2020 may go down in history as the year that pushed fashion into the 21st century once and for all.
While the industry traditionally lags other sectors when it comes to embracing new technology, the near-constant disruptions to business as usual have accelerated brands’ and retailers’ efforts to digitize their operations.
Throughout these tribulations, Joor has stepped into the spotlight with a renewed sense of purpose. “It’s our moment,” Kristin Savilia, CEO of the online fashion wholesale platform and data analytics company, told Sourcing Journal Tuesday.
In an era when in-person events like trade shows, fashion shows and showroom appointments have been put on hold, brands and retail buyers have had to turn to virtual platforms to connect and conduct business. Joor’s decade-long tenure in the industry had earned it some clout with forward-thinking fashion brands, but the company saw interest skyrocket this year as homebound planning teams and buyers took to the web to salvage their seasons.
The site’s gross merchandise volume (GMV) increased by 52 percent from 2019, and average order values from retailers using the platform ballooned by 57 percent during the same time period. “This year versus last year, this enormous growth is because people have now realized how important digital is not just on the consumer side, which everyone talks about,” she said, but on the behind-the-scenes, business-to-business side.
Until now, many brands and retailers had been solely focused on bringing their e-commerce capabilities up to speed—optimizing websites, implementing drop-ship, and streamlining omnichannel capabilities all in service of the shopper. “That’s great,” Savilia said, “but this part of the business has been largely ignored, until this year.”
The normal cadence of fashion buying came to a screeching halt as the coronavirus radiated outward from Wuhan, forcing the global fashion community to seek out contingency plans. “We recognized in February, when Paris Fashion Week and Milan Fashion Week were being disrupted, that the trade shows and the fashion weeks weren’t going to be able to happen,” she said. “We said, ‘We need to be there for them—to provide a platform upon which these business’ continuity can go on.’”
Joor launched its Virtual Passport program, partnering with The Premium Berlin trade show and London Fashion Week to bring their canceled events to a Covid-free, virtual space. Over a four-month period, Joor teamed up with more than a dozen other event producers, from Liberty Fairs to New York Fashion Week, to bring the events online, and quickly.
All 17 event partners have signed on to the Passport program for another year, Savilia said, and she can’t imagine trade shows ever divorcing themselves from digital, now that the moves have been made. “I think first and foremost, what it demonstrates is resilience in the industry,” she said. They’ve “embraced new functionality that not only allows them to operate during the pandemic,” she said, but to display more efficiency in a post-Covid world.
The newly digitized trade show experiences have served as an entry point for many new brands and retailers to conduct their day-to-day buying and selling business on the platform, Savilia said. Brand profile visits by retail buyers have increased by a whopping 362 percent since 2019, with retailer logins from top stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Net-a-Porter and MyTheresa increasing by half. Since January, 1.8 million new connections have been made on the Joor platform between brands and retailers.
Industry experts have also caught on to the increasing importance of data to inform decision-making, and the platform offers a treasure trove of insights. “When you digitize your buying process, forecasting happens sooner, your orders are coming to you more quickly, and you understand what’s working and what’s not working before it hits the selling floor,” Savilia said.
Clear visibility into trends and performance are essential in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable retail landscape, especially when market conditions could turn on a dime and last year’s data feels wildly irrelevant.
The industry pivoted to comfortable loungewear during lockdowns, for example, and hasn’t stopped producing cozy tie-dye sweat sets ever since. The emergence of a widely distributed vaccine could accelerate a return to normal life, though, where special events like weddings and baby showers happen weekly.
According to Savilia, Joor’s data shows that brands and retailers are “taking bets that by July,” these occasions for wearing something other than sweats will be plentiful, and “dressy will sell again.”
“The planning I’m seeing is that people are expecting a bounce back in the back half of 2021,” she added.
But certain trends that took root this may indeed stick. Athleisure has been a part of the fashion lexicon for about a decade now, and shows no signs of slowing, Savilia said. And broader move toward casualization and comfort may be here to stay, too.
Even luxury brands are selling “high-end, glitzy sneakers and sweatshirts” for spring, pivoting away from sky-high heels and constricting dresses entirely. “I think it’s just a shift that the industry is leaning more casual,” she said, adding that while New Yorkers like herself expect to be back in the office by Q3, the appetite for business casual staples and heels in these settings has likely diminished.
The biggest industry trend to emerge this year, though, is accelerated digitization. “I’m seeing a lot of reports that the movement toward e-commerce was sped up by five years,” Savilia said. “We’re equal to that.”
The adoption of B2B tech tools is a trend that won’t be left behind in 2020, she added. “We’re seeing from looking at our projections that it will continue the same pace,” she said, “because those who didn’t bite right away recognize that the bar has been raised.”