The last few months have been a rollercoaster for people all over the world, and we have seen the impact that lockdowns and social distancing has on the economy. But what are the positive and negative outcomes, the coronavirus effects on sustainable fashion?
Let’s start with the negative, businesses will close large ones and small ones, either temporarily or completely. Many businesses were already struggling due to Brexit or just a general downturn in high street shopping due to the increase in online sales. Workers will lose their jobs or be furloughed. Garment workers around the world will have no work as factories are closed, physical stores are closed or if open have very little business. Governments will significantly increase their debts in order to bail out businesses or pay tax payers a minimal wage until the economy picks up. Some companies may be able to keep workers on by making facemasks and scrubs but there is a limit on how many will be needed and garment factories do not have the right equipment to make medical grade masks for frontline workers. Due to job insecurity many people are not buy anything right now, who needs new clothes to stay at home? Some people who may be shopping out of boredom are probably buying fast fashion items that they may never even wear this season. Fashion Roundtable have done a survey which already reports 61% of the British fashion industry has already lost work due to COVID-19, how much further will this increase in the next few months? No-one knows the real magnitude of the coronavirus effects on sustainable fashion.
Fashion is a fluid ever changing industry, endless fashion seasons, complicated supply chains that include many countries to complete the process from initial designs to the finished product in the store. It only takes one vital link to be shut down to make the whole process fall apart. Small sustainable brands tend to make more locally and pay better wages and give staff benefits such as maternity leave and sickness pay. This is compared to the big fast fashion companies that produce their garments in some of the poorest countries of the world as cheaply as possible.
Although there has been a big push in the media in the last couple of years with regard to ethical and sustainable fashion, change is slow to happen and we are still seeing poor working conditions being used by high fashion brands and large carbon footprints and pollution as a byproduct. Will this COVID-19 pandemic force there to be more imminent changes to the way the fashion industry functions? We hope so. Already Tommy Hilfiger has reported they will no longer participate in the seasonal fashion shows and instead produce small more thoughtful collections when seems necessary. How many more brands will follow in their footsteps? It only takes one to get the ball rolling. Also, there is the health risk of fashion shows due to many people crammed into small spaces either to participate in the show or be there as a guest. We’ve all seen images of the celebrities crammed onto those front rows, jostling for space and prestige. Social distancing with a fashion show would be difficult and now many brands are just showing the runway show online with no crowd. But do we really need fashion shows at all? Are photos or short videos of the items not enough in this digital world?
This current time of social distancing is much needed in terms of making us all take a step back and re-evaluate how every aspect of the fashion industry is conducted. And it’s also the perfect time to make those changes. How can the stop this every growing need for new clothes and accessories? Who really cares anyway? Do you choose your friends based on how big and up to date their wardrobe is? Hopefully not. We also need to see more celebrities and influencers who make people feel ok about being seem wearing items multiple times and supporting slow and sustainable fashion brands more. The travel bans have also only made us realize there is a lot more we can do online and in the comfort of our own homes, photoshoots can be done locally even with social distancing with local photographers and local models, no need for these exotic trips to far flung locations just for pictures of the new products. Locally designed locally made and locally marketed. The old way but the new normal. But a better way for sustainable fashion in the long run. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on sustainable fashion could mean a point of no return.
The Government needs to do more to push fast fashion companies to produce locally and train staff locally rather than them being able to source the cheapest labor abroad. Encourage more brands to employ garment workers who can work from home with needed equipment. Not shipping large quantities of stock around the world. Unfortunately, this positive change will not happen without many losing their jobs overseas, many companies closing their doors and the ones that do survive to not have the same expected profits as we have previously seen.
The time is now to make these much-needed changes. Please do what you can to support your small locally made fashion brands so they can hopefully still be around in the next few years and maybe will even grow and create more jobs for the local economy as it grapples to get back on its feet. And please stay alert, stay safe and stay healthy.