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10 Key Trends Set to Shape Apparel in 2019

Fashion hasn’t seen the end of its disruption yet.

Though 2018 upended much in the industry, there’s more to come in 2019, according to the State of Fashion Report, co-published by McKinsey & Company and Business of Fashion.

In short, there’ll be both opportunities and challenges ahead.

“In the U.S and in the luxury sector it will be a year of optimism; for Europe and for struggling segments such as the mid-market, optimism may be in short supply,” McKinsey said. “Far-sighted companies will make bold moves in automation and AI, and will disrupt themselves before others do it for them. Consumers will make or break brands based on trust. And global economic and political trends hover over the whole picture.”

Amid what McKinsey has dubbed the “year of awakening” for the fashion industry, these are the 10 key trends experts expect to see take shape in 2019.

Caution ahead

Firstly, the uncertainty that plagued 2018 when it came to things like global trade and tariffs, could dampen global economic growth in the year ahead.

Already, global growth is showing signs of plateau after averaging above 2.5 percent since the financial crisis, U.S. interest rates are rising, increasing the cost of borrowing money for both companies and consumers, and Europe could see a tightening of the monetary policy, which might lead to slower economic growth.

Executives surveyed for the State of Fashion report pointed to economic conditions as the third biggest trend for 2019, and 42 percent expect industry conditions will worsen next year.

“A potential turn in the economic cycle is prompting concern among industry executives over prospects for the coming year,” McKinsey said. “Following a prolonged period of growth and rising costs, strategic priorities for the subsequent period are likely to focus more on being nimble and boosting productivity.”

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Indian ascent

Growth and expansion have been positive in Asia, and according to McKinsey, India will be at the center of it all in 2019.

Economic growth in India is expected at 8 percent a year between 2018 and 2022, while the country’s middle class is forecast to expand 19.4 percent, outpacing that of China, Mexico and Brazil.

“India is increasingly a focal point for the fashion industry, reflecting a rapidly growing middle-class and increasingly powerful manufacturing sector,” McKinsey said. “These, together with strong economic fundamentals and growing tech-savvy, make India too important for international brands to ignore.”

Trade 2.0

Actions on the part of the United States as it related to trade in 2018 served to increase tensions, costs and disruption.

Tariffs flying back and forth between the U.S. and China kept the industry on edge for most of the year, and though increased tariffs are on hold until early next year, they’re not entirely off the table.

“Companies should make contingency plans for a potential shake-up of global value chains,” McKinsey said. “The apparel trade could be reshaped by new barriers, trade tensions and uncertainty. However, there may also be new opportunities from growing South-South trade and the renegotiation of trade agreements.”

Beyond that, there’s been a bright spot in the Global South, or the Developing World. Trade within the region is expected to increase from roughly 25 percent of global trade at present to closer to 30 percent by 2030, McKinsey noted. China’s One Belt, One Road initiative may be the impetus behind much of the growth.

“The axes of global trade are shifting, amid a surge in commerce between emerging economies in the Global South. The dynamics may lead to a rethink of sourcing and pricing strategies in the year ahead,” according to McKinsey.

End of ownership

Today’s consumers want fashion product that’s interesting, readily available, sustainable and affordable—and many have been turning to resale and rental to have those needs met, a trend that’s expected to continue.

“The lifespan of fashion products is being stretched as pre-owned, refurbished, repaired and rental business models continue to evolve,” McKinsey said. “Across many categories consumers have demonstrated an appetite to shift away from traditional ownership to newer ways in which to access product.”

Getting woke

The young population of consumers, millennials and particularly Gen Z, want to know they’re buying from brands that stand for something.

Nine in 10 Gen Z consumers surveyed for McKinsey’s report think companies have a responsibility to address social and environmental issues. And because millennials and Gen Z, together, account for roughly $350 billion in spending power in the U.S. alone, their views are “critical,” according to McKinsey.

“Younger consumers are seriously concerned with social and environmental causes, which many regard as being the defining issues of our time,” McKinsey said. “They increasingly back their beliefs with their shopping habits, favoring brands that are aligned with their values and avoiding those that don’t.”

But it will be a fine line for brands, as companies, like Nike—which took a clear stance on the Colin Kaepernick National Anthem protests—were met with protests and boycotts, as well as increased sales and positive consumer sentiment. Brands wondering when to take a stand should focus first on remaining consistent with what their brand is about.

“Not all causes that fashion brands advocate are universally popular, and these can come with significant risks,” McKinsey said. “Besides potential controversy from supporting divisive causes, brands may also risk being perceived as hypocritical if they do not carefully ensure consistency in their messages and actions.”

Now or never

Fast has been front and center in fashion for some time, and with the influx of quick shipping from the likes of e-commerce giants like Amazon, consumers have only grown more expectant about when they get their goods.

“The time lag between discovery and purchase is a pain-point for customers who continue to expect better experiences,” McKinsey said. “Companies are increasingly focusing on reducing this source of friction and launching new technologies to enable a smooth and speedy transition from inspiration to acquisition.”

According to McKinsey, 2019 will be the year the majority of fashion players integrate commerce functionality into social media, as well as the year visual recognition tools will integrate into day-to-day shopping for the average consumer.

Radical transparency

Just as consumers are starting to seek greater transparency, ongoing data breaches at apparel companies have fueled a rising distrust that brands and retailers will need to counter.

To do it, they’ll need to ramp up transparency, in many cases, as McKinsey explained, by specifying costs of materials, labor, transport, duties and mark-up—a level of “radical” transparency that has helped fuel success for companies like Everlane.

“Fashion companies must come to terms with the fact that a more distrusting consumer expects full transparency across the value chain,” McKinsey said. “Given the need to regain that trust, fashion players cannot afford not to examine long-standing practices across their businesses.”


Disruption has become a tired refrain, as those not doing it—or evolving as a result of it—have already been left behind.

Self-disruption, in particular, will be a focus for 2019 as 79 percent of executives surveyed for the report put it among the top five trends impacting the industry.

“Technology and social media are enabling a new breed of ‘challenger’ brands that disrupt a sector or category where incumbent players have rested on their laurels,” McKinsey said. “Meanwhile, to compete and stay relevant among demanding young consumers, traditional brands are echoing this dynamic and disrupting their own brands, offerings and business models.”

Digital landgrab

Simply selling apparel online won’t suffice in a world where everyone is doing much the same thing. Companies will need to differentiate themselves on “emotion, curation and trust,” according to McKinsey.

“As the race to be the platform of choice for both customers and fashion companies intensifies, e-commerce players will continue to innovate by adding profitable value-added services and focusing on new technologies,” McKinsey said. “Whether through acquisitions, investments or internal R&D, players that diversify their ecosystem will strengthen their lead over those remaining pure players who rely solely on retail margins and existing offerings.”

Profitable growth potential, when it comes to user acquisition is starting to saturate as the market matures and competition ramps up, McKinsey noted, so 2019 will bring new ways to evolve.

“The next horizon in platform evolution is business model diversification through proprietary technology and knowledge to enrich the offering to consumers and brands,” McKinsey said. “The race is underway.”

On demand

Brands and retailers can no longer afford for design to be the long, drawn out process it always was.

Now, they need to tap into technology, analytics and nearshoring to shorten that whole development timeline, and 2019 will see more companies step up to deliver on on-demand as many a startup in the space has already done.

“Automation and data analytics have enabled a new breed of start-ups to adopt agile made-to-order production cycles. Mass market players will begin to follow suit, aiming to respond more rapidly to trends and consumer demand,” McKinsey said. “The result is likely to be a rise in just-in-time production, reduced levels of overstock and the rising importance of small-batch production cycles.”