COVID-19 has placed 2020 on the map as the most historical year of our generation. While the virus first came into play at the back end of 2019, the global health, economic, social and political consequences of the pandemic became truly apparent in January, with lockdowns, social distancing and the ‘new normal’ changing the beauty landscape, and the world, as we know it.
With the world taking a long overdue pause, high street and travel retail all but dried up. While e-commerce boomed, M&A activity slowed to a stop, recovering as sentiment tentatively grew alongside talk of a recovery in the latter quarters. Companies once reliant on archaic five-year plans ripped up the rulebooks and redefined their leadership, and their strategies, to adapt to a more agile and unpredictable economy, while heritage got lost and indies missed a trick. Health, hygiene, digital and wellness became the pandemic success stories as consumers bedded in new habits set to last, while the ultra-luxe and the mass markets squeezed the middle out of the industry as the K-shaped GVC recovery began.
George Floyd’s death spurred the onslaught and resurrection of the Black Lives Matter movement, yet another milestone turning point proffered up by the year 2020, inciting an industry wide retrospective and harsh reality check that too has shaped a new and unprecedented turning point for the beauty world. Good intentions and baseless claims are no longer accepted as currency for true change – change that, make no mistake, isn’t easy for companies with legacies steeped in white agendas. But a revolution that is, little by little, continuing to grow legs.
So, what next? What can follow the monumental global shake up that this year has, quite literally, hit us over the head with? While 2020 gave the world a chance to press the reset button, how can we as an industry take its lessons, reshape our offering and, to paraphrase U.S. President Elect Joe Biden, build back better?
Firstly, as the economy gains strength, its vital that the 2020 teachings are not lost. Companies should be held accountable that the heady lure of capitalism doesn’t overpower the real and urgent need for ethical, authentic and sustainable business growth, growth that isn’t at the cost of the environment, that doesn’t ignore minorities, and that allows for fair and honourable competition for all. We must ensure that the BLM is a movement, rather than a moment, the diversity strategies, appointments and leadership shake ups are not an act of PR lip service acted out in times of strife, and that CSR, climate change action and growing commitments to a circular economy continue to shape the business world in which we work.
We as an industry, and a society, have been given a golden bullet in the form of 2020. A chance for change, to strip back our over-saturated market in people and product, and embrace the glorious freedom and liberation offered to break old habits and establish new behaviours. There has never been such a clear opportunity for progressive transformation. Whether that’s a supply chain shake up to produce more sustainably, a re-directed business approach to shed off dead stock and invest in COVID-19 winners such as health, wellness and digital, or genuine self-analysis and action in playing a role, however big or small the company, in campaigning for a more diverse industry.
As we know, the beauty world is nothing if not resilient, and its comeback story will no doubt be one to watch in 2021. The hope is that, alongside that revival, a new, stronger, and more respectable industry is formed – because beauty is not going anywhere, and we have a captive audience. Therefore, there is a responsibility to our consumers to highlight how ethical, sustainable and authentic business can align perfectly with financial triumph.