What a wild ride 2020 has been. It seems like yesterday that we were running around mask free without a care in the world, but oh, how times have changed. But for those working both within the industry and behind the scenes, Covid-19 has exposed a much larger problem—the real inequities and unsustainable practices plaguing fashion.
Historically, unfair power dynamics have placed excessive pressure on suppliers and other players further up the fashion value chain. These suppliers are often pushed to offer unfair prices and forced to meet unrealistic timelines, resulting in overworked and underpaid workers. The arrival of Covid-19 only worsened this issue, prompting brands to ditch already made merchandise, ultimately stiffing suppliers with the bill.
With limited resources and concern over the environmental impacts of the production, use and disposal of fashion garments, it’s time to acknowledge what we already know; it is time for a change.
The industry must reflect on its practices to avoid repeating the same mistakes. It should view this series of unprecedented events as the catalyst for change and encourage decision makers to embrace a more sustainable fashion industry post-Covid.
To continue on this path, sustainable fashion will be reliant on the execution and success of six factors going forward:
1. Transparency and traceability will continue to be prerequisites for a more ethical and sustainable fashion value chain. These components require that brands are honest about their supply chain and provide end consumers with the information they need to make an informed purchase.
2. On-demand manufacturing and ordering directly off the runway will help to reduce waste and excess inventory. Decreased lead times will ensure a more efficient production process, reducing the risk of cancellations and suppliers’ chance of not getting paid.
3. Rethinking the supply chain via diversification, nearshoring or reshoring will be crucial to allow for agility. Diversification will be essential and will result in portions of manufacturing reshored and others setting up or acquiring facilities in different countries to reduce possible risks.
4. A collaborative, not transactional approach is imperative to creating trusting, beneficial relationships with suppliers.
5. Sustainability and resiliency are considerations that are only increasing in importance. Everything we make must come from and eventually go somewhere, so products must be designed with their entire (from cradle to cradle) environmental impact in mind. Ultimately, the aim is to make products with a positive impact.
6. In-season and seasonless fashion are two ways to limit overproduction and reduce waste. If we sell in-season clothes in shops, instead of swimsuits in March and coats in August, we can eliminate the discount culture that is ravaging the industry. Seasonless fashion can help to stop consumerism in its tracks.
The sixth and final factor is crucial as we saw when global supply chains—and by extension, the endless fashion cycle to which we’ve all become overly accustomed—came to a screeching halt early on in the pandemic. This hyper pace has made overproduction and waste inherent features of the fashion industry, straining companies that are continually trying to keep up with their competitors.
In the blink of an eye, our worlds were turned upside down personally and professionally. We are all searching for ways to adapt to this new normal, a task that does not come easy as industries are crumbling, and small businesses are shutting down.
Though the state of the fashion industry may seem bleak, there is hope. COVID could be what we need to push it in the right direction, but we must be realistic that this change will not happen overnight. It will take a commitment from brands and manufacturers to resist reverting to business as usual. Those who choose to take decisive action rooted in courage and compassion now will withstand future crises and ultimately become even stronger.