• Scott Church

Remote working is here to stay – it’s time for the fashion industry to embrace it

For the fashion industry, 2020 has been just about as uncomfortable a time as there has ever been. Enforced workplace closures, mass event cancellations, flights grounded, employees sent home – the disruption has been widespread and continuous.

But when we look to the future of the industry, it’s worth remembering that feeling uncomfortable is often a necessary first step on the journey towards evolution. “Uncomfortable” urges us to move forwards. It seeks change, invention and opportunity.

As Covid-19 has shone a stern light on the limitations of traditional fashion industry working models, businesses have been forced to react at speed. And what we’re seeing is that the businesses and brands truly embracing this enforced change, are now proving all the more successful for it.

The remote working revolution is surely the best example of sweeping, pandemic-induced change. For the fashion industry, although some of this change has been uncomfortable, months on there are a number of benefits starting to emerge.

For example, pre-Covid, many fashion buyers were overwhelmed with pressures to keep up with intensive travel requirements and time-sensitive deals. Now grounded, and with the ability to view collections through virtual showrooms, buyers have been able to continue their work digitally, at a more manageable pace. Similarly, it has meant they have been able to spend more time focusing on individual collections, free from the pressure of having to dash off to catch their next flight.

With less financial challenges, inclusivity is at the forefront of this modern, digitalised world. With budgets not having to stretch for plane/train tickets and hotel stays, more people are able to attend shows. This means junior members of teams are getting the chance to join in for the first time and develop their skills more quickly than was possible in the industry of old.

Seniority shouldn’t be impacted by an individual’s locality, and those in managerial roles also benefit from a more adaptable approach to work. More flexible roles should ensure that progression from all appropriate members of a business, regardless of their situation, is maintained. In turn, working autonomy will allow companies to attract more under-represented talent to their teams, such as those seeking part-time positions or those that have caring responsibilities.

Wellbeing is an area that the fashion industry has long needed to prioritise, and the upshot of having clearer heads, less travel and fewer time pressures is that fashion businesses have been able to innovate their way through the pandemic to great effect. A recent example of this is HFW’s recent entirely 3D fashion week event, which saw attendees enter a “digital village” in the form of avatars.

It might sound like a scene from your favourite sci-fi novel, but it’s a practical and creative response to the constraints imposed by 100% remote-working. Through tech innovations, brands have been able to concentrate on raising the bar creatively. At Helsinki Fashion Week, 3D artists helped London designer Patrick McDowell host his third fully digital collection. With the “Vatican City” used as a virtual backdrop, the show presented the designer’s Catholic Fairytale collection with no physical garments in sight.

Others showcased their pieces through “walking on water” visuals or with models parading garments on “another planet”. Artistic versatility is allowing brands to tap into the extravagance of a real show, by using digital tech to create scenarios that would once have been deemed impossible.

And remote viewing needn’t compromise the chance to forge closer connections with industry peers. In our business, new customer enquiries have increased by 2000% since the start of the UK lockdown, as brands have sought new digital routes to market and immersive experiences for their remote contacts. We’ve used live face-to-face appointments to keep connectivity high on the agenda and give members of the fashion industry the ability to mingle virtually. Brand representatives can meet buyers via video and walk them through their latest collections as though they were there together in person.

Brands reaping the benefits of the virtual showrooms approach include Marc Cain, Unreal Fur and HULA. The latter, a brand introduced by BIBA founder, Barbara Hulanicki, has now opted to launch their next collection digitally – evidence of an industry trend that is here to stay.

Moving forward

Indeed, it looks as though remote working is set to be a permanent fixture of this new world. As many as 87% of employees claim they wish to work flexibly, 74% of employees say they have saved time on not having to travel, 32% say working from home makes them feel less stressed and 25% say flexibility has led them to be more productive. It’s unfortunate that currently only 15% of jobs are actually advertised as flexible – evidence that rather than accepting it, begrudgingly, businesses needs to do more to embrace the remote working revolution.

If we have learnt anything in 2020, it is that disruption is an unavoidable part of life. With unpredictable global travel bans being removed and reinstated weekly, and the pending risks posed by an unpredictable winter, it is vital that companies listen to their employees’ remote working requests and adapt accordingly. Over 555,000 people are currently employed in design, textile and fashion retail jobs in the United Kingdom, and it’s time for the industry to embrace remote working, not just as a vital safety consideration, but as a more effective way of doing business in the months and years ahead.

Dan O’Connell and Jennifer Drury are the co-founders of BrandLab, an innovative digital software solution designed to streamline the wholesale fashion industry.

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