The Challenges of COVID-19 on the Fashion Industry

On March 10, the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology presented “Challenges of COVID-19: The Apparel Industry Through the Lens of C-Suite Executives.” The event was free for any Sacred Heart University student or staff member to attend live via Zoom. 

Included in the panel was Sacred Heart alumni and current Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) professor, Dr. Brooke Carlson. Along with Carlson, Vice Chairman and former owner of Mitchell Stores Bill Mitchell, along with his son Scott Mitchell, were in attendance. 

Fashion Marketing and Merchandising professor, Dr. Dave Loranger, was the coordinator of the event. 

“We started to realize that we had this huge base of affiliates through the university that are pretty heavy hitters in the apparel industry,’’ said Loranger. 

Many students interested in the business of fashion attended the event and enjoyed hearing what the speakers had to say. 

“The fashion panel at Sacred Heart was every bit of inspiring. All of the speakers were extremely insightful and shared their interest in the industry so openly with fellow students and me,” said sophomore Emily Falco. “It was great to hear about the innovation that has gone in the fashion industry since COVID-19 and how it can impact my future career.” 

The panel opened with Loranger asking, “What changes in consumer shopping behaviors have you seen?” 

Carlson began the discussion by talking about “conscious consumerism,” which, according to Vox, is a type of consumer behavior especially prevalent among millennials and Generation Z shoppers in which consumers take their pick of stores based on the company’s moral and ethical values. 

“It’s necessary because your generation is so tuned into it, so if you want to groom that next generation consumer into your brand, you need to incorporate the motivations, attitudes, beliefs and values into your operation and all you do unless you won’t be relevant to the consumer,” said Loranger. “A lot of research shows that your generation and the millennial generation are really good at sniffing out authenticity.” 

Vice President of Production and Sourcing for American Eagle Outfitters, Sindi Ruisiecki, and Vice President of Product Development and Supply Chain Management for Alo Yoga, Jessica Roberti, answered the same question from the perspectives of a comfortable lifestyle brand. 

According to WGSN, comfortable and lounge-style garments have been the leading style of clothing purchased by consumers during COVID-19. 

“We’re lucky to be in the space where people want to shop right now, people want comfort,” said Jessica Roberti. 

The conversation shifted to the new technology improvements each company had to make in order to stay relevant during the pandemic. 

Scott Mitchell talked about the changes in their own technology, mentioning that Mitchell Stores’s online sales make up a majority of their business currently, and that if they had not switched to a more technological form of sales, their company would have gone out of business. 

Both Bill Roberti and Scott Mitchell added that the success of different products has also changed with men buying less ties for themselves, due to lack of in-person business transactions, and more jewelry to show gratitude toward the women in their lives. 

“If you didn’t have a web presence or the ability to create one within your business, you weren’t going to make it,” said Scott Mitchell. 

“Unless you evolve, unless you change, unless you pivot, you won’t grow,” said Bill Roberti, Managing Director of Alvarez & Marsal Incorporated and former CEO of Brooks Brothers. 

Loranger said he hopes to have more panel presentations in the future with a variety of topics including innovation, consumerism and technology.

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