You probably don’t want to relive the overall horror show that was 2020, but it’s worth pointing out that the fashion industry changed more this year than any other (that I’ve worked in it, at least). And it wasn’t all bad. Read on for summaries of the catalysts that drove change, all of which contain links to stories that explore them more in-depth. Then, get excited for 2021. Also, wear a mask.
Covid-19 Upends Retail, Production and Media
Covid-19 has touched just about every industry, and fashion is no exception.
A long list of companies, from J.Crew to Neiman Marcus to Need Supply, declared bankruptcy and/or closed permanently this year. We saw factories shutting down, retailers cancel and/or fail to pay for orders (which, in many cases, resulted in already-underpaid garment workers not getting paid at all) and wholesale brands have to suddenly pivot to online, direct-to-consumer models. Meanwhile, slashed advertising and marketing budgets meant mass layoffs and furloughs at brands, media giants like Condé Nast and at major PR agencies — not to mention retailers. Oh, and influencers had to take a break from posting glamorous vacation content and likely lost out on revenue as retailers slashed commissions on affiliate links.
There were positive developments through all this: Brands and individuals alike rushed to help where they could, whether that meant shifting production to make PPE or hand sanitizer, or gathering donations for healthcare workers. And while the pandemic may not have thrust the industry into a more sustainable way of operating as effectively as some hoped, it did majorly inspire (or force) people to consume less and shop more locally. The fact that editors, buyers and other fashion week attendees didn’t spend the month of September traveling internationally to attend highly produced runway shows and parties also reduced its carbon footprint this year — and hopefully helped normalized staying home and seeing new collections digitally.
Black Lives Matter Ignites a Fashion Industry Reckoning
The murder of George Floyd at the hand of the police and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests forced every individual, company and industry to take a closer look at its treatment of Black people. It also inspired many BIPOC individuals to speak out against discriminatory employers.
Fashion brands like Everlane, Reformation and Glossier, media companies like Man Repeller, Refinery29 and Condé Nast and schools like Parsons and FIT were called out for their hypocrisy after posting what many perceived to be disingenuous messages of solidarity on social media while not living up to them internally. As a result, one by one, high-profile industry figures were fired or stepped down from their roles, including Reformation founder Yael Aflalo, Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine, The Wing’s Audrey Gelman and Refinery29’s Christene Barberich, to name a few.
This reckoning has been a long time coming for an industry that has historically upheld white supremacist beauty ideals and consistently kept white, wealthy people in positions of power. As companies try in earnest to become anti-racist, Black fashion professionals have founded organizations that aim to address different issues within fashion, such as advancement and equity (Black in Fashion Council), a historical understanding and acknowledgement of contributions from BIPOC individuals and communities (Fashion and Race Database), market representation (Black Owned Everything) and more. Pull Up for Change, a movement spearheaded by Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter, also allowed for more transparency about the diversity — or lack thereof — within workplaces.
It has also brought much-deserved attention to Black-owned brands that have been a part of the industry for years. The 2020 CFDA Awards, which famously honors the same white designers year after year, named far more Black winners than ever before. (Christopher John Rogers, Kerby Jean-Raymond and Telfar Clemens took home trophies.)
Aurora James’s 15 Percent Pledge Has Widespread Impact on Retail
The 15 Percent Pledge was conceived by Aurora James, founder of shoe brand Brother Vellies, in 2020, and it has become a widespread movement adopted by retailers ranging from Macy’s to Sephora. What started as an idea she shared on Instagram — calling on retailers to dedicate 15% of their inventory, roughly equivalent to the United States’ Black population to Black-owned brands — has thrust James into a greater spotlight, as a public face of the movement and its impact, even landing on the cover of September’s American Vogue.
2020 Election Pushes Fashion to Get Involved in Politics
Facing the most important U.S. presidential election in our lifetime, the fashion industry became more vocal about politics than it ever had. Some brands released timely merch or donated money towards voter registration efforts; others banded together on campaigns to get out the vote, such as Fashion Our Future 2020. After Michelle Obama wore ByChari’s “Vote” necklace at the Democratic National Convention, the accessory went viral. It got so much attention, that the former First Lady tapped the designer to create a product for her organization, When We All Vote.
Even more notable and rare, several industry players voiced support for specific candidates — something companies often avoid for fear of alienating potential customers — with most, if not all, getting behind the winning democratic Biden/Harris ticket.
Travis Scott Becomes King of Collaborations
Travis Scott is coming for Virgil Abloh’s title as the collaboration king. This year alone, he released capsules with McDonald’s, Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Fortnite, Houston Rockets, Nerf and Uninterrupted. Forbes put the rapper on the cover of its “30 Under 30” issue, calling him “corporate America’s brand whisperer.”
And Scott really does move product: Drops from his Cactus Jack shoe label (a sub-brand of Nike’s Air Jordan line) consistently sell out and demand high prices on resale sites. StockX even dubbed Scott the year’s “collab king.” (On average, his sneakers sell for 370% above retail on the platform. For comparison: The average Yeezy sells for 60% above retail.) The Travis Scott Effect applies to apparel, merch and other collectibles as well, making “Travis Scott” the second biggest streetwear brand on StockX, trailing only Supreme. Plus, 95% of those items sell for above retail.
Fashion and Beauty Embrace TikTok
Instagram is, of course, still going strong. (It even launched in-app shopping this year.) But 2020 was when fashion really started to rally around another social media platform: TikTok.
Stars of the app showed up front row at fashion shows (like Charli D’Amelio at the Prada Fall 2020 presentation during Milan Fashion Week, pictured above), nabbed modeling contracts, started working with stylists and launched their own brands. However, TikTok has probably had the biggest impact on beauty trends, from The Ordinary’s Peeling Solution going viral (thanks to its red hue) to the surprising popularity of drugstore brand CeraVe to the rise of new skin-care icons like Vi Lai.
The Limit for Celebrity Beauty Brands Did Not Exist
A lot of celebrities launched beauty brands in 2019 — Lady Gaga, Tracee Ellis Ross, Millie Bobby Brown, to name a few — and, somehow, that pace did not slow down in 2020. We can’t throw too much shade, though, because many of this year’s launches made sense and yielded some decent products, from Rihanna’s Fenty Skin and Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty to Jennifer Lopez’s JLo Beauty and Pharrell’s Humanrace.
Man Repeller Suddenly Ceases Operation
We’re all still talking about Leandra Medine’s decision to unceremoniously shut down her style-blog-turned-media-brand, Man Repeller, in October, just months after she announced plans to “step back” from it, and just weeks after the site debuted a redesign and new name. The site meant a lot of things to a lot of people but struggled adopt a more inclusive tone, and the gossip mill continues in regards to what exactly happened there.
The Spring 2021 Fashion Month That Was and Wasn’t
Amid a global pandemic, designers found creative and unconventional ways to create and present their Spring 2021 collections.
Brands didn’t necessarily abide by a schedule the way they usually do. (Some brands are revealing theirs as late as December.) Some simply revealed lookbooks or videos, while others livestreamed runway shows without audiences, with “digital audiences” or with puppet audiences. A handful boldly held runway shows with real (socially-distant) audiences. There was even a physical book.
Clothing-wise, many brands stuck to comfortable, WFH-appropriate fare; others optimistically delivered full fantasy. Translation: They did whatever felt right for them. That may have created some confusion for press and buyers, but it’s likely we’ll see more of that attitude, even after we’re all vaccinated.
A Changing of the Guard at European Fashion Houses
One of the year’s buzziest fashion stories was Meghan Markle favorite Clare Waight Keller leaving Givenchy — and Alyx founder Matthew Williams’s hiring to replace her. There were shirtless headshots of the designer, a campaign featuring Playboi Carti and “love locks” to announce his arrival; a controversial, millennial-friendly collection featuring three-toed sandals, exposed thongs and lots of hardware followed for Spring 2021, as did an aggressive Instagram marketing campaign featuring Hadids, Jenners and Kardashians.
Then, a year after Karl Lagerfeld’s passing, his successor at Fendi was named: Kim Jones, another hyped-up, “streetwear God”-type. Known for menswear — particularly his work at Dior Homme — Jones will likely bring a younger, cooler audience to the Italian fashion house. In fact, LVMH, which also hired Williams, is probably banking on that.
Meanwhile, at Chloé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi stepped down, to quickly be replaced by U.S.-based designer Gabriela Hearst, who’s known for a sustainability-centric approach to design, as well as desirable handbags, at her namesake line.
Upcycling Goes Mainstream
Fashion’s sustainability conversation continued to build momentum this year, with more mainstream and marquee-name designers getting on board in one way or another, sometimes out of necessity. In fact, one of the biggest trends among the Spring 2021 collections was upcycling: Brands like Bode and Gabriela Hearst were already known for the practice, but it became more widely adopted, as design teams navigated smaller budgets and sourcing challenges due to the pandemic. Coach, Miu Miu, Balenciaga, Proenza Schouler and Maison Margiela were among those who reused old fabric and/or sourced deadstock. Let’s hope it continues.
Inside Clothes Become the Only Clothes
“Sweatpants Forever,” declared the New York Times Magazine in a viral August feature, spelling out the end of the fashion industry as we knew it. While many fashion labels suffered, it was a better year for loungewear, sleepwear and athleisure. The unofficial winners of 2020 were basics brands like Entireworld, purveyor of the industry’s favorite colorful sweatsuits, and Hill House Home, leader of the nap dress movement. In response to our new WFH lifestyles, many other labels raced to pivot to cozy loungewear as well. We may not end up wearing sweats and PJs for the rest of our lives, but there are now enough options out there for anyone who might want to.
‘Emily in Paris’ Dominates TVs and Closets
Whether they loved it or hated it or loved to hate it, everyone in fashion was talking about Netflix’s “Emily in Paris,” with the titular character’s bold, designer label- and hat-filled wardrobe being an especially hot topic. While some found her Patricia Field-styled wardrobe to be comically over-the-top, others sought to emulate it; Lyst, for example, saw double-to-triple-digit increases in searches for Emily’s signature hats and handbags. The obsession over Lily Collins’s character and her clothes will surely continue when season two premieres.