Piers Butel
Piers Butel is a researcher and writer for Mintel's UK Retail Reports.

The end of September is usually prime time for fashion brands to showcase their Spring/Summer collections. However, this year will be slightly different. Although physical fashion shows with guests can’t be held right now, some brands are not giving up on the idea and getting creative with their catwalks. So how are fashion brands adapting to COVID-19 restrictions with the help of technology?

Fashion brands move to live streaming

Burberry will be live streaming its Spring/Summer 2021 fashion show via digital service Twitch. The luxury fashion brand said that the partnership with Twitch will help give guests an immersive and interactive experience. Burberry will use Twitch’s Squad Stream option to provide guests with multiple perspectives on the show. Guests will also be able to communicate using the chat function.

Burberry announced their live show with a trailer

Source: Twitch.tv

Burberry chief marketing officer Rod Manley said that the partnership with Twitch was the “next step in Burberry’s journey to continually engage with its community through curated content and experiences.”

The runway can be previewed through Burberry’s digital lens experience on Instagram

Source: Instagram/@burberry

It will be interesting to see to what extent Twitch’s current audience, which skews younger and male, will engage with the luxury brand’s content or whether the move will bring in new audiences to the streaming platform. For Amazon, Twitch’s parent company, the move comes after a partnership with London Fashion Week and represents another step towards the ambitions the retail giant has in the higher-end fashion sector.

Although the Burberry – Twitch partnership is novel, fashion has been experimenting with digital formats for some time now. After the COVD-19 pandemic and lockdown shut down physical events, fashion weeks all around the world turned to digital formats. Shanghai Fashion Week in March was one of the first to go fully digital in a partnership with Alibaba’s Tmall. Visitors to the live streams were able to purchase clothing from the current season via Tmall. The week was branded a success although the mass-market nature of Tmall led to a more consumer and retail-focused event.

Preview of Digital Shanghai Fashion Week

Source: Media Brightcove

Helsinki Fashion Week is also well-known in the industry for innovation and is built on this reputation this year with a new experimental, completely digital format. Helsinki Fashion Week contained 3D fashion shows, cyber networking and interactive live streams. With more time to prepare and an innovation-led mindset, the event used cutting-edge and experimental technology to provide a vision of the future of fashion.

Why it matters

The move to live streaming aligns with Mintel Trend Going Live, which tracks the growing interest in this relatively new channel. The trend shows how brands are using live streaming to share experiences and foster a sense of community with their customers. Fashion brands can turn to live streaming in an attempt to engage consumers who are still staying away from the brand’s physical stores as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With online and physical spaces becoming more and more intertwined it was only a matter of time before fashion shows started to incorporate more digital elements. 

The ability to reach new audiences all around the world with live, engaging and interactive content is what makes this channel such an exciting opportunity.  There are high risks for these rewards, however. As with all live content, things can go wrong and often will. These can range from small technical hitches to more serious matters. A recent esports competition live-stream led to controversy as a participant staged a political protest during an interview.

In the post-COVID-19 world, we expect to see a blended approach, with a mix of digital and physical content. Much like the fashion designs themselves, these pandemic-driven digital shows are an opportunity to test concepts and see what works going forward.