The Pandemic’s Impact on Fashion

Originally written & published for Nasheman, Karachi. 

The $2.5 trillion dollar fashion industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in several ways – from supply chains and retail to fashion weeks. Will it give the industry a chance to restart, or will businesses operate as per usual? Keep reading to find out, and learn about the social and environmental impacts of COVID-19 and how they’re being tackled by global brands. 

Social Impacts

In the global fashion industry, brands typically pay their suppliers months after delivery, which means that suppliers pay for materials up front. Since the coronavirus, several brands have not only cancelled their orders, but are also refusing to pay and take responsibility for garments that have already been produced. This has left several factories across the world unable to sell their goods and pay labor wages. Due to this, 50 million garment workers’ lives are on the verge of poverty – they will suffer from hunger and disease due to extended periods of unemployment. 

Fast-fashion brands owe over $1 billion to garment factories in Bangladesh alone. Brands that have committed to pay in full for completed orders include Adidas, H&M, Inditex Group, Nike, PVH Group, Uniqlo & more. Those that have made no commitment include ASOS, Gap, Primark, Urban Outfitters & more. Sign this petition to get brands to #PayUp.

Learn more on Fashion Revolution.

Environmental Impacts

The closure of factories, even for just a few months, in manufacturing hubs like China, Bangladesh and Vietnam led to positive impacts on the environment. Pollution levels dropped significantly and a halt in clothing production meant that natural resources like water weren’t being depleted regularly. By pressing pause, chemicals weren’t being released into our seas due to fabric dyeing and synthetic textiles; our skies and waterways cleared up for the first time in a long time.

Another positive impact on the environment is that the British Fashion Council announced that as a result of the pandemic, London Fashion Week will be taking place digitally rather than the physical show. It will feature designer interviews, podcasts and diaries as well as a digital showroom for retailers to place orders (Vogue). This is a great initiative because traditional, physical fashion shows are highly wasteful with a heavy carbon footprint, due to the materials required to build runway theatrics and the number of guests that fly to these destinations to attend the shows. Going digital provides a sustainable alternative whilst maintaining the momentum of fashion weeks. If successful, we hope to see other fashion weeks follow suit.

Behavioural Change

Since the pandemic, our consumption habits have shifted significantly as we’re not purchasing things we don’t need. Store closures and lockdowns have led people to be isolated in their homes without being able to shop on a regular basis, so they have ditched fast-fashion without realising it. There is also an increased sentiment towards sustainability, specifically in regards to inventory waste and worker injustice. Will this stick with consumers even after the pandemic is over? Only time can tell.

According to a report by Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Co, ‘The State of Fashion 2020 Coronavirus Update’, 56% of consumers said that special promotions were an important factor when shopping for clothes in early March (before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic). This proves that price continues to remain an important factor when shopping, so even if the sentiment is there, it may not be reflected in purchasing decisions when it comes to sustainable fashion. Even before the pandemic, 70% of our purchases were done at a discount, so this shopping culture will be worsened by a lower demand post-COVID. In Europe and the US, more than 65% of consumers expect to decrease their spending on apparel. Brands will have to find new ways to regain value to reach cautious consumers. 

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