Business Wear Out, Practical Garments Gain Ground During COVID Sales

COVID-19 Sales Trends: Fashion’s Changing Divisions

COVID-19 has been hard on the fashion industry. Large numbers of high-profile clothing brands, including the women’s clothing retailers Ann Taylor and J. Jill and higher end shops J. Crew and Neiman Marcus, with more bankruptcy announcements, including Men’s Wearhouse, expected to be forthcoming. This makes sense, of course; with most professionals working from home, and unemployment numbers at record highs, people are hardly rushing out to shop for clothes. Still, there are a handful of brands thriving, and their success could indicate a long-term shift in how we shop and what styles rank as priorities.

Athleisure’s Peak

Athleisure – clothing that bridges the space between fitness wear and fashion – has been big business for the last decade, particularly with the rise of brands like Lululemon. Since the start of COVID-19, however, people have been actively reevaluating their wardrobes to prioritize comfort, and a number have also started new fitness routines. As a result, athleisure has seen a spike in recent months, representing 20% of online apparel sales

The spike in athleisure sales is particularly good news for athleisure retailers who may have seen declines in other areas, ranging from more formal clothing sales to in-store fitness classes. Gap, for example, experienced falling sales in the most recent quarter, but their athleisure label Athleta had a 6% increase in sales. Though athleisure products are widely available, for brands that otherwise specialize in business casual styles, fashionable fitness clothes are a saving grace.

Managing Menswear

Though there is something like an athleisure market for men, the space is much narrower and drives less profit compared to sales of women’s athleisure goods. Rather, in the menswear space, retail attention has been on several segments, specifically the continued resilience of men’s streetwear, which has benefitted from declining sales in office wear, as well as basic necessities like shirts and jackets. There may be a pandemic in progress, but some things just don’t go out of style.

Among the pieces that are buoying the menswear market during the pandemic, and that are predicted to keep driving sales into the fall, are timeless pieces like premium coats and jackets, sneakers, and pragmatic work from home pieces like cargo pants. The UK also reported significant increases in clothing sales at the end of lockdown in May, demonstrating the relative strength of the market. People will always need clothes, even if they need different types of clothing.

Comfort Comes First

Apparel brands are looking ahead to 2021 with both excitement and trepidation, with brick-and-mortar forward stores particularly worried about the future. People are still hesitant to shop in person, with shoppers expected to do 30% less business in person. Safety requirements also mean that many stores have to limit their capacity, reducing sales volume and profits. This would be a good time for stores with limited online shopping capacity to build those up so that they’re in a more competitive position as sales volumes begin to increase again.

One of the starkest realities of COVID-19 is the general sense that the majority of workers will never return to the office full-time, particularly as owners begin to recognize just how much money they’re pouring into office space. This fact, coupled with changing social norms, means most people will be fine with more limited wardrobes – resulting in less apparel spending. How stores respond to this shift will determine who thrives and who’s next to file bankruptcy.