Prasenjit Tito Chowdhury is the founder and CEO of FashioNXT, a global fashion consulting and marketing firm based in the USA whose work has been featured in Forbes, TIME Magazine, Wall St Journal, Vogue-China, and more. It specializes in elevating and connecting fashion and lifestyle-technology brands with novel global opportunities – brand collaborations and product design, campaign creations, skill development through US industry experts, engagement through runway and trade shows, especially its annual show FashioNXT Week. Currently, FashioNXT is consulting fashion and tech brands with their post-pandemic strategies.
Coming out of the biggest disruption of modern time, 2022 will see the results of the biggest re-arrangement of all market forces across the board, including the fashion industry. That’s because the pandemic along with creating economic slowdown culminated in major and accelerated shifts in deeper social and existential priorities for the world. Lockdown and social distancing not only forced accelerated adoption of existing technology by broader consumers but also created fertile ground for technologists to bring unprecedented new technologies to the broader marketplace – both for B2B and B2C. We noticed the percolating existential concern of the environment by the masses snowballing into mainstream adoption of sustainable practices as an economically viable option by more mainstream industry forces. A lot of the aforementioned seismic shift was championed by the younger millennials and Gen Zs who grew up in digital reality. Their enhanced proximity with the adults in the family through the lockdown accelerated the propagation of the novel digital practices to the adults. While the focus of the macroeconomic controllers, e.g., governments, on the broader economy buoyed the larger companies, smaller businesses – brands, and makers will continue to bear the burden of carrying the cross of this overwhelming devastation of the pandemic. Along with managing the psychological impact of evading the invisible enemy, adjusting to the roadblocks of doing business was not only overwhelming but also the prolonged duration of the adversity depleted their psychological and economic staying power on both ends. 2022 will see the sprouting of new leaves through the ashes of the forest-fire by those who muster the resources to come back, while a new set of emerging talents to fill the void at the grass-root level. The shifted ecosystem will demand all the ingenuity they can master to grab back the market-share they lost to the big companies. Much of that will be determined by who can predict the significantly changed consumer behavior through the pandemic, and how that behavior itself further re-adjusts back as the normalization slides back in. Obviously, much of the predicted reality is reliant on the assumption that the world is coming out of the dark shadow of the pandemic powered by the spread of vaccination, and the new therapeutics – a normalizing force even with the possibility of the emergence of new viral strains.
Here are the thoughts that come to my mind when I look at the crystal ball of what 2022 has in store for fashion from a wide variety of angles:
- Would leisurewear/loungewear continue to gain popularity amongst consumers?
The single biggest evolution of a fashion category that took place through the last two years of social distancing is leisurewear/loungewear. Brands desperate to sell new products to the consumers stuck at home, no formal occasion to dress up for and desperately seeking some variety in life, had all the motivations to bring huge innovation in leisurewear category even in the luxury segment. Had the pandemic been shorter, I would have predicted people going back to familiar life with little to no change in their fashion habit. But with so much exciting new designs that captured people’s leisurewear/loungewear imagination, I see it evolving as a strong new category for the foreseeable future. Continue to expect derivatives of luxury leisurewear styles for casual and going-out occasions.
- Would TikTok continue to soar as an influencing platform?
TikTok turned out to be the biggest winner of all of the social media platforms through the pandemic. So that Instagram blatantly copied it as its Reel feature. Though the leap was quantum at the early stage of lockdown when bored people, desperate to entertain themselves and interact with other humans, found the best-in-class means in this then-new social media app which was already distinguishing itself as the less-vain and less-serious version of Instagram. GenZ made it their brand statement from the millennials by embracing it over Instagram and giving the video-only platform their own twist with a lot more video-editing forward content. That meant it influenced all aspects of lifestyle, including COVID-fashion. With that context in mind the obvious curiosity will be, in the rapidly evolving social media adoption landscape would TikTok lose its dominance when the pandemic-specific factors subside or did it leave enough of an indelible mark in young consumer behavior for it to continue soaring. I don’t see it expanding its consumer base significantly into the age groups it already haven’t – its off-the-calf style requires acquired taste. However, it will continue to dominate amongst the youngest of the users till the next best digital-addiction comes along for the next generation to make their own brand distinction. I also see the normalization of physical-world having a negative impact on its rate of adoption and use-time.
- What impact would newcomer-technologies as Metaverse and NFT have on fashion?
The fastest speed of innovation I have noticed through the pandemic in fashion is the exponential rise in digital fashion design. That includes virtual fashion design and avatars and experiencing them together thorough Virtual and Augmented realities, aka the Metaverse. Not only many companies have advanced significantly in creating a virtual experience in fashion, but major brands also jumped on the bandwagon of creating NFTs for their iconic designs. All these were a natural progression of people predominantly experiencing fashion digitally through social media, hence the overwhelming reason for people buying fashion products. Pandemic’s lockdown reduced the need for physical experience and gave way to accelerated adoption of digital fashion and the eco-system around digital fashion. That will lead to an even further growth of this space in 2022 especially in consumers expressing themselves through digital-only fashion. They will find allies in critics of fast fashion for its unsustainable nature.
- What Ethos will drive the young consumer to brands?
Young consumers are highly influenced by company ethos in their fashion shopping decision. A recent study by Boston Consulting Group underscores brands’ awareness of the following topics being important to Millennials and Gen Zs for their brand loyalty: gender fairness, racial diversity, and environment. Through the shockwave of the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 and high-profile media incidences with size and gender inclusivity, major fashion brands have been compelled to acquire more awareness and inclusivity on those issues deeper than their PR department, and more in corporate decision making. Since fashion establishments still overwhelmingly control all the decision-making positions, we should expect more stumbles. I still am optimistic about seeing more changes primarily because of the demands from young millennials and Gen Zs.
- What role Sustainability will play?
Sustainability is back in consumers’ awareness over the last three years (remember Greta Thunberg). However, the success in the automobile sector led by Elon Musk, a cult figure amongst youth, is energizing more people to influence the next big polluting industry, fashion. Pandemic has brought forth the awareness of the limitation of earthly resources and interconnectedness more than ever before. After the initial spike in consumption due to catching up with the depraved pandemic life, I expect to see awareness about sustainability reach higher than the pre-pandemic level. Germany has already put forth regulation last year to hold companies liable for green-washing practices. With Blockchain technology being more ubiquitous it will be more used in tracking the supply chain more accurately – the difficulty of which has been one of the big reasons for holding entities liable.
- Would there be a new apparel-material category of interest?
We have seen an explosion of innovation in synthetic materials in the past decade. That meant more use of petroleum-based materials which aren’t bio-degradable. Driven by the demand for sustainability there’s an increase in sense of urgency to scale up the use of biodegradable as well as less water and pesticide hungry materials. While the world has been in search of alternative agro-based fibers, from bamboo to banana, each posed a unique negative environmental impact and limitations. I see one material that has been used for textile for the longest time having a comeback as people didn’t fully explore its full potential due to the stigma attached to it being in the Cannabis family and the legal limitations of its use. That’s Hemp. Western US states with an enormous amount of landmass to grow cannabis are increasingly looking at hemp to add to their economy. This is leading to more path-finding efforts from those states which will accelerate in 2022.
- How an emerging designer should change the game?
Large mass-market and luxury brands have strengthened their market position through the pandemic. Emerging and independent designer brands are in heightened need to find niche areas that big brands can’t or won’t find feasible to get into. Their strategy should prioritize:
– Offer custom design; build a personal relationship with clientele so they feel they are directly being a part of the creative process and supporting creativity.
– Enhance adoption of technology to engage the clientele, create excitement for oncoming releases or social events.
– Video! Video! Video! Over the last couple of years, new video-editing apps along with new iPhone features brought the capability of decent quality video creation and editing at the fingertip of nonvideo professionals. At the same time, fueled by the TikTok trend, GenZ’s demand for authentic video content overshadowed the expectation of overly-polished content that was a hallmark of Instagram. In 2022 expect a lot more designers to come out of their hesitancy of expressing themselves through videos.
– Turbo-charged by the emotions of social justice movements of last year we have seen that messaging became the core driver of fashion lines for many independent designers. As emotions level out or subside on both sides – creatives and consumers, expect to see only the lines that have a sound fashion foundation to maintain their growth.
- How would e-commerce change in fashion retail?
E-commerce has seen a huge increase in adoption through the pandemic. E-com success has become a game-changer for retail giant Macy’s which is delaying and reconsidering its major store closing plan upon seeing a major upswing in e-com sales in markets with store presence. Luxury fashion retailer Saks Fifth Avenue decided to spin off its profitable online segment. With increased and imperative reliance on e-com revenue of the brands came increased maturity in e-com strategy. The number of e-com sales avenues was boosted by more people being stuck at home. For brands, that’s reducing the control on online brand experience. Moreover accelerated number of resale marketplaces are creating confusion about the brand to its consumers about the price-points and authenticity. Sites like Amazon and eBay enabled a significant increase in sales-arbitrage business – for example, people buying items from discount racks from multi-brand outlets and selling them at profit on Amazon. In 2022 expect more big companies to get a handle on the situation – they will get out of selling through Amazon, and reduce their footprint in multi-brand retails – a trend that Nike started a few years ago. Expect to see Amazon changing in nature with more small businesses signing up on the platform. Expect many more plays to maximize E-com, Metaverse, and NFT.
- How would Supply Chain be impacted?
2021 has seen the worst of the Global Supply Chain. This segment of the value chain that buyers squeezed to the brink for cost-efficiency ended up exposing its many points of inefficiencies. At the onset of COVID-19, we saw insufficient production even for the most emergency purposes, and as the economies started to open up, we saw all aspects of the supply chains falling apart, led by inefficient logistics in the US. In 2021 companies in the global supply chain and governments had a major wake-up call which resulted in major fact-finding and adjustments across the board. 2022 will see a major fundamental change in how they manage their global supply chain. Re-shoring, near-shoring will be considered where possible, but Asia’s extreme manufacturing prowess won’t enable a significant dent in it. Diverting away from China for manufacturing will continue. But to make the shipping segment of the supply chain more efficient we will see more innovative approaches like more value-added before shipment, re-imagining distribution, efficiency in US ports etc. Expect to see more fashion brands getting into Direct to Consumer business, getting inspired by the success story of Chinese brands like Shein which combined Chinese sourcing and manufacturing prowess with engaging emerging fashion designers from the west, copy-cats, and marketing to capture the market share away from western fast-fashion brands.
- What would you see more of?
More celebrity brand collaboration of large and midsize brands. Social media created a huge reach for influencers which evolved in a more intimate/ideological relationship through the pandemic. See brands milking that intimate relationship to demonstrate alignment in values.
More social-justice conscious brands – size-inclusive, gender-neutral etc.
With all these in mind, what Bangladesh should look out for?
Turmoil means opportunity. The aforementioned changes are putting Bangladesh at a critical juncture of taking advantage of them. Bangladesh is still underperforming in launching original and viable fashion brands – especially considering its maturity in manufacturing and the size of its population. Bangladeshi brands haven’t been advanced in fashion marketing – which is a major roadblock to enhancing its fashion industry and making it exciting. Established brands need to engage significantly more resources in showing courage to create fundamentally new designs and novel approaches to market them by utilizing all the tools that are already very mainstream not only in the west but even in India. Having a bigger pool of fashion-focused influencers will be paramount to create grass root level excitement about its fashion.
BGMEA President just expressed interest in the formation of global brands from Bangladesh. To see traction Bangladesh needs to make significant improvements in two areas – appetite for taking a risk with much higher capital investment for design and marketing compared to what any Bangladeshi fashion company has taken so far. Bangladeshi RMG owners are programmed with its current conservative model of made-for-order business which is the norm for any factory business. The few companies that have gotten into creating major local brands, or dipped their toes in a couple of international markets are a welcome change but didn’t get into any western market in any consequential way. Owning a global fashion brand will require significant engagement and understanding in design and omnichannel marketing. The call to have global brands from Bangladesh is the right one. Hope it will be followed by proper strategy and commitment to succeed that will require a significantly future-trusting mindset.