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Fashion after the coronavirus: no fashion weeks and a more personalised experience, Chinese online retailer foresees

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 23/6/2020 Denise Marray
a woman standing in front of a building: Ada Yi Zhao, founder of Curated Crowd, thinks that, after the coronavirus pandemic, “the all-singing and -dancing events like fashion weeks are not going to happen”. Ada Yi Zhao, founder of Curated Crowd, thinks that, after the coronavirus pandemic, “the all-singing and -dancing events like fashion weeks are not going to happen”.

The magnitude of the threat the coronavirus pandemic posed to her online fashion platform Curated Crowd hit home for Ada Yi Zhao in March. She had to shut down her pop-up store in the well-heeled St John's Wood neighbourhood of London in accordance with lockdown measures.

The former investment banker, who comes from Chengdu, western China, had flashbacks to the 2008 financial crisis.

"Given the general economic conditions, I was very scared. Our lifeline is based on curating a great selection of designers worldwide and my immediate response at that time was, 'How many of our designers are actually going to survive the crisis and how many will be able to keep their businesses going?'" she said.

Three months on, and as she prepared to reopen her pop-up store, she looked back on the lessons learned and considered how the future of fashion may look.

a person standing on a sidewalk: Zhao shut down her London pop-up store for three months during the coronavirus. © Provided by South China Morning Post Zhao shut down her London pop-up store for three months during the coronavirus.

Zhao found that designers who rely on selling wholesale to department stores have been very hard hit, while smaller labels have ridden out the storm in better shape.

"Many of the orders placed by big department stores have either been cancelled or the designers are not getting paid. So that means either they have no working capital to continue with the next season, or they don't have working capital to pay their suppliers, or they are sitting on a lot of stock which they had been promised would be taken and paid for.

"Basically, designers are sitting on stock they can't monetise," she said.

Fashion and the coronavirus: survival of the fittest

"The smaller-scale, direct-to-consumer brands have survived, and I believe they will come out stronger at the end of this crisis. They typically have their own atelier or production facility in their home countries or within easy reach.

"A lot of them are producing small quantities " they do not follow the typical fashion calendar. They just go with their intuition and produce collections according to what they can do," Zhao said.

A post shared by Curated Crowd (@curatedcrowd) on Jun 12, 2020 at 3:55am PDT

"Sustainability " don't overproduce for a demand that doesn't exist. That is one of the key criteria we use when it comes to our curation," she added.

"In the end it is human " it's about the kind of relationship you have with your factories. Are they able to help you out? How effective is your communication?"

Zhao believes that the fashion industry will be reshaped by the crisis, with greater focus on delivering a more individual and personalised experience.

a woman posing for a picture: Zhao says big fashion events may become a thing of the past. © Provided by South China Morning Post Zhao says big fashion events may become a thing of the past.

"Smart shoppers want to know 'Who made my clothes?' and 'Why does this cost so much'? The traditional big players offering discounts and competing with each other and figuring out whether to offer 50 per cent or 60 per cent " that is not going to be the way to lure customers any more. You have to tell a genuine story and explain why, for example, a silk shirt is worth GBP280 (US$345)," she said.

And what of the big, global fashion events that we are used to seeing like clockwork every year? "Smaller operations and showrooms will continue to exist " but the all-singing and -dancing events like fashion weeks are not going to happen any more. That's my personal view," Zhao said.

After months of operating on Zoom, she is ever more convinced of the vital importance of having solid, face-to-face, personal relationships across the spectrum of the fashion business, from creative team to suppliers to clients. She believes remote operating must be interwoven with human contact.

a woman in a pink dress: Zhao thinks fashion labels need to © Provided by South China Morning Post Zhao thinks fashion labels need to

"The speed and efficiency is so much slower than everyone sitting around a desk. The spark that comes from face-to-face meetings and the vibrancy of the discussion is gone," she said.

During the lockdown months, Zhao turned her pop-up into a broadcasting studio, reaching out to clients eager to have a personal shopping experience, albeit remotely, with Zhao herself modelling some pieces.

"Without the physical location during the pandemic, I don't think we could have preserved the integrity of the brand as much as we did. I could push out all the wonderful content for our customers," she said.

A post shared by Curated Crowd (@curatedcrowd) on Jun 15, 2020 at 6:55am PDT

These testing times, which have made the home such an important space, have also led to her evolving and expanding her platform into the world of interiors and homewares through a partnership with Scandinavian furniture gallery Modernity Stockholm.

Companies that can remain nimble and flexible will survive the current pressures, Zhao believes.

"I have grown up a lot and one of the biggest lessons I have learned is don't try to do too much or climb too high, because life can take you in a different direction in just one day " just like that " and the coronavirus is an example of that," she said.

"Focus on what can be done in the next week or quarter " have a vision, but be open-minded and flexible.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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