Summer sales, holiday clothes, new-season equals new wardrobe. Normally, at this time of year, many of us would be taking advantage of student discounts to get that perfect fit for the sunny weather. Instead, clothing sales sunk by 34% in March – a drop easily associated with the lockdown restrictions. Yet, even before Covid-19 disordered financial markets, crushed consumer demand and upended supply networks globally meant the leaders of the fashion industry were pessimistic about 2020. Mounting underlying turmoil as a result of geopolitical instability and the possible inflammation of trade tensions put the industry on high alert. In fact, the McKinsey Global Fashion Index (MGFI) even forecasted that global fashion industry growth would slow further by 3 to 4 percent.
Clothing sales sunk by 34% in March – a drop easily associated with the lockdown restrictions
The State of Fashion 2020 report outlined key fashion industry themes that would set the agenda in 2020: the consumer demand for a material revolution, transformational change against the energy-consuming and wasteful traditions of the industry were prominent features in the list. Fashion players were under pressure to address the increasing demand for the industry to face the sustainability agenda. Given an unforeseeable humanitarian and financial crisis, fashion businesses have been left exposed as their leaders are forced to confront the necessary move to a more ethical and less environmentally damaging model.
The industry is responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions every year and is one of the biggest promoters of modern slavery
The industry is responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions every year and is one of the biggest promoters of modern slavery. Garment workers form the foundation of the fashion industry but are forced to endure poor ventilation, dirty workspaces and no social-distancing measures in sweatshops. Yet, the alternative for these workers (who often originate from the most marginalised communities) is destitution. Many brands have long promised that their motivation for contracting to factories in countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia is to help the economy with new jobs and thus also reduce poverty. In actuality, the lack of transparent supply chains means that the majority of these brands have exacerbated economic crises by withholding payment and cancelling orders. This pandemic has forced the broken system to reevaluate their immoral perception that workers are simply labour cost.
Similarly, the indulgence of fast fashion must be highlighted as a wasteful and damaging habit. The normalisation of excessive consumption has been questioned by particular champions of sustainability such as Dame Vivienne Westwood who focuses on creating an environmentally efficient brand. In terms of brand survival rates during the pandemic, businesses already built around a slow fashion mentality and sustainable growth, for example, Eileen Fisher, have better-weathered the storm.
It seems that the systems fast fashion businesses have built around profit and growth can crumble easily; whilst more sustainable brands live on
Coronavirus has revealed the loose threads in the fashion industry. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic to jolt companies into realising they must reimagine new systems with transparent supply chains. Although there is always the fear that after a period of restriction we tend to fall back into excess – it seems that the systems fast fashion businesses have built around profit and growth can crumble easily; whilst more sustainable brands live on.