COVID-19 has knocked down the fashion industry like a bomb that explodes in the middle of it all and hits everyone. However, this bomb has been slumbering like a „dud in the ground“ of the industry for years. Some of these unexploded bombs were only just below the surface – others were deep down.
Back in November 2019, McKinsey reported in „The State of Fashion 2020” written in partnership with The Business of Fashion (BoF), that the industry was in a „darkening mood“ and that for many in the fashion industry, the glass is half empty. The global economy was also on high alert before. COVID-19 has only accelerated this crisis explosion, not triggered it. The pandemic has put its finger right in the wound that many in the industry have been trying to hide over the past few years. Now it‘ s exposed and bleeding!
The After-Effects of Awakening
It is now clear that the entire industry is facing significant structural changes that will affect customer behaviour, the fashion calendar, supply chains and even people’s style. Even though many consumers have started to shop more online while stores around the world are or have been closed, many are not interested in buying fashion at all at this time. Here, online sales in fashion have declined rather than increased. With social distancing and home office, the dress code does not play a big role. However, the sectors that will be extremely hard hit are the ones that come in the category of non-essential spending. Design apparel and footwear come in this category. Fashion just becomes an after-thought or no thought at all in that kind of context.
Even before COVID-19, consumers were increasingly more conscious when shopping fashion. Encouraged by the corona crisis, more and more are rethinking their consumer behaviour toward their fashion consumption. A change in mindset that has been accelerated by the pandemic. People are more concerned about supporting companies that have a mission, that have a purpose, that do good in the world and doesn‘t harm the planet.
Recognizing the Problem
Global economic growth is declining, competition is more intense than ever and chaos is increasing. The industry is in an existential crisis. It is obvious that the industry must change, whether it wants to or not. This crisis has brought some of the systemic problems in the industry to the surface. The coronavirus crisis has drastically exacerbated many of the social and environmental problems that have plagued the fashion industry for a long time, from the poor treatment of workers in the garment industry to the excessive waste and heavy pollution that it produces.
It is known for a long time that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Fashion production is responsible for 10% of all annual global carbon emissions, or approximately 1.2 billion tonnes. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil and gas and is a major contributor to the ongoing environmental crisis. In addition to environmental problems, the industry’s social problems are also worsening. Starting with the poor treatment and pay of workers in the garment industry, to the excessive waste and exploitation of resources in developing and low-wage countries.
„I feel very strongly that when we come out at the other end, people’s values are really going to have shifted,“ Anna Wintour*
The fashion industry has been under enormous pressure to become more sustainable for some time now. This is not a new topic. Perhaps this crisis will now manage to bring these issues more and more into focus. People are learning just how valuable their health is and that an intact nature and social relationships contribute significantly to this.
The way we design, produce, market and sell fashion products demands a radical rethink from the industry’s leaders to create a more sustainable fashion industry for the 21st century. So, apart from economic factors, the industry is also facing a permanent structural change. Now is a good opportunity for permanent change. „What would it look like if the world responded to the climate crisis with a similar sense of urgency as to the corona crisis?“ Adele Peters asked this quite interesting question in her article for Fast Company. Absolutely worth reading.
Rethinking the Fashion System
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the fashion industry to rethink its behaviour patterns. A group of designers and retailers, led by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten, has proposed a reset and wants the industry to adapt its fashion deliveries to the real seasons and also to put an end to early discounting.
Cooperation and cohesion are the first important step in the right direction. The only question that arises is whether the luxury segment, as a role model, has a chance to influence the fast fashion industry with such ideologies in the long term, to also tackle this turnaround? After all, it is precisely the fast fashion industry that has turned fashion into a disposable product over the past decades. Isn’t this the core of the problem?
„For the future, the model of sustainability must be painted in clear colours, so that as a vision for society as a whole it acquires the appeal necessary for its implementation on a global scale.“ Iris Pufé*
There is no change without resistance. Despite arguments suggesting a surge of innovation, renewal and growth through sustainability, resistance is only slowly subsiding. Doubts about the benefits and future viability of sustainability lie in the feared trade-offs: Environmental compatibility can only be achieved through sales losses. Dealing with such resistance has always been a particular challenge when it comes to sustainability. Well, sales losses are already unavoidable. Although sustainability has been a topic for more than 40 years, it has not yet been able to assert its urgency throughout the fashion industry. In every crisis, there is an opportunity and in every ending a new beginning. Let us look forward to a great opportunity, to change without resistance.
*Source: Anna Wintour in a zoom interview with Naomi Champell Link
**Source: Iris Pufé, Sustainability, 2017.
Title Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash