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There won't be a fall fashion season, which is why it's more important than ever to shop local

By Elizabeth Wellington, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Fashion Daily News

There won't be a fall fashion season this September.

Trends don't matter: Who needs a new power suit or the latest in back-to-school denim when most of us are working and learning from home? Special occasions are a no go, so glittery holiday frocks and ball gowns are a non-issue. Women's magazines' annual September issues will be more about racial equality than retail therapy.

The see-and-be-seen aspect that fueled the fashion industry's frivolous reputation is pretty much a done deal in 2020.

Not only is the fall fashion season not happening, fashion entrepreneurs - especially local small business owners - are facing the stark reality that shoppers don't have anywhere to go to show off their new duds. And, I don't know about you, but spending money on clothing - unless I absolutely need it - is not a priority right now. I'm too worried about the fragile economy. I'm not alone. According to the NPD Group, apparel sales are down 34% from March through July compared with sales during the same period in 2019.

But even while we save our coins and bake bread at home, it's important that when we do venture out to replace our moth-eaten sweaters, we shop at local boutiques. Because where we shop this season is just as important as what we buy. Like restaurants, apparel retailers are the backbone of our local economy. How fashion fares on the other side of the pandemic might be an indicator of our collective futures.

There is a lot going on in the fashion industry right now and none of it is sexy. The year started off challenging. Esteemed designers shuttered their studios and legacy brick-and-mortars, like Barneys New York, permanently closed their doors. The emergence of COVID-19 sent the industry into a tailspin, taking down Lord & Taylor, New York & Co. Diane von Furstenberg .

 

Local businesses in Philadelphia, too, were hit hard. Linda Golden is shuttering her eponymous Haverford boutique. "How can I recover after being closed for three months?" Golden asked me. Across town, Marissa Gelman is closing up Fashion Statement's in-person shop. "People were afraid to walk in the door," said the 29-year-old business owner who is now solely doing business online.

Those spared by COVID-19 are in a difficult position because they've lost three months of sales. And what is traditionally the most important season of the year has fizzled before it started. What happens in specialty stores in September influences crucial, fourth-quarter sales. There is no excitement to shop for the upcoming winter events because holiday parties and balls can't happen.

To make matters worse, The New York and European fashion shows, where the world's top designers introduce the following year's trends, will be virtual, if they happen at all. And Hollywood's annual red carpet season? Forget about it. Our favorite actors and actresses will receive their Oscars and Golden Globes virtually. And if talk show host Tamron Hall is any indication - the Temple grad accepted her first Daytime Emmy last month in a plush bathrobe - they may be wearing jammies. Talk about another blow to the aspirational vibe, which fashion trades on so heavily to sell clothes.

"What's happening in 2020 is certainly a major paradigm shift in the world of fashion," said Elissa Bloom, executive director of The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator. "What will happen in fall 2020 and spring 2021 in stores and with designers will have a long-term impact on how the customer purchases clothes."

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