No one saw it coming. I remember ringing in a new age and the new year in Portugal. Like everyone else, I had big dreams for the new year; and even bigger dreams for TUTNOD, it scared the hell out of me. Yet, it was all so exciting. It was the same frenzy the world over. I mean, it was 2020, the start of a new decade. It had to mean something right? And the world was ready for a big, exciting decade. But then, 2020 threw the world a curve ball. A move so unexpected, no one saw it coming. No one even considered it an option. And suddenly, words like self-isolate, isolation, social distancing, quarantine, lock-down, and pandemic became parts of our daily vocabulary and lives.
The impact of coronavirus on our lives – people, healthcare, lifestyle, businesses, industries, (you name it) has been so severe and profound, it literally shut the world down. The coronavirus brought the world to its knees as the economies of many nations plummeted. Businesses closed to observe the lock-down implemented, many never to open their doors again. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives – people who were full of life only a few days before. Events the world over were cancelled, even weddings were postponed. In a world as this, was there even a place for fashion?
With nowhere to go, the fashion industry took several seats backwards. Soon enough, fashion retailers became victims of the pandemic. We saw big players in the fashion industry succumb to the devastating impact of the world being under lockdown. Retailers such as Modest, 10 Corso Como closed their operations permanently; others such as Debenhams, J.C. Penney, J. Crew, and Neiman Marcus filed or considered filing for bankruptcy protection. The rest of the industry, including Nordstrom cut down on number of stores and furloughed or laid off employees. And even as i write, we are yet to see the end of it.
The impact may yet be more devastating for fashion rental platforms. Today, the world understands that keeping safe means keeping away from others. There may be two facets to how this impacts fashion rental. Firstly, keeping away from other people or what we now know as social distancing has resulted in cancellation of all type of gathering, meetings, events, parties, etc. In other words, anything that will require you getting dressed. This affects the very core of the service provided by fashion rental platforms which relies heavily on the constant availability of social events to create a need that we address.
Second is the fact that fashion rental gained prominence from the sharing economy model; an economy that promotes and encourages sharing and experiences rather than ownership. This is one, which in my view, could significantly impact the future of fashion rental platforms. As the world struggles to survive the pandemic, the concept of sharing could be completely erased from the attitude and psychology of people. As people are encouraged to keep safe and protect themselves from the virus, I cannot help but wonder how lasting the impact will have for the fashion rental industry and more generally, the sharing economy.
Because the world will eventually open again. We will move on from where we are today. Social gathering will become a thing again, people will need to dress up again. But when it comes to changing people’s attitudes and behaviour, the proponents of the sharing economy may perhaps be prepared to start all over again.