Present Progressive: September

In September’s round-up: A very different September for the fashion industry, Gen Z’s Cottagecore and a creative return to the workplace


October 22, 2020

September marks not only the official arrival of autumn, but also the biggest month for the fashion industry. For brands, fall/winter collections are released and celebrated on the runways of fashion weeks; glossy fashion magazines publish their biggest, most profitable issue of the year; and stores prepare for their biggest retail season ahead of the holiday months. However, September 2020 was bound to be different for all those involved.

In this month’s edition of Present Progressive, we explore how fashion and its various components were affected by Covid-19. We’ll also have a look at new Gen Z trends that cover both fashion and digital realms, and how product design companies are creating new and improved office spaces.

Market & Behaviour

New cycle of consumption | Industry

The theme of a greener, more conscious and sustainable fashion industry has been on the radar for a long time, as we have explored in previous editions of Present Progressive. However, recent weeks reflected an ever growing interest in these trends. The fashion industry has had to rethink its approach to its most famous month, planning and taking action under the new circumstances of the pandemic. How does one design, manufacture, distribute, sell and shop in this new climate?

The answer to all these questions lies in one shared concept: new cycles of consumption. Up until now, nearly every article of clothing shared the same final destination: the landfill. This was the case whether it was the customer disposing of old items from their closet, or brands getting rid of last season's deadstock. We now see a shift in this cycle, with attempts being made to extend the lifespan of clothing that was already made or bought. At the same time, brick and mortar stores are struggling to generate the same revenue they used to, and online shopping is showing steady growth, therefore green efforts are being made on both fronts.

Selfridges department store launched a new initiative, #projectearth, as a mission to change the way we shop, creating dedicated spaces in their store for sustainably made clothing, a section for rented clothes and second-hand pieces, a clothing repair program, and a commitment to be a fully sustainable company by 2025. Online store Farfetch launched a pre-loved section on their site selling second-hand luxury items, while contemporary brand COS introduced an archive sale section to their website, selling past season sale pieces, as well as a new platform for customers to sell and buy their own old COS pieces. Apps such as Depop and Vestiaire Collective, where users can buy and sell apparel items, are on the rise, and the latter is collaborating with Selfridges, opening a store on one of the department store floors.

As chains of supply and production were severely disrupted this year, the issue of deadstock became more important than ever, creating more opportunities to find solutions. British brand Raeburn launched Raefound, a non-seasonal range of personally-sourced, unworn military clothing and accessories, along with a small number of new items created from unused material. Designer Priya Ahluwalia has used vintage clothes and deadstock fabric from both a Tunisian denim factory and a Portuguese clothing manufacturer for her label, and has teamed up with online store Matches Fashion for a collection made entirely from vintage, recycled or organic fabrics.

Behaviour / Market

New cycle of consumption | Consumers

Sustainable behaviour isn’t the sole responsibility of brands. Consumers are also rethinking their actions when it comes to fashion. As we saw in the previous section, the second-hand market is on the rise thanks to digital spaces allowing consumers to take part and become an integral part of this sector, which used to be dominated by physical second-hand and vintage stores.

Consumer behaviour isn’t just dedicated to what and how to buy: these days it is also about what and how you create. Following quarantine, the world saw a spike in homemade creativity, which is here to stay as a sustainable approach to getting something new, without making a purchase. The craft of tie-dye was a huge hit as a hobby during lockdown, reaching its peak in google search terms in mid-June. This aesthetic, which started as a way to pass time, found its way to the mainstream and became part of most of the popular brands’ collections.

Learning to knit and sew at home has also proven to be a trend to follow, as was seen in the Cardigan Challenge found through the hashtag #HarryStylesCardigan, where fans tried to recreate the famous patchwork cardigan by brand JW Anderson which Styles wore in his music video. Even when looking outside the prism of fashion, we can find examples of these new cycles, such as the Samsung and Dezeen competition Out of the Box, which challenged designers to repurpose Samsung cardboard packaging into household items and furniture.



This most recent Gen-Z fad, #Cottagecore, is described by The Guardian as a "visual and lifestyle movement designed to fetishize the wholesome purity of the outdoors”. This internet aesthetic takes its cues from the “back to nature” trend that has risen to popularity during Covid quarantines, and celebrates a mental and physical return to traditional skills and crafts as an antidote to stressful modern city life.

A generation that considered itself forever urban is all of a sudden finding magic in countryside living, baking, foraging and pottery. No Gen Z trend would be complete without the fashion to match, as can be seen in prairie-style clothing, ruffles, puff sleeves, light pastel palettes and the use of cotton and linen.


Digital nostalgia

Another nod to the past can be seen in the recently launched project by Facebook, E.GG. This new platform is meant to “encourage unpolished creativity in the digital realm” using early internet aesthetics and 90’s digital style, while letting users create dedicated pages with bold colors, unrefined typography and low-res images and gifs.

Similarly to #Cottagecore, the platform acts as an aspirational form of nostalgia, and aims to create a low pressure space that is an escape from a culture of comparison. Allowing self expression and exploration, it is meant to serve as the opposite of harmful self branding culture.

As we highlighted in our July edition, social media activism and education is also drawing inspiration from this form of nostalgic graphics. As the world continues to face issues of racism, climate change and the global pandemic and its repercussions,designers are using this type of aesthetic to make a stand. They are tapping into bold, neon colors, gradient tones, illustrative and distorted typography, pixelation, layered imagery, and a general early internet vibe.

It’s interesting to note that bold graphic styles have extended beyond the screen to the real world. The international design challenge, Where we Stand, called for studios to submit their ideas for creating fun, cheerful social distancing solutions for their choice of public space. The results were all in line with this aesthetic, such as the Accept and Proceed studio solution, which reshaped the game of football, covering the fields of grass in vibrant colors.

Market / Behaviour

Back to work

After months of #WFH, we're seeing a slight shift in intention. Individuals, companies and governments are slowly trying to find a way to get people to return to office spaces, all while keeping up with new safety measures.

In an effort to do so, the UK government rolled out a (somewhat controversial) campaign calling for the public to safely leave the house to work; and various new products were developed to make offices a nicer place to return to, even under new restrictions.

Lighting brand Artemide is offering a new product that uses ultraviolet technology that emits a special light which saitizes spaces, and can be installed in various light fixtures.

Australian brand Clikclax unveiled a modular system, made from colorful perspex, that is easily assembled on any workstation to create safe physical distancing.

Design agency Bompas & Parr’s #FountainofHygiene project calls for new product innovations around hand washing and sanitizing, with results that are intended to add an aspect of joy to this essential everyday habit.

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