As we swap workwear for loungewear, the fate of formal fashion hangs by a thread

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  • Even in the rolling pastures of New South Wales, they know sweatpants and comfort eclipsed formal wear in 2020.
  • Fine wool from these Merino sheep is not in much demand these days, with so many previously suited workers now working from home.
  • The seismic shift in working behaviour is having major repercussions across the clothing supply chain, upending a sector that spans every continent.

In Australia, wool prices are in free-fall, hitting decade lows. Many sheep farmers are in serious trouble, storing bales in every available shed in the hope of a rebound.

Some, still emerging from a three-year drought, are forced to sell their wool into the weak market to stay financially afloat. Producer, Dave Young says the drop in revenue is a major concern.

READ MORE: Fast fashion production: An environmental disaster that needs collective responsibility to change 

"Lower wool prices mean decreased economic viability for us. It will impact the decisions we make moving forward in terms of marketing and how we take our wool to market and then what we join into, perhaps the meat market instead," says Dave.

"What we do about it is look at those management decisions and just see what we put back to wool sheep. That's the sort of effect it will have. There will be less sheep joined back to merinos for wool and more joined to terminal size for meat."

On the other side of the world, Lanificio Botto Giuseppe is a wool mill in Italy's textile hub of Biella. It counts Armani, Max Mara, Ralph Lauren and Hermés among its customers.

But in the second quarter of this year, Nike was the hottest global brand according to Lyst, a fashion search platform that analyses the behaviour of more than nine million online shoppers a month.

The move towards casual is a trend that some experts expect to continue.

Silvio Botto Poala is the managing director at Lanificio Botto Giuseppe.

"Of course now if you talk about the people working, smart working, maybe they even do Zoom video, they don't need to wear any clothes, they just wear a shirt or maybe relaxing clothes. So, for sure, this will not help the use or the buying of the formal wear," says Silvio. 

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That's what's happening in Manhattan. In the heart of the Big Apple, owner of bespoke tailors, Domenico Spano says sales for his custom-made suits in exclusive wool cloth have dropped by half.

He's been in the business for more than four decades and has never seen such a drop-off.

"Three to five suits a month right now. When the business really is booming, I have about in a month, I have 15, I have 10, you know," he says.

He's staying optimistic, hoping that the tide will turn next year.

But so far in 2020 suits have ranked among the highest-discounted and lowest-selling items in France, Italy and Germany during the month of September, according to data compiled by StyleSage. The collapse in office attire is unlikely to change any time soon.

Compiled by Ayanda Mgcina

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