Between lockdowns, restrictions, store closures and traditional online retailers running out of stock, the global pandemic changed the way Australians got dressed. With nowhere to go, Zoom meetings to attend, and a rapidly-changing coronavirus landscape we saw a consumer with new needs.

Face-to-face meetings were quickly replaced by video conferencing which in turn changed the way we dressed for work. As ‘work from home’ Zoom meetings quickly became our customers’ new normal, the top half of her outfits became significantly more important than the bottom half. We saw a real focus on waist-up fashion with a 78% increase in our subscription boxes containing tops and jackets from brands such as Ginger & Smart, Husk, Lover and Bande Studio.

Working from home also saw people embrace comfortable and functional clothing as part of their daily attire. As consumers prioritised health, wellness and comfort, we saw our customer shift towards a casualisation of their wardrobes. Customer subscription boxes containing activewear and loungewear increased by 96% with favourite brands including P.E. Nation and Bande Studio.

We also saw consumer values evolve during the pandemic, particularly around how much clothing they were purchasing. We know that the average consumer only uses a third of their wardrobe, which means they don’t get a lot of value out of the majority of their clothes. Global trend forecasting firm, WGSN in its recently published white paper, The Value Shift, noted a shift in consumer sentiment from focusing on how much a product costs towards valuing longevity, as well as multipurpose and multifunctional products.

We are seeing consumer attitudes shift towards a ‘less is more’ approach, resulting in a tightly edited wardrobe and an increase in purchasing long-lasting, high quality items. As restrictions ease and people return to the office or continue to work from home, we are seeing an increasing proportion of consumers looking to rental as a transitory wardrobe that they can pick and choose from, especially through the seasons. It’s never made less sense for our customer to own her entire workwear wardrobe and consumers are embracing rental as a way to ensure a steady rotation of good quality clothing without the burden of ownership.

But even as restrictions ease across Australia, there is no doubt that the pandemic will continue to alter the way Australians will dress for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 has been a circuit breaker on consumer buying, and with it an urgency for brands to move towards circular fashion. We are seeing traditional retailers accelerate their plans to adopt circular fashion as a strategic priority. The pandemic highlighted the need for big and small retailers to develop complementary channels that make more use out of their product already in the system. We’ve seen this in our business and our recent partnership with David Jones, where customers can now shop from leading Australian and international designers in store or online and simply receive a dress and a return satchel.

Sustainability will be a key focus for consumers, and we will see a rise in demand for sustainable options. According to global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company in its State of Fashion 2021 report, more than three in five consumers considered environmental impact as an important factor in making purchasing decisions. By renting clothing instead of buying, consumers can reduce their environmental impact by changing how they consume without sacrificing how they look. In renting a single garment, its value is multiplied as individual pieces are diverted from landfill and go on to have a long life. High-quality clothing also retains its value over time and can be resold, effectively starting the loop over again. We’ve seen the average number of our Pre-loved items being sold per month more than double since March. It is clear that consumers care about where they are spending their money and are looking for sustainable solutions.

We are also predicting that fashion rental will be equivalent in the fashion world to Spotify in the music world and Netflix for entertainment within the next two years. Renting on-demand, pay-per-use fashion will be the norm and purchasing a special treat. We’ll see consumer wardrobes shrink as they invest in wardrobe staples and use rental to discover new brands, experiment with their style and update their wardrobe. There is little doubt that circularity is gaining momentum and we will see circular fashion take centre stage in 2021.

Dean Jones is co-founder and CEO of GlamCorner.