Sustainability and fashion: what’s next? (part 2)

This is the second part of a conversation between Taggstar CEO Marjorie Leonidas and her friend retail expert Sylvie Freund-Pickavance (Group Strategy and Business Development Director, The Bicester Village Shopping Collection).

The two continue their discussion about sustainability in retailing following the coronavirus outbreak. You can catch up on part one here.

Marjorie: There are plenty of consumers – especially younger people – who look at the global supply chain and don’t like what they see in terms of its impact on the environment and the workers producing garments in less than optimal working conditions. Will we see a shift to more local production?

Sylvie: The COVID-19 crisis has made us much more aware of the dangers of globalization but even before the pandemic, China and other Asian countries had started to scale back low-cost manufacturing and lots of companies had already started to look at more domestic production.

Social sustainability is much higher on the agenda and will accelerate the shift to more domestic production. Brands, manufacturers, retailers and consumers, we all need to find the right balance between economic reality (people with much less money wanting to buy more cheaply) and the understanding that we have to produce locally and pay the real price.

Marjorie: We know the future of the bricks and mortar store was already in question before the pandemic and now online sales have soared during the lockdown. What’s your view on how this might change the physical shopping experience?

Sylvie: The immediate challenge is to create a physical shopping environment which is both pleasurable and safe.  Because people won’t go out to shop unless they feel safe. In China, malls have reopened with precautions in place: temperature checks, masks, gloves, a limit on the number of shoppers allowed in the store, and a whole new cleaning regime. Experience so far suggests that Chinese shoppers prefer to shop where there are high levels of visible protection in place.

Yes, a lot of brands have had to close their physical stores, and more people have turned to eCommerce. But there is still a role for a great store, that supplements the digital with human connection for customers before, during and after the purchase. Some customers will buy online and then want to visit the store afterwards. Stores for the future will need to be experiential, be spectacular, to offer consumers meaning and purpose.

And as the lockdown lifts, there will be a mountain of surplus goods to be sold.  I expect to see more event stores, pop ups and promotional sales in physical stores as there will be plenty of retail space available.

Marjorie: You and I have both lived through difficult times for business before now. What do you think are the key characteristics for successful leaders in the current climate?

Sylvie: The most important quality is how you engage with your own teams. Putting people first is not necessarily a visible external characteristic but it’s where good leadership starts. Next, you must have the capacity to look reality in the face and apply lateral thinking.

Then it’s really important to have people on your team who are digitally savvy. The writing is on the wall: we’ve all got to get used to doing it digitally, whether it’s expanding eCommerce, using mobile apps or Zoom conferencing from our homes. Finally, acceptance. We all need to understand that we’re never going back to how things were. The fallout from this episode is going to last and leave a mark on our collective psyche.

You might like to note that Sylvie Freund-Pickavance will be a guest speaker at our upcoming webinar ‘What’s next for sustainable retailing?’ on Tuesday 23 June, 14.00 to 15.00 BST. Places are limited so register now to reserve your place and get the full details.

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