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The fashion industry has always been about tribes: what kind of person do you want to be? With whom are you identifying by the way you dress?  Expect hundreds more highly influential 16- or 17-year-olds, each with several million social network followers who read their blogs or tweets or watch their videos, to follow suit.  That's regardless of how they buy: online or at a traditional store, beyond COVID.

Future of the fashion industry

The fashion and textiles industries are worth over $1.8 trillion, growing 5% a year, employing 75 million people. At present 50% of global growth in apparel sales is in China, which has overtaken the US as the largest market. But prices globally have been falling in real terms for two decades, and will continue to do so as scale increases.

In the US, the industry employs 4 million people, in 280,000 outlets for clothes and shoes. I met an American cotton manufacturer recently who makes 1,400 pairs of socks every minute. 

Fashion is worth over $40bn a year to the UK economy, employing over 800,000 people – more than telcos, car manufacturing and publishing combined.How catwalks and fashion launches will change

Fashion parades will continue to push towards every extreme, with models parading semi-nude, completely veiled, clean, muddy, soaked, icy, body-painted ‒ any­thing to get attention. But none of this will create third millennial fashion.

Expect a backlash against the traditional catwalks in New York, London, Paris and Milan. Four weeks of shows, thousands of events, tens of thousands of outfits. Some fashion leaders will explore ways to completely reinvent how they launch their collections, for a web-mobile world, where attention spans are only seconds.

Traditional styles will endure at work

Executive workplace clothing for men is likely to remain unchanged for the next 30 years, as a globally accepted but visually boring uniform, dating back to over 100 years ago.

Identikit suits for men will remain the ‘safe’ norm, as will sober dress styles for women, adapted for life in countries like Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Malaysia or India.

Exotic and eccentric styles will continue to be frowned on, as conveying an image of eccentric and risky decision-making. Exceptions will of course be in fashion, design and other creative industries such as App development and many startups. 

Expect leisure fashion cycles for women to be as short as 12 weeks for some design houses by 2025, requiring shorter supply chains, faster design to production, in an ever more frenetic attempt to increase sales. Some of this retail hyperactivity will implode with big losses, to be replaced by slower seasonal stock changes.

New fabrics and textures

Expect revolutions in fabric properties, especially in new ranges of synthetic fibres.

These will create exciting opportunities for designers: clothes that change colour, new textures, textiles with nanotech treatments that self-clean or air-clean or remain sterile through many washings.    

Expect to see wide use of intelligent clothes with displays and sensors that change with temperature in colour or texture, or made of material which itself changes colour with temperature, or with accessories ‘wired’ with functionality, such as belts, hats, glasses, watches, gloves or trainers ‒ for example providing readouts of distance runs.  

But most clothes will look and feel quite conventional for the next 30 years and beyond.

Future of cotton and polyester

Cotton is a really important industry for many emerging markets, and supports over 300 million jobs.

We grow 25 million tons of cotton every year on 2.5% of the world’s arable land, mainly on smallholdings of around 2 hectares, and the global cotton trade is worth $12bn a year. The largest exporters are America and Africa, and the largest hoarder is China, with stocks equal to more than 6 months of global output.

The cotton industry will continue to grow, in line with global population, but will decline as a proportion of fibre types.

This will be the case even in tropical nations where cotton has a key advantage over polyester in absorbing moisture. Cotton is being displaced by polyester at a rate of around 7% a year in the US.

Expect huge improvements in water use, pollution reduction, productivity per acre, pesticide reduction, and promotion of independently certified, ethical, sustainable cotton.

In contrast, synthetic fibres are simple, chemical products, made from oil. Expect a public relations battle over whether polyester or cotton is the most sustainable and responsible fabric to wear.

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