Retailers are making a comeback—one that emphasizes quality, longevity and taking things slowly.

Led by ethically minded consumers and a growing interest in purchases that have permanence, fashion brands are repositioning for the long-term and rethinking the retail experience coming out of a pandemic.

“Come in, slow down” may sound like an invitation to a wellness studio, but it is actually a slogan featured in the window of Unsubscribed, American Eagle Outfitters’ new retail store in New York’s East Hampton. Launched in June 2020, the brand offers consciously made products that are designed to be worn “forever,” and is largely driven by a slow fashion concept. This means “less deliveries, elevated quality, beautiful design—it is about taking things easy,” says Jennifer Foyle, global brand president of American Eagle Outfitters’ Aerie. “It’s better for us and our environment.”

Inside American Eagle Outfitters' Unsubscribed Retail Concept
Unsubscribed, American Eagle Outfitters' new retail concept in East Hampton, NY

Currently existing only as an in-store experience, Unsubscribed features its own private label collection as well as a carefully curated selection of third-party brands which reflect its “less is more” philosophy. The term, made famous by architect Mies van der Rohe, was originally connected to design and aesthetics, but Unsubscribed has extended this to a lifestyle. It’s not just about the fashion process slowing down, but also the entire retail experience. “Unsubscribed is all about slowing down, celebrating the beauty of modern simplicity and taking things easy,” says Foyle.

Luxury brands are also aligning with a slow fashion approach by upending the traditional fashion calendar and reducing collections. Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director, announced at a virtual press conference on May 25 that the Italian brand will go seasonless and reduce the number of fashion shows it holds each year from five to two. In addition the brand has launched Gucci Circular Lines, which aims to use regenerated materials that are recycled and sustainable.

WEB_GUCCI_OFF_THE_GRID_CAPSULE_CAMPAIGN_01_Eco_0069
Gucci's Off the Grid collection as part of the Gucci Circular Lines initiative. Photography by Harmony Korine. Courtesy of Gucci

In June, American fashion designer Michael Kors also said he will produce just two collections each year and show them on his own schedule. French luxury house Saint Laurent has opted out of Paris Fashion Week this September, stating that the brand would take control of its own calendar.

Resonating with this new approach to fashion, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour shared her thoughts with CNBC in May, saying the pandemic has provided an opportunity for the fashion industry to have a rethink, and “to slow down and produce less.”

A pushback against fast products and an endless succession of new items was largely championed by environmentally concerned millennials and gen Zers last year, as second-hand marketplaces such as Depop gained ground. Now, spurred on by the pandemic, more consumers and retailers are prioritizing sustainable brands and mindful consumption.

Scottish creative agency ArkDeFo looks to educate the younger generation on the values and ethics of fashion. The design studio will launch an online slow fashion course on July 27, teaching children aged between eight and 14 to connect with craftsmanship and appreciate handmade garments.

C9A2FFF8-440F-4C47-9C94-82596B27C2BA_1_105_c
A05FB80D-1636-424C-A99D-2256D45EBD92_1_105_c
E9CDB3AA-1200-4769-BBCA-9EDC3CC36B5A_1_105_c
Slow fashion course led by Elizaveta Bennett. Courtesy of ArkDeFo

Led by co-founder and creative director Elizaveta Bennett, who already has a slow fashion collection, ArkDeFo has sustainability and a return to simplicity at the heart of its mission. “Fast fashion has dominated this era but it wasn’t always this way,” Bennett tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “What we now call ‘slow fashion’ is simply the way it used to be: people made their own garments, having an appreciation of its value and the value of other people’s time.”

As production lines, products and the overall retail experience decelerates, has a pandemic accelerated the demise of fast fashion? Headlines across news outlets think so. “It’s collapsing violently: coronavirus is creating a fast fashion nightmare,” said an April GQ headline, while an article by the Guardian in May pinned it on the younger generation, with a piece titled “Shopping habits of generation Z could spell the end of fast fashion.”

The long-term effects of the pandemic indicate consumer shopping habits and values are aligned with anti-excess principles and conscious consumption. “Slower fashion will lead to less waste, which in turn will lead to less pollution,” says Bennett. “Maybe this new generation will lead a slow fashion era where skills are valued and cherished.”

Hero image: Photography by Harmony Korine. Courtesy of Gucci