Michael Hickins | Content Strategist | May 30, 2023
In fashion, hemlines don’t rise or fall by half an inch from one year to the next; it’s more like there will be no hemlines at all this coming year. Yes, fashion industry trends come and go quickly, so what follows should be taken with a grain of salt.
There’s probably no more sudden fall from grace in the recent annals of the industry than “fast fashion,” the practice of churning out apparel, footwear, and accessories inexpensively and quickly to meet the latest consumer trends. Fast fashion, born during a decade of excess, is now seen as the poster child for wastefulness and everything unsustainable.
Sustainability has staying power as far as trends go because nothing short of the planet's future depends upon it. Another trend that may or may not end up in the trash—er, recycle bin of fashion history is gender neutrality—clothes that don’t conform to traditional female/male styling or even sizing. Another hot trend is influencer marketing. The individuals doing the influencing are sure to change in the coming years (or months), but not so much the influencing power of the glitterati. You be the judge of whether those fashion trends and the others laid out below have legs.
The fashion industry is on the cusp of significant changes, even as to the meaning of fashion. While the term has long implied mercurialness or impermanence, one of the biggest industry trends is the notion of slow fashion. Indeed, the prevalence of sustainability as a driving market force is creating opportunities for creative fashion houses to capitalize on the concerns of Gen Z and millennials for goods that are thoughtfully produced and even rentable. More on those and other fashion trends below.
Consumers have done a slow about-face when it comes to fast fashion. Apparel and footwear makers known for cranking out trendy clothing inexpensively and quickly are on the outs, with shoppers concerned about the shoddy labor and environmental practices often accompanying that business model. The fashion industry is responsible for contributing 35% of the microplastic contaminants in the planet’s oceans and about 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN, while sweatshop factories worldwide make many of the industry’s products. These factors help explain the rise of clothing brands such as Encircled, which promotes its use of sustainably sourced fabrics and toxin-free dyes, and technology companies such as Retraced, which help apparel and footwear makers prove the provenance of their goods to consumers.
Luxury brands are well aware of the marketing power of influencers such as the K-pop sensation BTS, whose seven members were signed by Louis Vuitton to help promote its products. Consumer brands spent an estimated $15 billion on influencer marketing in 2022, according to influencer platform Collabstr, lavishing contracts on musicians such as Blackpink, G-Dragon, and Nezza, as well as lifestyle bloggers, models, actors, and athletes. Louis Vuitton’s top post on its own channels during a 2021 Men’s Fashion Week in Paris, featuring BTS, generated $436,000 in Media Impact Value, according to WWD.
Another aspect of slow fashion (see above) is that consumers are not only buying apparel and accessories less frequently but also more intentionally. They’re more likely than ever to rent an outfit—and not just for weddings but also for vacations, work events, concerts, and other special occasions. And the more unusual the outfit, the better to make a statement. This trend not only lets consumers express themselves more inexpensively, but it also is a more sustainable practice. The fashion rental market is a great example of circular retail; it grew at an estimated 26% a year and is projected to be worth $3 billion by 2025, according to Technavio.
This same impetus toward reuse and sustainable consumption is fueling the expansion of second-hand retailers, such as Poshmark and Vestiaire Collective. French luxury brand conglomerate Kering in 2021 has taken a 5% stake and a seat on Vestiaire’s board as part of a $215 million funding round, an indication of the trend’s perceived staying power.
About half of Gen Z consumers have purchased fashion goods outside of their gender identity, according to a global survey by fintech firm Klarna. And some 70% of respondents say they’re interested in buying gender-fluid fashion in the future.
Fashion brands are adapting by creating clothing and accessories that are gender-neutral, meaning they’re not specifically designed for men or women. Brands and retailers also offer more sizes and styles not typically associated with one gender, such as baggy clothing and skirts marketed to men. They’re also producing and selling goods in colors and patterns not traditionally associated with a particular gender, such as floral prints and neutral colors. And they’re creating marketing campaigns that are inclusive of all genders.
Long the bastion of artistes, enfants terribles, and other mercurial geniuses, the fashion industry recently has made way for more empirical ways of forecasting trends, digitizing manufacturing processes, showcasing goods, and developing more sustainable textiles.
UK fashion retailer N Brown Group, for example, uses Oracle software to forecast fashion trends. Fashion retailers are also using technology, some of it based on AI, to optimize price points, manage inventory, and target customers with more effective messaging and promotions.
Brands not only use technology to improve their decision-making, but they also use it to remake how they make apparel and accessories. Startups Modern Meadow and EntoGenetics are developing lab-grown leather and genetically engineered silk, respectively. Technology is even becoming part of the clothing itself. Wearable X and Hexoskin make sportswear with embedded sensors that track heart rates, temperature, and body posture to help customers lead healthier lives.
The splash at the Summer 2022 Paris Fashion Week by designer Iris van Herpen’s 3D-printed dress, inspired by vegan ice cream, emphatically announced the arrival of additive manufacturing to the industry. 3D printing is slower than conventional manufacturing processes, but it lets apparel makers easily create and share new prototypes with partners. It also reduces waste because items are made only on demand, customized for each order.
The following may not be the hottest fashion industry trends of 2023, but it seems like it was only yesterday that they were front and center:
In some ways, returns are the converse of sustainability due to all the added shipping/transport, as the fashion industry has long encouraged consumers to buy several sizes or colors of a given item and return the ones they don’t like or that don’t fit. This practice, known as “bracketing,” has dug into the profit margins of fashion retailers, which are adapting by trying to limit free returns and offering virtual try-ons.
It turns out it’s not so easy selling directly to consumers. As digital costs rise and the complexity of serving diverse segments becomes apparent, brands are rethinking their channel strategies and redeveloping partnerships with retailers. Many brands are using DTC as proving grounds for new ideas. Lynn Power, CEO and founder of hair brand Masami, labels her company’s strategy “DTC-Plus,” in which it sells from its website and a store that carries Masami products alongside others.
Gucci, L’Oréal, Saint Laurent, and Estée Lauder are among the fashion brands experimenting with virtual worlds and are generating revenue selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The appeal of these worlds is that they let consumers experiment freely, for instance, by dressing more daringly than they would in real life. For fashion brands, that’s an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) themselves to new generations of consumers in entirely new guises. Some brands even sell virtual outfits for characters in League of Legends, a popular multiplayer esports gaming platform.
Technology advances will help define the industry's future, whether it’s 3D printing of clothing and accessories, new ecommerce features and functionality, technology used to create more personalized shopping experiences, or technology used to develop more sustainable materials, fabrics, and manufacturing processes.
Online shopping, in particular, is likely to continue having an outsize impact on the fashion industry, offering consumers a convenient, more sustainable, and sometimes more affordable way to shop. It also gives smaller fashion brands a better chance to compete with larger ones, making a wider range of styles available to consumers.
Apparel and footwear makers and retailers face major challenges, such as inflation, geopolitical instability, and shifting climate patterns, that directly affect demand for their goods. At the same time, they keep an eye on emerging trends that seem contradictory (see the power of influencers versus slow fashion). Some of the industry’s biggest names rely on Oracle Retail planning and management applications to help them forecast trends, set prices, manage inventories, and create marketing and promotion strategies.
What is trending in the fashion industry?
One of the hottest trends in fashion is an emphasis among consumers for more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible business practices.
What are the five main sectors of the fashion industry?
The five main sectors of the fashion industry are footwear, apparel, luxury items in general (characterized by high-quality goods sold at high prices and with a premium on scarcity and exclusivity), accessories (which include handbags, watches, cufflinks, and the like), and fashion entertainment (which includes magazines and TV shows).
Is the fashion industry growing?
The fashion industry saw strong growth throughout 2021 and the first half of 2022, but growth slowed considerably in the second half of the year, according to McKinsey. Fashion industry revenues grew by 21% from 2020 through 2021, but the consultancy expects growth in 2023 to slow into the high single digits.