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The Defining Fashion Stories of 2023

Imran Amed reviews the most important fashion stories of the year and shares his predictions on what this means for the industry in 2024.
Imran Amed reviews the most important fashion stories of the year and shares his predictions on what this means for the industry in 2024.
Imran Amed reviews the most important fashion stories of the year and shares his predictions on what this means for the industry in 2024. (Getty Images and Courtesy)
BoF PROFESSIONAL

LONDON — Can you believe it? We are just one week from the end of 2023. How are you feeling at the end of this crazy year?

On the one hand, I find myself feeling weighed down by the never-ending sense of uncertainty and instability that seems to have fashion and the wider world in a state of perma-crisis. As we entered the post-Covid era, I hoped for less uncertainty and a more steady path ahead, but it was not to be. At every turn, 2023 has turned up more surprises and unpredictability.

But this is also when BoF thrives. I am delighted to share that we have passed the symbolic and important milestone of 100,000 paid BoF Professional members. That makes BoF by far the largest community of fashion professionals in the world, with members in more than 125 countries.

Our team is extremely grateful for your support. We can’t create our analysis and advice without it. So if you are not yet a member, click here to join and read all of our top stories of the year. You can use the special discount code imran2023 until Dec. 31 to get 25 percent off your first full year of our all-access BoF Professional membership.

I’ll now be taking a break until mid-January, so in my last weekly letter of the year, I want to reflect on the biggest fashion stories of 2023 and how our excellent team of expert correspondents and editors covered them — as well as what these core themes portend for the year ahead.

1. The Decline of Luxury E-Commerce

Matchesfashion's Carlos Place townhouse in Mayfair, London

We’ve been reporting on the decline of online luxury since the beginning of the year, but everything really came to a head in the last few weeks. Farfetch, Matches and Yoox-Net-a-Porter are all in crisis mode, revealing serious cracks in the European luxury e-commerce model. Part of these companies’ woes is down to the inflated valuations attributed by investors who did not know how to manage them. But there’s also added competition now that luxury brands are finally taking e-commerce seriously themselves. After the pandemic gave them no choice but to pivot to digital, they are now moving further away from the online wholesale model to a direct-to-consumer model.

What to watch for in 2024:

  • Trouble is still brewing at Farfetch, where mass-market South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang’s ability to restructure the business remains in question. Will they be able to divest New Guards Group, Stadium Goods and Violet Grey? How will they make the core marketplace model work in the face of shifting distribution strategies at the brands they serve? And how will they assuage top talent and employees who feel short-changed by the Coupang buyout, which has rendered their shares worthless?
  • YNAP’s future is also hanging in the balance. Now that the company will not be sold to Farfetch, some analysts are suggesting that Richmont should just cut its losses and shut Net-a-Porter, Yoox and The Outnet down. This would be a huge blow to the luxury e-commerce sector, as Net-a-Porter and Yoox were its pioneers.
  • Matches has gone through four CEOs in the last five years, including former Asos chief and current Matches head Nick Beighton, who will stay on following this week’s firesale to Frasers Group for $63 million. The purchase price may have been very attractive — just a few years ago, Apax had valued the business at north of $1 billion — but Frasers Group CEO Michael Murray will still need to work hard to eke out cost synergies and figure out how the Matches brand will sit alongside its existing chain of luxury multi-brand stores Flannels and compete in a commoditised luxury e-commerce market heavily reliant on promotions and discounting.

2. The Pitfalls and Potential of Generative AI

Casablanca's AI-generated marketing campaign.

No new technology has captured the interest of the fashion industry over the past year quite like generative artificial intelligence. And for good reason. Unlike the hyped up Metaverse, Gen-AI’s potential has wide-ranging implications for all parts of the fashion value chain — as excellently illustrated in technology correspondent Marc Bain’s excellent in-depth case study, The Complete Playbook for Generative AI in Fashion. To develop a deeper understanding of what this means for fashion and beyond, make sure to check out the session on Technology & Innovation from BoF VOICES 2023, which focused on understanding, exploring and debating the potential of generative AI. It includes talks from LVMH, WPP, star interior designer Kelly Wearstler and BoF Insights on real applications for fashion and creativity. Indeed, 73 percent of fashion executives surveyed for The State of Fashion 2024 said generative AI will be a priority for their businesses next year.

What to watch for in 2024:

  • As several of our speakers at BoF VOICES 2023 pointed out, while we should be aware of the potential risks that come with AI, we should not be afraid of the change it will bring. We are likely to find companies moving from hype and early experimentation to learning and practical application, including in creative processes, where AI will enhance and augment creativity, rather than replace human designers and artisans.
  • That said, the biggest short term opportunities in AI will be in addressing low-value repetitive tasks and in optimising mission-critical processes, like merchandising, planning and supply-chain management.

3. Streetwear Fatigue Fully Takes Hold

Tiffany and Nike have collaborated to create a $400 Nike Air Force 1 Low sneaker, which is facing criticism from sneakerheads.

Back in 2019, before Covid hit our shores and the pandemic changed everything, Virgil Abloh told Dazed that the end of streetwear was near. He may have been a few years early, but the evidence is in that the sneakers, sweatshirts and hype-driven collaborations that dominated fashion for many years are well and truly behind us. Supreme, the bellwether for this space now owned by VF Corp, appears to have hit a ceiling. Its revenue dropped to $523.1 million in the year ending in March, down 7 percent from the year before. Likewise, New Guards Group, which operates stalwart streetwear brands like Off-White and Palm Angels saw a 40 percent decline in the second quarter.

What to watch for in 2024:

  • Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t still be buying and wearing these kinds of clothes, just that the stranglehold that streetwear has had on the industry is finished. Incumbents like Nike and Adidas will be challenged by newcomers and niche brands. Start-ups from emerging fashion markets, including the African continent are also rising.
  • Brands like Alexander McQueen, Lanvin and Balenciaga, which have built a significant portion of their businesses around sneakers, will urgently need to shift their merchandising strategies, while sports-focused players will increasingly focus on performance apparel.

4. Overproduction and Overconsumption in Focus

The Or Foundation’s beach monitoring team trawls through tangles of textile waste on a beach in Ghana.

For several years, our chief sustainability correspondent Sarah Kent has been making a case for the role regulators can play in getting the fashion industry to clean up its act. And it’s not hard to see why. The industry continues to produce way too many products at ever cheaper prices. And as clothing becomes less valuable and more disposable, more of it is ending up as waste — dumped in countries like Ghana where it contributes to overflowing landfills. But this is not just a fast fashion problem. The luxury industry’s post-pandemic surge means that high-end brands are also producing millions more products, growing their carbon footprints just when we need to be reducing impact. Resale, circularity and new material innovations are all important potential solutions, but they won’t resolve the key underlying problem: we are making and consuming too much stuff. To address this, there needs to be a fundamental shift that reduces volumes, in particular by avoiding the incentive to overproduce baked into fashion’s business model.

What to watch for in 2024:

  • An onslaught of new regulation is expected in the coming years. Policymakers in Europe and the US are taking aim at the industry. No longer will fashion companies be left to regulate themselves; the slow pace of change has shown that this does not work.
  • Fashion companies will need to address the key sustainability conundrum — how to reduce their environmental impact (led by the volume of products they produce), while growing revenue and profit. Reducing Scope 3 emissions which represent 90 percent or more of a typical fashion company’s carbon footprint will necessarily be a big focus for fashion leaders in 2024.
  • While companies have a role to play in reducing volume, the other lever is what increasingly aware customers can do to consume less. Next year, expect movements to buy fewer or no clothes to gain wider adoption.

5. The Return and Rise of Brand Marketing

Brands including Jacquemus, Tod’s, Isabel Marant, and Victoria Beckham are experimenting with eccentric and absurd CGI marketing campaigns.

After years of investing in performance-based digital marketing, this year saw marketing leaders realise they need to invest in their brands. This may seem obvious for an industry that works so hard to build and protect its brands, but over the past few years some of this brand-marketing muscle has atrophied, as marketers leaned heavily into performance marketing. At BoF, our team worked hard this year to go deep on this topic, publishing an excellent case study on Brand Marketing by editor Diana Pearl, introducing our own way to measure and monitor brand health, The BoF Brand Magic Index, and learning from two brand-led beauty entrepreneurs about why brand marketing still matters. We also examined the rise of new brand marketing techniques, from collaborating with top athletes to experimenting with CGI-powered surrealist marketing and leveraging the globalisation of popular culture by appointing ambassadors from markets like Korea and Thailand.

What to watch for in 2024:

  • We expect this renewed focus on brand marketing to continue next year: 72 percent of respondents to our executive survey for The State of Fashion 2024 plan to spend more in this area in the next year.

This Weekend on The BoF Podcast

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This year, Barbie-mania swept the globe. A key architect of that phenomenon was Richard Dickson, who served as president and chief operating officer of Barbie’s parent company, Mattel, for almost a decade. At Mattel, Dickson revived Barbie, a name that had lost its cultural relevance, and brought it firmly back into the Zeitgeist. Now, Dickson is taking his talent for revitalising fading icons to Gap, where he was appointed CEO in July 2023.

This week on The BoF Podcast, I’m pleased to share this exclusive conversation with Richard on the power of brands and his vision for rebooting Gap from BoF VOICES 2023.

Have a safe and happy holiday season. See you in 2024!

Imran Amed, Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, The Business of Fashion

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