MILAN — The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has walloped the entire fashion system, including back through the supply chain to severely impact suppliers of yarns, fabrics and accessories in all aspects of their businesses, including the way they unveil their collections.
Organizers of the two-day, first digital-only edition of Première Vision Paris, which wrapped up Sept. 16, took the challenges in stride by leveraging the trade show’s existing marketplace while bulking up some of its digital features to make sure the 1,675 exhibitors were equipped enough to face the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
The trade show had originally planned a “phygital” showcase and enhanced its marketplace, which was launched in 2018, knowing that “the event would have been different from usual, because some buyers could have not attended due to travel restrictions, especially those outside the Schenghen area,” explained Gilles Lasbordes, general manager of Première Vision.
“Although we didn’t expect the [physical] show to be eventually canceled, we were already preparing ourselves, investing in additional features on the digital platform and digitizing all the samples and products, from fabrics to leather,” he added. “The main tool was there, it had always been there, so it was an easy addition.”
When in the wake of the French government’s mandate to avoid big gatherings of over 5,000 people the physical show was eventually canceled, the number of samples that suppliers asked the fair to digitize increased significantly, signaling the industry’s eagerness to embrace the trade show’s digital alter ego.
Yet Lasbordes looks forward to 2021 when hopefully a physical show will take place. “We still feel that this is the good strategy, to blend physical and digital, because a physical interaction, looking IRL at the products, is key to this industry when buying materials,” he said.
Exhibitors presenting their fall 2021 collections shared similar feelings.
Ruth Farrell, global marketing director, textiles at Eastman, the Kingsport, Tenn.-based material manufacturing company, which through its textile division produces the biobased Naia cellulosic filament yarn, noted that digital shows are “an opportunity to rethink and innovate in the digital space to have even stronger fashion events in future.”
“We really appreciated the efforts done by Première Vision Paris to find an alternative way to present the collections,” echoed Mauro Canclini, creative director of cotton specialist Canclini 1925, which is based in the outskirts of Como, the textile district in Italy’s Lombardy region.
“In such a historical moment marked by hurdles and restrictions, we had to adapt and implement changes to stay relevant,” he offered. “We also believe that the physical interaction is key to our industry and part of the beauty of it…that’s why we embraced the digital presentations and virtual meetings, knowing that we could leverage a sales team that is able to stay closely in touch with our clients.”
Canclini also sees a sustainable silver lining to digital trade shows, which do not require buyers to travel across the globe. Similarly, Furio Annovazzi, chief executive officer of Iluna Group, the Italy-based textile firm that specializes in the production of stretch lace for the apparel and innerwear industries, said “this new way of doing business and communicating digitally represents a new sustainable business model, which I think is one of the trends that the pandemic has helped accelerate. It’s no longer an alternative but rather a necessity that we hope will mark a new course even when the health emergency is over.”
He added that the traffic generated on the platform was good enough to secure business opportunities. According to data provided by Première Vision Paris, the digital fair attracted 19,500 unique visitors.
At the same time, Lasbordes is eager for a return to pre-COVID-19 business levels in the short term, which is key for the survival of the sector, especially as the companies Première Vision Paris represents depend on export for 50 to 90 percent of their overall production and turnover.
“Business has slowed down because of retail shutdowns and closures of mills due to restrictions. Now it needs to restart quickly because still at the moment it has not yet recovered to pre-COVID-19 levels,” the general manager noted.
Not all hope is lost, though.
According to a June study conducted by the Institut Français de la Mode as part of the IFM-Première Vision Chair, which was released in tandem with the digital fair, a significant number of European male and female consumers — 13.7 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively — are inclined to increase their spending on fashion in the second half of the year, as part of what’s billed as a “revenge spending” attitude following months of confinement.
The survey gathered opinions from about 5,000 consumers aged 18 and older representing a sample in terms of gender, age, income and geographic location for France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.
“The sector is feeling the effects [of the pandemic] and it will likely remain impacted for several seasons to come,” offered Canclini. “Although the Asian market is picking up, Europe is still much affected by travel restrictions and the U.S. is frozen,” he said forecasting the company’s 2020 revenues to slip 35 percent compared to 2019.
Among the key takeaways of the IFM-Première Vision Chair study, European consumers in the second half are expected to favor local over international products and look out for eco-friendly fashion items. In particular, sustainable fashion is expected to attract some 64.1 percent of Europeans, 30.1 percent of whom are willing to spend more on them.
As green materials and fabrics are the main criteria guiding the fashion choices of European consumers, exhibitors — faced with a deteriorating economy — agreed that the sector can survive and even thrive in the aftermath of the pandemic only if it succeeds in remaining at the forefront of innovation and sustainability.
“The current context is a challenge for all markets, but it also creates an opportunity to reinvent common approaches, boost our creativity and accelerate the focus on sustainable fashion,” said Eastman’s Farrell.
“Even before the COVID-19, we were seeing a trend toward brands wanting a more sustainable fabric. Today women’s wear designers and manufacturers are clamoring for sustainable fabrics to meet the demand of discerning customers, who care about the materials in their clothes,” she noted.
To this end, Eastman’s Naia cellulosic fiber is derived from sustainably sourced wood pulp through a closed-loop production process that allows recycling and reuse of safe solvents and water, resulting in fibers with a low environmental impact that are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Product Class I certified.
The company’s signature products include the Naia filament yarn and staple fiber, both boasting quick-drying, wrinkle recovery and pilling resistance features, as well as enhanced hypoallergenic qualities. While the former is best used for knits and woven fabrics and is easily blended with other yarns for women’s ready to wear, the latter is suitable for casual wear.
“I think that among the challenges we face, digitalization and sustainability are top of mind,” commented Giorgio Todesco, ceo of the Marzotto Wool Manufacturing firm. “By investing in a digitalization of processes, we can leverage the traceability of products, nimbler relationships with our clients, more efficiency and less waste,” he contended.
For its Marzotto label, the company introduced the B-Dynamic+ fabric for fall 2021, a naturally stretch textile treated through eco-friendly mechanical processes instead of chemical-based ones. Part of the company’s portfolio, the Estethia G.B.Conte brand added the Prima Lana range of shuttle spun and jersey fabrics crafted from merino wool.
“It’s extremely difficult to make a market forecast in the current scenario, however the Asian market shows positive signs [of recovery], supported by a quest for sustainable products in the region,” noted Annovazzi, who expects an overall uptick in sales in the fourth quarter of the year.
The eco-friendly approach has always been core to Iluna Group’s DNA. “Sustainability and innovation were top priorities for us way before the pandemic and now that they have both become an urgency, being a step ahead of our competitors is undoubtedly an advantage,” Annovazzi offered.
For fall 2021, Iluna’s Green Label of GRS-certified products has been expanded with the introduction of the Bioline range of laces crafted from Asahi Kasei’s premium stretch Roica V550 fiber. In addition the company is now offering 14 nuances as part of its natural, plant-based dyes that are OEKO Tex Standard 100- and GOTS-certified.
Instead of banking on new textiles, Canclini said the company continued to invest in its “bestsellers, as we believe that in such a critical moment offering products that are recognizable and distinctive is key.”
In spite of this, the Como-based cotton firm did introduce new iterations of its signature fabrics for fall, offering for example the GOTS Option, such as the possibility to weave up to 80 percent of its products with GOTS-certified Pima cotton.
Capitalizing on increased demand for antiviral fabrics the company also forged ties with Polygiene, a spin-off of Sweden-based chemical company Perstorp Group, to adapt the ViralOff finish to its cotton fabrics. The compound, which is made of titanium dioxide and silver chlorine ions, underwent lab tests showing it can eliminate 99 percent of viruses within two hours, although in compliance with international regulations it cannot claim to eliminate the COVID-19 virus specifically.
While the Marzotto Wool Manufacturing company had already adapted the ViralOff technology to its fabrics, Canclini 1925 has secured the exclusive use of the compound for cotton fabrics.