The fashion industry is innately receptive to the geopolitical issues that shape our reality, from trade policies and tariff hikes to decentralized banking and data privacy. 2020 will be a year marked by regulation (or lack thereof), as political uncertainty is at an all-time high. Negotiations regarding worldwide trade agreements and the upcoming U.S. presidential election leave much to the unknown, all while surfacing new threats and opportunities.
What will happen when the public can no longer separate fact from fiction? The premise of democracy is being threatened by fake news, foreign bots, and doctored images. Recent high-profile data breaches at Microsoft, T-Mobile, and Equifax have left consumers wondering whether they should share information with brands and retailers. According to a study by Statistia, 64% of U.S. adults say data privacy policies are very important, and 46% only buy products or services from companies that protect consumer privacy.
Concern over data privacy extends to more than just our online identities as facial recognition technology becomes more widely adopted. Although retail applications for the technology seem relatively harmless, it could lead to violations of citizens’ rights when in the hands of law enforcement. Hong Kong is showing the world how to protest anonymously in an era of mass surveillance as young pro-democracy activists find ways to avoid being identified and prosecuted. In the states, the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, California, and Somerville have already prohibited the use of facial recognition on citizens.
Political turmoil is bringing a new level of uncertainty to international trade issues. Despite their best efforts to lobby against the U.S. tariff hikes, many businesses dependent on imports from China were forced to choose between raising prices and managing margins. More worrisome, 70% of manufacturers think an ongoing trade war will likely lead to a global recession this year, according to a survey by LevaData. At the same, the selective decoupling of the U.S. and China is revealing new promising trade routes and opportunities across Europe and Asia. India, a country that boasts the fifth largest economy in the world, is emerging as a region of opportunity for the United States.
Blockchain technology continues to pave the way into the future, as fashion leaders like LVMH and Farfetch invest in a more decentralized system. Despite the proliferation and popularity of digital currency, 91% of companies interviewed as part of The Block Genesis’s Digital Asset Human Capital Trends Report, cited “regulatory uncertainty” as a barrier. In a newly released job report, LinkedIn researchers identified blockchain as the number-one “hard skill” that companies look for on LinkedIn. The technology is bringing scalability, transaction speed, and better security to the retail industry. As more companies equip themselves with the resources needed to capitalize on blockchain technology, we anticipate an increase in advancements and adoption.
- Digital Distrust
Platforms that were built to connect us have been weaponized against us in an attempt to influence our actions as consumers and citizens. The proliferation of information, both real and fake, on social media has landed us in uncharted territory, questioning how to handle individuals’ data and counteract misinformation.
2. The Great Divide
As the country becomes more politically polarized, it becomes harder, if not impossible, for brands to stay out of the crossfire. Rather than fueling partisan differences, companies should stand for values and ideals that concern us all — made all the more convincing if they align with the brands already established messaging.
3. Trade Talks
Uncertainty troubled both consumer and company, as tariff negotiations between the U.S. and key trading partners grew increasingly tense. Although unresolved tariff agreements left much to the unknown, selective decoupling of the U.S. and China surfaced new promising trade routes and opportunities.
4. Industry Unchained
Blockchain technology has created opportunities for accessible peer-to-peer interactions, which could spell a future where decentralized fashion platforms thrive entirely free from trade regulations.