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Fashion Startups Have Agility On Their Side During the Pandemic

In moments of crisis, it’s crucial for businesses to remain nimble—and innovators from Fashion For Good’s accelerator and scaling programs are proving just that.

Fashion For Good, a platform for sustainable fashion, published findings from a survey it conducted in April with 105 of its startup partners, which measured how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their business. Largely, the crisis has slowed momentum.

According to the survey, business development and financing were some of the hardest hit areas. Mid- to late-stage companies have been the most negatively affected by the pandemic, as many cited difficulty accessing their client base of brands and manufacturers.

The majority of startups reported delayed customer acquisition, constrained cash flow and interruption on fundraising, however, most remain positive that their situations would improve over the next 12 months.

Startups with circular business models predicted the pandemic would have a positive impact on them in the long term. This echoes the fashion industry’s sentiment that sustainability will be a greater priority for all in a post-COVID society, and that it opens up the possibility of an entirely new approach to the business of fashion.

However, startups’ size and flexibility may help them navigate these hardships better than their larger counterparts. In response to the pandemic, a number of innovators shifted their business strategies and offerings to appeal to society’s new demands.

Dropel, which produces natural materials with high performance and water repellant properties, adapted its offering to the medical industry and now produces disposable medical gown fabrics. Similarly, The Renewal Workshop went from providing circular solutions for apparel and textile brands to manufacturing disposable isolation gowns for healthcare providers in Oregon. Textile recycling company Pure Waste Textiles shifted to producing washable fabric masks and bandanas made from a 100 percent recycled cotton-polyester blend.

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In response to COVID-19, 3D printing company NTX Cooltrans accelerated the development of technology that could be used for liquid and gas filtration, battery technology, pharmaceuticals, faux leather, personal protection equipment.

Pivots aside, Fashion for Good anticipates a slowdown for sustainable startups.

In a recent interview with Rivet, Fashion for Good managing director Katrin Ley said traditionally, “in times when the top and bottom lines are under pressure, investments into longer term projects with no immediate positive top or bottom line impact are the first to be cut.”

However, Ley said a rebound may be buoyed by new opportunities including circular business models to diversify revenue streams, and greater demand for local production and supply chain transparency.

“Innovation, particularly in challenging times, has proven its relevance time and again to reinvigorate business as usual to achieve organizational objectives,” she said. “We remain committed to the important work that we and our partners are doing and continue to show our support across the industry.”