When someone recently inquired about my plans for the upcoming weekend, I froze and said, “I don’t have any plans.” This is very unlike me; planning is ingrained in my DNA. But with so many unknowns during these last two years, it’s difficult to think beyond today. Trying to plan for future vacations, family gatherings, or even to line up a babysitter for a much-needed date night, all requires flexibility. After all, how does one target a moving target?

The apparel industry is in a similar situation. Fortunately, there are relevant long-term initiatives that both retailers and manufacturers should be considering in the here and now, to support future growth.

The U.S. apparel industry brought in $246.2 billion in revenue for 2021 — an increase of more than $61 billion versus 2020, and the highest dollar volume generated in more than 10 years! With both revenue and unit sales up, compared to 2020 and 2019, the apparel industry has to figure out how to keep up the momentum in 2022.

Despite the continued uncertainty around COVID-19 and its effect on the economy, Kristen Classi-Zummo and I will be keeping our eyes on the following macro trends throughout 2022:

Self-care shopping

Self-care has taken on additional meaning during the age of COVID-19 — it’s about feeling comfortable in our own skin, and also in our clothes. This focus on self-care is having a halo-effect on how we dress. Athleisure clothing has joined the ranks of candles, face masks, and exercising, to become a regular part of our self-care investments.

Returning to socialization

Once consumers felt comfortable venturing back into social settings, pent-up demand for categories including jeans and tees — the gateway for consumers to get dressed up again — began to reveal itself in the sales trends. Jeans are the gateway to dressing up, as dresses have pivoted to less structured and more free-flowing styles. This has given new meaning to dressing up for occasions, work, travel, etc.

New luxury

Consumers are spending more on multifunctional clothing that aligns with their needs and can be dressed up or down. Their focus has shifted away from multiple wardrobes and towards hybrid usage that is more versatile. Everyday casual basics, and even innerwear and sleepwear, are growing their sales at higher price-points.

Sustainability in fashion

The majority of consumers equate “sustainable” with being “long-lasting.” The apparel industry needs to monitor whether consumers identify products that pledge sustainability as an investment, or if they will instead pivot to alternatives, like rental and resale. They also need to know how all these factors will vary by apparel category.

Inclusivity, on all levels

Gender fluidity, size inclusion, and adaptive clothing are just a few of the ways in which apparel brands are raising the bar on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Marketing and advertising play big roles in spreading this message, but part of that support is offering products that can be worn by all. This year will likely be a turning point in the apparel industry’s understanding of the impacts that come along with being more inclusive.

Positive pricing power

In 2021 clothing prices rose and promotions declined. Forty-four percent of U.S. consumers bought apparel on sale in 2021, which is 5 percentage points less than they did in 2019 and 2020. Consumers are paying more for the clothing they desire. But the tide might be changing, as 2022 has more consumers citing price as the most important reason behind their apparel purchase, rising by 11 points year-over-year — and narrowing the gap — behind comfort (falling by 8 points). With so much uncertainty around pricing, it’s more critical than ever to understand when consumers might trade-up, or down. 

Meet you in the metaverse

A combination of escapism and reality rolled into one, the metaverse allows brands to connect with consumers on a new social level, while also opening them up to new consumers. Both mainstream and high-end fashion brands are reaching younger generations by way of outfitting their avatars with new skins. These brands are also testing the waters with digital showrooms, allowing consumers to picture themselves in new designs — without ever leaving home — taking technology to a whole other level. Apparel brands and retailers need to weave in elements of social selling as part of their future planning and strategies.

These are initiatives that need to be planned for, even if plans may pivot. Afterall, the last two years have taught us to be agile and stay focused on our target.