This first half of 2022 bears the mark of a “year under tension”, observes Céline Choain, specialist in the fashion and distribution sector at the firm Kea.
Rising costs pushed up the price of clothing by 4.3% in May 2022 compared to May 2021, according to INSEE. An “inevitable” repercussion in the context of tensions on the production and supply chains, for Ms. Choain.
Consumers, for whom what is “remaining to spend” on clothing purchases “decreases due to inflation”, according to the specialist, then upset their consumption patterns: more frequent use of second-hand goods, “small postponement ” purchase – especially 15-25 year olds – on very low-cost websites based in Asia, or even a logic of “consuming less, but better”, by reducing the frequency of purchases, but by offering more quality parts.
Galloping inflation is also affecting professionals in the sector, forced to rethink their production methods due to higher costs and longer logistics times, a legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Because for two years, securing “transport and production capacities” has become critical, notes Céline Choain. Thus, a standard clothing product, usually manufactured in six weeks, is now in “10 to 20 weeks”.
Transport costs have for their part “flamed”, recalls the expert: the journey of a container between China and the United States today amounts to an average of “13,000 dollars, against 3,000 before the pandemic” .
– New context –
The sector has never known “a context of such strong tensions”, abounds Samah Habib, fashion and luxury expert at Accenture: for six months, raw materials have shown a strong increase, 80% for organic cotton, 28% for cotton and 43% for wool.
Some large distribution chains have “anticipated” the movement by provisioning or organizing stocks of these materials in advance, notes Samah Habib, which mechanically contributes to the rise in prices.
The Covid-19 and its consequences (confinements, gauges, etc.) have deepened a dynamic that has already been “downward for 10 to 15 years”, underlines Céline Choain.
Nevertheless, sales in terms of volumes today have picked up, “gradually” approaching those made in 2019.
“The most optimistic projections are for 3% growth in 2022” compared to 2019, notes Samah Habib, where the winners could be “very low-cost brands” and the luxury sector “which is doing very well” .
Thus, the Chinese Shein, positioned on low prices and which has become essential in “ultra-fast-fashion” since its launch in 2008, has “continued its momentum” over the past two years, with “sales volumes which have continued to progress despite the pandemic”, indicated the French Institute of Fashion (IFM) and panelist Kantar in a May note.
Share of online clothing purchases soared to 21% in 2021, according to Kantar.
“These (low-cost) companies have operational excellence”, they are able to offer “hundreds of new items per week”, notes Ms. Choain and “create desirability among consumers” supported by responsive supply. But they raise questions in terms of transparency and CSR.
The more traditional players in the clothing industry who do not wish to cut corners on the quality of their products are instead trying to attract a clientele adept at “less but better”, by turning in particular to more local production, in the Mediterranean ports.
But it is difficult to relocate the production of all products “overnight”, due to obstacles “of price, labor, know-how”, explains Ms. Habib.