New-normal fashion keywords: functional, omnichannel, sustainable

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That this is an unprecedented time for the fashion industry and society in general is already a cliché.

That said, the footwear and accessories sectors still display cautious optimism, expecting the speed and scale of vaccinations to shape the path for recovery. The silver lining is that the Indian economy has the elasticity and the fundamentals to bounce back from economic setbacks and break free from pre-existing structural disruptions.

As for the fashion leather products market, we have had cheaper Chinese products which flooded the Indian market in the past. However, over the past year, the pandemic – coupled with high import duties – has severely restricted incoming products. Due to the blockages and the culture of the WFH (work from home), consumption patterns have spiraled downward and there has clearly been a fall in demand – from both retail and consumption.

Due to the extreme challenges on toplines, in the short term brands will push their inventory to deep discounts. Going forward, however, leather product brands will need to improve their game when it comes to omnichannel retailing, social engagement, and innovations like conversational commerce.

FY22: Trends to prepare

Today’s consumers demand functionality, performance coupled with the versatility, comfort and durability of every product. Shoes and bags are no different. Global brands are embracing social and ecological awareness in their advanced manufacturing of sustainable footwear. Recycling should remain the watchword in the leather industry.

As we have all seen in the food industry, consumers are aggressively turning to organic products and away from commercial assembly line items. I expect a similar movement in the leather shoes and accessories category. Although it should be noted that sustainable products generally contain more expensive raw materials than the raw materials used in the production of standard shoes, which puts pressure on production costs.

There is no simple answer to defined trends or directions, as the powers affecting industry and retail are extremely complex and impact different industries, companies, markets and products in different ways. Given the disruption of Covid-19, it’s unclear what the new normal will be.

Certainly, most retail sales would be done online. It would be extremely expensive to run a traditional brick and mortar store. Many brands would make “experiential zones” of them, as Nike, adidas or Apple did. I expect digital devices to replace sales and store staff, to a measurable extent.

Today, consumers can categorize days into two categories: the day they receive a package delivered to their home and the day they do not. The biggest retail trend I see is “same day delivery”. Customer expectations on shipping times are only increasing. In the age of instant gratification, buyers want their orders now.

Social commerce is said to be the strongest innovation and a game changer for the industry. The surge in online shopping this year is here to stay, especially given the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and in particular the sporadic closure of brick and mortar stores. Social commerce is booming as it offers shoppers an even smoother way to shop online. Instead of clicking on a third-party website, users can make purchases directly from the app or from the social media site.

In 2021, we will continue to see marketplaces and traditional retailers converge. Markets like Amazon are turning to traditional forms of retail, and traditional retailers like Metro Shoes, Venus Steps, etc. look to markets to stay relevant in the digital economy.

Second, on the product side, the active lifestyle of millennials has pushed manufacturers to scale up their production scale, especially in the sneaker category. Over the seasons and the year to come, comfort would remain a determining factor, so leather mules, platform sliders, slip-ons with street iterations, comfy uppers, wedges to platform would trigger a trend in the category.

When it comes to the main design influences, many bags – and shoes too – are said to be in fabric and print versions. I also see square soles with square toe shoes becoming more popular.

The author is editor and publisher, Footwear and Accessories.

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