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As with most things, retail was thrown into turmoil in 2020 and 2021. Many say that the pandemic accelerated a technology-fueled industry evolution that was already underway, but that doesn't provide much solace to the closed stores, shuttered brands and bankruptcies left in its wake. If 2020 was a year of devastation in retail, 2021 was one of evaluation and reconstruction, with a pattern of stops and starts as companies tried to figure out how to engage shoppers safely and effectively while contending with supply-chain issues and labor shortages. Although Covid-19 has continued to tear through communities globally, we've begun figuring out how to live with — or around — it. The permanent ways in which consumers have shifted how they live, work and shop are becoming clear, and retailers are responding. The question now is, what will define retail in 2022, as we slowly and cautiously return to some version of normalcy?

"[2021] was an inescapably reactionary period, as we all came to grips with the state of the world," says Matt Alexander, co-founder and CEO of Neighborhood Goods, a retail-as-service platform with physical stores. "Heading into 2022, I think we're beyond that period of stuttering."

We reached out to many of the fashion retail founders, innovators and experts we cover at Fashionista — from legacy chains like Nordstrom to emerging digital platforms like The Yes — to find out what they think will define fashion retail in 2022. Their answers definitely varied, but there are some overarching themes: Most agree that physical stores aren't going anywhere, but that their purpose has to change; then, there's the understanding that it's important to focus on community and develop closer relationships with customers (and their data). Overall, it feels safe to say that the evolution we see this year is going to have a lasting impact. Read on for their insights. 

Doug Stephens, retail consultant

"I think we're going to see a whiplash in terms of investment from digital back to physical retail, both in terms of formats and of media spending. The first reason for this is the most obvious: As we emerge from Covid-19 (or learn to live with it), there will be a hunger on the part of consumers to return to in-person shopping and physical experiences. The second and less obvious catalyst is that brands and retailers today are running headlong into untenable costs for digital media; there's growing evidence that the majority of digital ad spending is wasted and goes unseen by consumers. Therefore, physical stores will be increasingly regarded less as simply a distribution channel for products and more as a cost-effective experiential media channel for the purpose of customer acquisition.

"We're also seeing a clear evolution in online commerce that I regard as the beginning of the end of destination-based e-commerce sites like Amazon, Alibaba and other legacy e-commerce players. Digital commerce is moving from being centralized and search-based to becoming ambient and built into entertainment and social experiences. While it's difficult to imagine a giant like Amazon stumbling, I think they have so far missed an important evolutionary curve in e-commerce."

Shilpa Shah, co-founder of Cuyana

"In the wake of the pandemic, brands are re-evaluating the entire consumer journey. This period of reflection will lead to many changes, particularly within the realm of physical retail.

"Today's consumer expects a store to provide more than just a transactional experience. In 2022, my prediction is that brands will lessen their retail footprint, but deepen their investment into the functions and services that each space has to offer. For fashion, specifically, stores will serve as style centers, propelling themselves beyond a purchasing destination and into an immersive, tangible product experience that cannot be found online. I also anticipate that retail spaces will begin to operate as individual distribution center, facilitating the packing, shipping and delivery of orders on-site.

"At Cuyana, we foresaw the shifting retail landscape and took action through the launch of our traveling showroom in collaboration with Toyota, titled Cuyana in Motion. This space is a mobile manifestation of our fewer, better philosophy and delivers a beautiful, community-driven experience through an innovative pop-up model. Through Cuyana in Motion, we're maximizing our relationships with both landlords and consumers across Los Angeles, allowing our brand to resourcefully test new locations and shopping centers to monetize unused space."

Matt Alexander, co-founder and CEO of Neighborhood Goods

"Fashion retail in 2022 will be defined by some semblance of normalcy. Everyone seems to be recognizing that the pandemic is here for the long term and, for all the talk of 'new normal' in 2020 and 2021, it feels like we're actually at a point of reckoning with how our world has changed and what we ought to carry ahead with us — and what we ought to leave behind.

"First, companies are making longer-term policies and decisions again. We're in the midst of Omicron's surge today, but we're all starting to think about our policy and procedure for the next variant and the one after that. With that, I think we'll start to see more standardized approaches to the pandemic, of course, but it'll also yield a return to things like events. Masks, vaccine requirements and the like will become less of a real-time decision and something more systematized and straightforward. (Although, some people will invariably still push back on this shift.)

"Second, companies will invest in two key areas: their people and their product. Labor and product shortages struck all sorts of companies in 2021; heading into 2022, they'll want to ensure they're fostering the correct environment to avoid the former and building systems to avoid the latter. The result? You'll likely see appropriately staffed stores with appropriately paid team members, a correction which has been a long-time coming. And you'll also see fuller shelves.

"For Neighborhood Goods, our business grew a lot in 2021. We were fortunate to not be hit by a lot of the labor and product shortages that we saw across the industry. But we still learned a lot from another pandemic year and, heading into 2022, feel equipped to start hosting events once again, open new stores and start being, generally, a little bit more normal. That's not to say you won't see masks, cleaning protocols and caution in our stores, of course. But I think it'll be less of a capital 't' Thing for 2022 and, well, more of a lower-case 't' thing."

Telsha Anderson, owner and buyer of T.A.

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"It is my belief that fashion is now defined by experience inside and outside of a brick and mortar. Consumers are continuing to look for connection, not only to the items they're purchasing, but to the connection of where their dollar is going. The experience behind intentional buying essentially means consumers are focusing on what they're purchasing, who they're investing in, and what businesses (both small and large) truly stand for."

Alyssa Wasko, founder and designer of Donni

"Brands will really focus on community and connection in 2022. We're already seeing more and more brands look to their communities, customers, followers and subscribers for data. This data collection is being done in the form of polls or Q&As on brands' Instagram stories, ambassador programs, pre-orders, Google surveys and more comprehensive and detailed return forms. There's a huge shift in brands looking away from the industry and looking towards their consumer. This is something that Donni has been doing for years. As a brand that truly strives to feel like a friend, we've always asked our community what they want to see from us and what we can be doing differently or better. The market is saturated with a lot of talent; the times of simply posting beautiful editorial imagery of your product doesn't move the needle like it once did. People want to feel a connection to what they are consuming, buying and wearing."

Dan Schoening, Vice President Strategy at Nordstrom

"This year at Nordstrom, we remain focused on delivering great service through convenience and connection. We continue to create seamless customer experiences that blend in-store and digital touchpoints and deliver connection by engaging with customers in highly personalized interactions that go beyond the transaction, from styling to alterations to the easiest returns available anywhere. We aim to deliver truly personalized experiences and help our customers discover new brands and products more seamlessly. This will happen in our stores and online while translating our service expertise more effectively from one-on-one to one-to-many in an increasingly digital world."

Tal Zvi Nathanel, co-founder and CEO of Showfields

"We continue to see the importance of sustainability, self expression, and mission-based shopping across all of our locations. As we look forward into 2022, we believe this will manifest in consumers continuing to push the boundaries of gender norms, shopping upcycled and zero-waste pieces and vintage resellers, and gravitating towards a mix of statement pieces to pair with everyday basics."

Jennifer Bandier, founder of Bandier

"Both the athleisure/loungewear trends will continue to dominate in 2022 as we see hybrid work standards become the norm. However, I do think after these last two years of rotating between sweat sets and workout sets, women will want to dress up, but still feel comfortable. I call it Athluxe — think activewear-meets-luxury: accessories and trendy, functional shoes paired with a must-have jacket and bag."

Heath Wells, co-founder of NuOrder and general manager of NuOrder by Lightspeed

"There has never been a stronger need coming from retailers to have direct access to a brand's catalog with the ability to gather attributed data and to visualize its entire assortment across any channel, whether online or in physical stores."

Julie Bornstein, founder and CEO of The Yes

"I think 2022 will be the year that brands invest more into their own direct businesses with better site operations and more eco-friendly packaging. We saw so many brands move to eco-friendly production and materials, and this will also continue.

"As brands invest in their own direct businesses, they will continue to partner with key third-party sellers — i.e. retailers and platforms — that help support their business. The Yes will be a growing channel of growth and data for these brands; it will also be the fastest-growing platform in fashion in the U.S. in 2022."

Max Bonbrest, co-founder of AYR

"As we shift to a new work from home (work from anywhere?!) or hybrid model, consumers are adapting to an easier way of dressing. Wardrobes are adapting to meet this new lifestyle. This year, we're continuing to diversify our collection to meet the AYR shopper where she's at — whether that’s out and about, or working from home."

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