After an unusual year, what designers, retailers and CEOs expect for 2021

It has been quite the year! 2020 is slowly coming to an end and even though the pandemic holds people in suspense worldwide, 2021 is inching ever closer. So what does the new year have in store and how do leading international voices at the heart of the fashion industry look back on 2020? We’ve asked philosophers, streetwear designers and fashion retailers.

Mumi Haiati, founder of communications agency Reference Studios

Reference Studios’ clients include cutting-edge fashion magazine 032c and London luxury fashion retailer Browns. In 2020, the Berlin agency presented the first fashion show in the video game Animal Crossing at the

“2020 came with many challenges. It was important to learn how to deal with the situation and take notes, rather than giving in and letting it stop you. This way we managed to recognise much potential and act accordingly. Our approach has always been disruptive, so in that sense we came prepared. We do believe that 2021 will bring a new openness towards certain formats in fashion especially, and the way we look at things altogether. We are excited.”

Bernd Hausmann, founder and CEO of Glore

Image: Bernd Hausmann / Glore

In 2006, Hausmann founded Glore in Nuremberg, Germany, focusing on green fashion long before it reached the industry mainstream. As a retailer, he had to deal with temporary shop closures during lockdown this year.

“Life is change. 2020 demonstrated that so well again. The afternoon nap had mostly to be cancelled and Corona turned everything upside down. The shutdown during lockdown was a welcome deceleration for me. At the same time, this period has raised many questions. Will the fashion industry really become more sustainable after the pandemic – as predicted by so many?”

“I am very sceptical and believe that the opposite will be the case. However, more and more customers and creatives are realising that the industry has to change. The fashion industry no longer offers suitable answers to the questions of the future. I want to continue to work with Glore on a shift towards more social responsibility and sustainability.”

Christina Fontana, head of fashion and luxury for Europe, Alibaba Group

Image: Christina Fontana / Alibaba Group

While fashion sales in Europe and North America are not expected to recover until 2022 at the earliest, sales in China could return to pre-pandemic levels by early 2021. The extent to which luxury companies are now betting on the Chinese market is of European fashion companies Kering and Farfetch with Chinese online retailer Alibaba.

“The pandemic has fundamentally changed our everyday life but also accelerated digital adoption and transformation. A lot of the work we at Alibaba have been doing is supporting our partner brands adapt to the new environment. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve launched quite a few luxury brands into our Tmall Luxury Pavilion: For this year’s 11.11 we had over 200 bands participating through Luxury Pavilion, more than 65 for the first time. Digitalization is the biggest opportunity of our time.”

Edwin Keh, executive director of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel

Image: Edwin Keh

The Hong Kong-based research institute is working on questions about the future of the fashion industry. In November, a collaboration with Swedish fashion company H&M made headlines: The Green Machine promises to recycle blended cotton and polyester fibres on a large scale.

”In 2021, the biggest challenge is maybe to understand how the customer has changed and what the customer wants now. What is the new value proposition and the new reasons to buy? Apparel may take on some of the functionality and attributes of PPEs. We are all looking to be protected and to stay healthy in the new normal.”

”As we work more from home we will need more casual clothes for work. So our clothes will have to be more comfortable and more versatile. So, wardrobes needs will be different and supply chains will have to get smarter, faster, and more accurate to serve customers better. 2021 should be a year of winners and losers. Winners are those companies that communicate purpose, deliver new value, and adapt to this new normal.”

Abderrahmane Trabsini, co-founder and creative director of Daily Paper

Image: Abderrahmane Trabsini

The Amsterdam-based streetwear label opened its first store in New York in 2020 and now has plans to open one in London. Trabsini misses travelling for work, but has enjoyed spending more time with his co-workers. He also feels fitter than ever because he has been exercising more.

“My takeaway from 2020 – when the world stopped – is that we have been going too fast. As a brand, we had to rethink our strategy. In all this time, we survived because we have a loyal community. We don’t want to be tone-deaf. These are crazy times, people are losing their jobs and brands are putting out more advertisements telling everyone to buy hoodies or so. That’s not cool.”

“For us, it was not about selling more products, it’s about educating our community. We created a monthly newsletter called ‘Unite Hub’ to show the story behind Daily Paper and how it’s going for us as a brand. We’re also working on an app. We will never be going back to how it was before – people will look at the world differently and be more conscious. They want to invest in a brand and won’t buy soulless brands anymore that just want to sell things. I don’t know what will happen next year, but I am staying patient and positive.”

Benjamin Simmenauer, fashion philosopher at the Institut Français de la Mode Paris

Image: Benjamin Simmenauer

Simmenauer researches fashion theory at the IFM, one of France’s most prestigious fashion schools, and teaches brand strategy and executive education programmes.

“2020 is a year in which fashion has been challenged more than usual: prevented from producing by the pandemic, challenged in its values and messages by Black Lives Matter, and weakened as an industry by the economic consequences of Covid-19. The question is whether fashion has managed to use this turmoil to question itself in a credible and relevant way. It’s a bit early to judge, but two interesting directions are emerging.”

“For example, Thebe Magugu came up with a fake documentary about spies during Apartheid to show his collection, and Marine Serre with a film about anticipation ‘Amor Fati’. Balenciaga developed a video game. What is interesting is not necessarily the productions themselves, but rather the idea that fashion can be presented in a way other than through a fashion show, and that perhaps narration can replace a show in some cases to create a desire for fashion.”

“The representation of fashion through fashion is an important theme in 2020, and being left to their own devices, designers and studios have often opted for self-portraiture or introspection. At Margiela, the fascinating series “S.W.A.L.K.” was created to document the creative process of the collections.”

Anita Tillmann, managing director of trade fair operator Premium Group

Image: Anita Tillmann / Photographer Lottermann and Fuentes

2020 was a difficult year for all forms of business that revolve around the physical encounter of people. Berlin-based Premium Group had to cancel its trade fairs and announced its move to

“We noticed that there is still a lot of catching up to do, especially in the digital realm, technology is not being used efficiently. It is essential to deal with this now at the latest. Brands and retailers must increasingly use alternatives to outdated systems, train staff and stay up-to-date.”

“This does not mean that personal contact is not important – quite the opposite. I have been hearing from many business partners that they have a heartfelt, deep-seated desire to finally meet in person again, to talk, to laugh, to brainstorm, to present themselves, to negotiate.”

This story was written with the assistance of Ole Spötter and Julia Garel.

Image: Saint Laurent SS21

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