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COVID-19 pandemic: Is men's fashion dead?

Time will tell who’ll be the winners and losers in the 'New Normal'.

By Style Editor

American menswear icon Brooks Brothers recent bankruptcy sent shock waves through the men's fashion world. The iconic brand cited the impact of the COVID-19 crisis plus a shift towards more casual dress code as reasons for their financial woes. And they’re not alone.

2020’s been a tough year for the men's fashion industry. Menswear brands such as Brooks Brothers, Starvilion Boutique by Wak Doyok, to start a long list, have started to exit the fashion industry. As the pandemic continues to disrupt the global uncertainty and and tighten people’s spending powers, consumers don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on a new wardrobe. Why would you when there is no event to go anyway?

The Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) and Malaysia Fashion Week (MFW) have also canceled runway shows this year: people are far more interested in buying face masks than suits right now.

The reality is that many brands were already struggling before the pandemic. Fashion trends are already cyclical, and more and more consumers are shopping online, yet many brands still operate traditionally. The convenience of online shopping means that brands need to offer an ‘experiential’ experience in their physical locations, VendHQ suggests.

So which fashion brands are going to weather the storm that’s 2020, and which will go under?

Just as a quality brick-and-mortar experience is crucial, a good online user experience (UX) is vital too. Online luxury retailer MR PORTER is an example of great user experience – their website is beautifully designed, which lends extra credibility to their luxury status while making it easier for customers to shop.

Brands that offer a pleasant online experience, effective online marketing, and connect well with their users through social media will continue to do well. The community aspect is very important. Brands that have developed a community will succeed where others fail.

Take Bon Zainal menswear, for example. Despite being a heritage brand – the brand is among the pioneer in Malaysia in re-establishing the sharply-dressed gentlemen culture – Bon Zainal has consistently innovated and moved with the times. The brand has timeless appeal but still on point with the fashion contemporary, whether collaborating with Alif Satar on Baju Melayu collection, sportswear collaboration with Ultron Malaysia, and the recent numerous virtual talk show with the fashion fraternities.

Formalwear brands are likely to be affected the most. People are working from home, and there aren’t many social events where you will have the opportunity to dress up anymore. In comparison, basic wear brands – “that you can wear around the house” – will have huge advantage of 'stay at home' dress code.

A friend of GC

LORD's Tailor, another leading luxury Malaysian menswear, engaged their loyal community through their recent LORD's "The Gentleman's Journey" 45th Anniversary Birthday Bash, as well as collaboration with TGV for "The Gentlemen" movie premiere passes and contest.

Perhaps the reason why menswear brands like Bon Zainal and LORD's Tailor continue to be relevant is that they’re bolstered by a consistent and loyal community. This community will ensure they stick around long after COVID-19, too.

With the pandemic likely to be a global problem for a foreseeable future, more and more menswear businesses will be forced to rethink their strategy and go digital if they want to survive. Some things haven’t changed: the need for quality materials, great design; a willingness to adjust product offerings, and passion to connect with the community, to stay ahead with the trend.

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges for SMEs and large businesses. Hopefully, this could actually be a blessing in disguise, giving brands the chance to change direction and emerge from the pandemic with a fresh new idea.

Ultimately, time will tell who’ll be the winners and losers in the 'New Normal'. Until then, stay safe, and stay classy.

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