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How will fashion in China change after the Coronavirus

Pros and cons of the "digital" fashion weeks

How will fashion in China change after the Coronavirus Pros and cons of the digital fashion weeks

Shanghai Fashion Week is happening online. Following the rumours that wanted it to be postponed until any updates, Shangai takes an example from the Rakuten Fashion Week in Tokyo (that is currently streaming on the official site) and adds its fashion week to the list of Chinese events that are facing the consequences of the Corona Virus. All the shows will be live-streaming from March 24th to 30th, 2020 on the Taobao Live channel, in collaboration with the e-commerce platform Tmall (property of the Alibaba group). It's an event that is going to rewrite history: they are the first fashion weeks in the world to completely turn digital. 

Though it was the only option, it's still a brave choice. The consequences of cancelling it would have been catastrophic: in a recent interview with nss magazine, stylist Jessica Daolio noticed that a temporary stop of the fashion industry would mean that “[…] a lot of the 2020 Resorts will stay unsold and all the plans about Spring/Summer collections will be cancelled, as well as the buyer's activities for 2020/21. There will be huge losses both for the boutiques and the brands, and many emerging designers will fail." The results of this choice will then be positive: brands (not just Chinese brands, considering that Shanghai had to host the shows of both Diane Von Furstenberg and Converse) will still have the opportunity to not entirely lose the next season. Furthermore, while live-streaming the shows all the viewers will be able to buy online the clothes and accessories they're seeing on the runway: it means that they will be the first in the world to have the possibility to own the new items from Fall/Winter 2020 (the online shopping is still strong, as confirmed by the success of reselling retailers). 

It's a tough choice, but also a necessity. Still looking at the "half-full glass", the live-streaming strategy could also represent an opportunity for all the brands to re-think about themselves. There's always more and more professionals who think that the fashion world is on the edge of disruption: the new technologies and the digitalization, combined with a new public of millennials and Gen Z grown up always with the smartphone on their hands, has generated a new parterre of clients that has a new way to think about fashion and the experience of fashion (and shopping). Brands are still confused about their new opportunities, but most of them sure need to re-think their communication strategies: what they need is the so-called “social currency”, in other words, a digital identity that could guarantee them recognizability on every device. In this sense, social media are the key (a single intern posting on Instagram is not enough, not anymore) as well as the right Key Opinion Leaders (they're like influencers, but they follow the market's rules) and the collaborations between different brands (as the recent Dior X Air Jordan).

China has been a pioneer: more than live-streaming their fashion weeks, the Alibaba group itself that is experimenting a new approach to e-commerce, investing in the elimination of all the physical spaces and in a one-to-one relationship with their clients. For example, it recently launched a game for smartphones called Taobao Life in which users are encouraged to dress up a 3D avatar with clothes and accessories based on real-life iconic items (once the shopping is over, they can even reunite with other avatars and take some selfies to post of their "real" social media). In Italy, the most forward-looking brand is once again Gucci by Alessandro Michele, that recently re-styled its Gucci App: now, all Gucci users can virtually try on the brand's clothes and play some Gucci games.

"Let's go digital" may seem an outdated concept, but many are still sceptical about the decision of the Shangai Fashion Week. A lot of passionates complain that with this solution they're going to lose the "ritual" of a show. Most of all, the most dangerous consequence is that the live-streaming will be only available in China, on Taobao Live channel: it means that the international public is going to be excluded, meaning a significative loss for the industry and for emerging brands (and their social currency, too).

In this time of crisis, there is no room for more losses. As recently reported by an official statement, the Kering Group revealed that the Chinese market is showing the first signals of reprise, but the impact on the entire industry is still huge - especially in Pacific Asia. The losses are globally impressive: Kering estimates that its revenues will be down by between 13% and 15% compared to the first quarter of 2019, while Burberry predicts that its incomes will be down by 80%.

Ready or not, the fashion world is at a crossroads. The recent crisis is just accelerating the road to digital, in many of its aspects:  not just for the fashion world, but for any industry that is struggling with the new opportunities offered by the smart-working. Only time will tell if this is actually going to be the future of fashion.

For now, Shanghai is at the verge of a revolutionary move. While we're still wondering if the Milan fashion week will follow this lead, Camera della Moda remains silent. We'll see, wouldn't we?