Covid-19: Opportunities for Apparel & Accessories Brands


Without doubt, the Covid-19 shutdown has hit apparel brands hard. According to the Census Bureau, US retail sales dropped 8.7% in March, the worst monthly decline on record since 1992. While online sales across the board have increased by 3.1% during the shutdown, purchases of non-essential items like apparel and accessories are down by 50%.

It remains to be seen how the shutdown will affect the apparel and accessories industries in the long term. However, the shutdown also presents apparel and accessories brands with unique opportunities. This blog investigates some ways to respond well to the current situation and stay ahead of long-term changes in the industry.


Reevaluate Your Supply Chain Operations

Long production timelines, extreme waste, and gambling on supply levels are issues that have plagued the apparel industry for years. Brands know that they need to shift the way they operate to more flexible and responsive supply chains. As the Covid-19 outbreak has forced everyone to pause and take stock, now may be a prime time to start making these changes.

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Demand vs. Supply Model
  2. Domestic Manufacturing Options
  3. Sustainability + Digital Sampling
Demand Model

The supply-driven model of guessing on proper supply is outdated and overdue for change. The apparel industry has been working on a way to fix this aspect of apparel sales for years, but many big companies have been unable or unwilling to change. For smaller companies, this presents a huge opportunity. Operating on a demand model, where the exact number of units ordered by consumers is the exact number of units made, not only saves money, but dramatically reduces waste and has almost no upfront risk. Learn more about the demand model for apparel manufacturing in this blog.

Domestic Manufacturing

This demand-based manufacturing model is exactly what Blacksmith has been developing at the Blacksmith Cut & Sew facility in Tremonton, UT. Yes, labor costs are higher when manufacturing in the US, but the production turnaround time is simply unbeatable – we are talking days, rather than months. Higher domestic labor costs are balanced out by cost savings in many other aspects. For more info on the Blacksmith Cut & Sew Factory, contact us here.

Sustainable Manufacturing

According to McKinsey, online searches for sustainable fashion tripled from 2016 to 2019. Consumers are placing more and more importance on sustainability when it comes to their fashion buying decisions. The demand model is significantly more sustainable for manufacturing. However, huge apparel brands may still need to manufacture overseas because of super high order volumes. Other brands may have other good reasons to stick with the traditional supply-driven overseas manufacturing model.

In these cases, there is the option of switching to work with factories that are conscious about the waste they produce. Many overseas factories, throughout the major apparel manufacturing nations, are becoming LEED green certified and focusing on national goals to decrease pollution, increase efficiency, and meet sustainability benchmarks. Brands can also consider using certain materials that are better for the environment.

Digital Sample by Cat Taylor

Digital Sampling

Digital sampling is another forward-thinking trend that is likely to become more prevalent. Digital sampling means designing and perfecting a piece of apparel digitally, rather than repeatedly iterating on physical samples until you arrive at a final product. Digital samples not only produces zero waste, but also saves brands time. Sampling can take weeks when the brand and factory have to send physical samples back and forth to each other until it’s right. Digital designs, like the ones made by Cat Taylor for example, make for unique and stunning online content and can be used to solicit consumer participation in finalizing designs.



Create Value & Capitalize on Emerging Trends

As unemployment rises and economic activity decreases due to the pandemic, many consumers will shift their spending habits. With less stability and less money to spend, many shoppers will consider the apparel or accessories that they are buying with a higher degree of scrutiny. Does your brand sell products that contain long-lasting value, or is your product used in the short-term and then thrown away? Buyers are looking for items with higher quality and staying power that feel more like an investment.

Director of Brand Engagement at retail intelligence agency Stylus, Katie Baron-Cox, suggests that consumers will prefer “access, connections, insights and rarity, in place of discounts on lots of ‘stuff’,” although discounts will still have a place as “we are likely to be moving into a vast global recession.” What really constitutes value to the consumer was already shifting in line with sustainability-based concerns, she explained, “but Covid-19 will exacerbate this shift.”

There are other emerging trends that Covid-19 is shedding light on. For example, approximately one third of the US population has been working from home during this outbreak. Many people are discussing how expectations have shifted and what things will look like when the crisis is over. It is likely that many workers will want to maintain the flexibility to work from home more often or exclusively. What does this mean for fashion? Workwear designs may shift to incorporate more comfort features and consumers may move to more casual clothing options.


Talk to Your Customers

Talk to your customers online and listen to their feedback! Good brands already do this and refine their products based on their customer insights. However, with the lack of in-person encounters that are going on right now, a lot of people are craving the feeling of connection. Consider reaching out to your customers during this time, not just for their feedback, but to cultivate community and conversation. This can go a long way in creating brand loyalty.



Blacksmith International is a global sourcing, manufacturing and supply chain management company committed to getting your product made right – on time, on budget, and without defects

Contact us today for a complimentary manufacturing and supply chain assessment