Jenna Diioro is someone who lives to shop.
A 28-year-old car-dealership manager who lives in South Jersey, Diioro used to spend hours cruising stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, H&M, and Hollister, where she’d spend upward of $200 each week, scooping up tops, dresses, jeans, and activewear. Just last month, she was preparing to shell out for a new wardrobe for an upcoming trip to Cancun with her boyfriend.
All that changed once the coronavirus pandemic upended nearly every aspect of Diioro’s daily life. Since New Jersey governor Phil Murphy issued shelter-in-place orders on March 21, Diioro has hunkered down at home with her seven-year-old son. She browses clothing online more than she used to—mostly out of boredom—but aside from some yoga leggings, she hasn’t purchased much. And while a vacation in Cancun now feels like a distant dream, part of her still clings to the idea of eventually making it there. Diioro’s added the same tie-front romper to her cart multiple times, coming close, but never quite pulling the trigger.
“Should I buy it? Should I not? Am I going to be even able to wear it anytime soon?” Diioro says. “My girlfriends have been saying the same thing. When are we even going to be able to wear these cute clothes out and about?”
COVID-19 has dealt a bruising blow to fashion retail. Confirmed cases of the disease have surged past 1.9 million globally, with more than 123,000 recorded deaths, according to the World Health Organization’s April 15 situation report. Shuttered storefronts, evaporated foot traffic, and a sharp decline in consumer confidence have caused sales to nosedive. Inditex, the parent company of Zara, flagged a 24. 1 percent decrease in sales in the first two weeks of March; H&M says it saw a 46 percent drop the same month. Panicked retailers such as C&A, Gap, Primark, and Topshop have scrambled to cancel purchase orders from their overseas suppliers, or refused to pay for product, in order to get ahead of their collapsing bottom lines.
Even before the pandemic, fast fashion was undergoing major upheaval. News of Forever 21’s bankruptcy filing and H&M and Zara’s slumping revenues seemed to sound the death knell for the inexpensive, trend-driven retailers that populate malls around the globe—many of which are said to employ an overworked and underpaid workforce.
But this wasn’t a sign of a social and environmental “tipping point” for consumers—far from it. In truth, the old guard of fast fashion had ceded ground to nimbler pure-play upstarts like Boohoo, Fashion Nova, and Missguided, which, unyoked by decades of debt, expensive real estate, and clunky supply chains, had conspired to make fast fashion cheaper and more shoppable through newfangled channels like Instagram.