(12/04/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — COVID-19 has disrupted much of our daily lives, including the way we work, travel and shop. The clothing industry has endured devastating challenges as well.
Researchers in the LSU AgCenter and College of Agriculture Department of Textiles, Apparel Design and Merchandising conducted a study of fashion clothing consumption during COVID-19 by looking at the way people discussed clothing on Twitter.
Chuanlan Liu, a professor in the department who led the study, said fashion clothing remains a largely discretionary purchase compared to other consumer goods, making it more susceptible to economic shocks because of the pandemic.
“As many people are staying at home, there is less emphasis on getting dressed. The impetus to buy new clothing seems no longer there. Consequently, overall spending on clothing has exhibited a large decline,” she said.
Liu sees social media platforms such as Twitter as outlets for users to express concerns, opinions and feelings and share new consumption practices.
“We’ve collected data using surveys in the past, but social media can really track people’s emotional and behavioral response to the pandemic,” Liu said.
She worked with assistant professors Sibei Xia and Chunmin Lang to mine tweets to understand the fashion clothing consumers’ journey during the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide a picture of consumers’ fashion clothing consumption evolution while going through this crisis.
“Data mining is new in our field, but I think it offers good opportunities,” Lang said. “You are seeing real consumers with real reactions to COVID-19.”
Xia, who has experience in data mining, said the team looked at more than 68,000 English language tweets from January to September 2020. Their search included words such as clothing, clothes or apparel, and COVID-19, coronavirus or pandemic.
Their study showed that consumers were initially panicked about the virus in February and March and were hesitant about purchasing anything shipped from China. And they were concerned about sanitizing clothing items.
From March to May, consumers were working from home.
“They seemed to quickly adapt to the new working style by doing online shopping, wearing casual and comfortable clothing, and over-washing clothing,” Liu said.
The move to more active and comfort wear was a big trend the researchers saw. The team saw tweets that declared, “yoga pants for the win,” while retailers adapted to introduce a new category of clothes — work-from-home clothing.
From May through September as things began reopening, the researchers saw evidence that consumers gradually increased shopping frequency to replace old and unfitted clothing items and slowly started to shop in stores again.
They also observed a shift to consumers more interested in supporting local businesses or socially responsible brands and wanting to know more about the clothing supply chain.
Xia said the pandemic may have accelerated the need for what she called fashion digitalization.
“A lot of consumers complained about not being able to try on clothes. With fashion and retailing digitalization using more innovative technologies, consumers can virtually try on clothing to see fit,” Xia said.
Liu, who conducted a similar study about consumer coping and consumption adjustment after Hurricane Katerina, said fashion clothing consumption can reflect how people cope and their well-being during difficult times.
The team hopes to conduct follow-up studies to see which trends that emerged during the pandemic are permanent and which are temporary.
“We don’t know if these trends will stay forever, but that is something we want to track,” Liu said.