What post-COVID Textile & Apparel Value Chain could look like? – Four trends that could emerge in Textile Business

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The socio-economic impact of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the COVID-19 disease itself and efforts to quarantine it. The impact of the corona-virus is having a profound and serious impact on the global economy and the global textile and apparel industry is one of the most severely hit industries. Sooner, or later, we shall overcome this and the world will be on its feet again. But when the dust settles, there are bound to be changes in how consumers and organizations respond to their clothing needs. Most of these changes will directly affect the way textile companies conduct their business, both in short and long term. Let us look at four key trends for textile value chain that might emerge.

 Even more focus on Sustainability

Everyone has witnessed a pollution-free world and that too, only in a few months of lock-downs and social distancing. Reports of deer spotted in many cities in the world to clear blue skies in New Delhi and spotting of Himalayan peaks from the city of Jalandhar in India, are some of the heart-warming news amid this unfortunate situation. Sustainability in textile and apparel is bigger than ever before. And not only in terms of talks and concerns but an incredible amount of work is being done and huge amount of resources are being spent to transform the entire industry from one of the most polluting to one of the most eco-friendly one. Post COVID, we could witness consumers, organizations, governments and NGOs getting even more conscious about environment, which will lead to the textile industry stepping up the efforts on adopting more sustainable practices, processes and materials that are eco-friendly. Based on the recent McKinsey survey of 6000 consumers across the UK, Germany, France and Spain, there was a gradual shift towards a preference for goods and brands that have sustainable credentials.

This increased preference of consumers will directly affect the manufacturers. Not only do we see more and more usage and demand of eco-friendly materials, emphasis will be on having better processes, controlled discharges and chemical compliance. Generally, this is driven by the strict compliance requirements of leading brands, however, post COVID, we could witness companies revisiting their priorities and voluntarily auditing (internal & external) their processes.

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Already many companies that are actively doing this and a range of products – fibres, yarns and fabrics – that are claimed to be sustainable. What could change, post COVID, is that we will see more and more transparency by the value chain on declaring the environment footprint of their products, thereby making it easy for the buyers and the consumers to make an informed choice. Tracking, which is at its infancy, could witness a big boost post this pandemic.

Going Digital

Our industry is not one of the leading ones when it comes to digitization and digitalization. After all, as a designer you need to touch and feel the fabrics before making a final call. Trade shows and exhibitions are still very important and the whole value chain prepares and waits eagerly for them. The marketing budgets of many small and medium sized companies mostly comprise of participating and exhibiting costs in these fairs. 

Trade shows will not cease to exist all of a sudden; however, we have already started reading about exhibitions planning to go the digital way. Technologies need to improve and they will to give the buyers and sellers a good experience that can enable them to make decisions and do transactions. We could see Virtual Reality enabled shows and conferences providing both the buyers and the sellers an interactive platform to interact. This will also call for a lot of mental change, as a lot of selling in our industry is very personalized today. Buyer-seller meets, conferences, mill-weeks etc. have a serious potential to be digitized. A recent example is Kingpins – one of the most awaited denim sourcing event. Kingpins Amsterdam show that was scheduled from April 22-23, has now been cancelled and has been replaced with Kingpins24 – a two-day online denim conference and event to bring the global denim industry together. 

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Digitalization will also happen with more frequency, as companies will start to adopt social media marketing more than even before. Fashion brands have been active on social media platforms to reach out to their consumers; however, the manufacturers have quite a sporadic presence. Barring the big players, there are only a handful of manufacturers that have inbound marketing strategies and dedicated digital marketing teams. 

Digitization and digitalization could also lead to an overall reduction in cost while at the same time giving more channels (digital) to reach out to the target customers.

Diversification into medical & hygiene products

We have already seen a spike in demand for facemasks, surgical gowns and PPE in the last 2 months; however, the trend seems to be longer lasting. Post Covid, it seems that this could be the new order for textile companies. We could witness new products with hygiene and anti-microbial /anti-viral properties and claims getting added to the portfolio of textile companies especially fibre, yarn and fabric manufacturers.

Chemical companies and fibre manufacturers have started working on developing anti-viral technologies and products in addition to strengthening their hygiene and anti-bacterial portfolio. Demand for these fibres and finishes form fabric manufacturers have been on a rise as companies are trying to foray into medical textiles. With the recent surge in demands from hospitals, various garment companies from around the world have trained their workers and engaged themselves into making masks and medical gowns. The demand is bound to go down over time, once the pandemic dies down, however these companies, with the newly acquired skills and expertise, will look towards healthcare institutions as a potential customer base.

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Not only hospitals, apparel brands would also come up with medical/wellness products. Apparel with microbe-resistance properties used to found in the stores of performance and sports brands, but now fashion brands are also looking to add these functionalities in everyday garments, which will significantly diversify the offering of the textile companies

Hi-Tech Research

Majority of technologies in medical textile space are about prevention. We have anti-microbial fibres and chemicals, anti-viral products that inhibit the growth of these organisms. Post COVID, the next wave could be about detection. Clothes that change color, wearable tech that sends signal to mobile phones on detecting microbial growth, could be some of the hi-tech products that become everyday norm. We could witness the brightest of the minds in our industry collaborate with research institutes to develop the next generation of medical textiles that can both prevent and detect harmful organisms. 

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Smart textiles and wearable that are still a niche market could steal the limelight in the post COVID world with solutions coming up because of collaboration between textile scientists and healthcare technologists.

These are only a few of the trends that are likely to become norm in the new world post COVID. The first priority of course is to get back on our feet, be safe and start building the economy back.

Disclaimer : These are purely based on the observations on the demand trends and activities in the value chain and are the views of the writer and do not reflect the view of the writer’s employer.