, he is counting on the rise of second-hand skills, but also on catering, the humanisation of customer service and a live shopping channel managed by the Printemps personal shoppers.
The 2022 seminar of course touched on the digital aspect (the proper use of Tik Tok, web 3.0) as well as other subjects such as the link with the beauty industry or the effects of the zero Covid policy in China. Still, Fanny Moizant, founder and president of Vestiaire Collective, was given the honours of closing off this year's seminar, as an invitation to consider that circularity is, for the time being, the path that fashion must take to reinvent itself.
*Rexecode: research centre for economic expansion and business development. **CREDOC: research centre for the study and observation of living conditions. *** Sed Nove Studio enhances the value of dormant leather stocks through experiential workshops.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR. Translation and editing: Veerle Versteeg.