COVID-19, a life-changing pandemic, has had a multifaceted impact on the working of the fashion industry. This pandemic resulted in the shutdown of business during lockdown, creating unprecedented challenges for the fashion industry, including declining consumer spending, disrupted supply chains, and inflicting devastation on manufacturers and workers. During the pandemic, garment orders worth billions of dollars, including finished products, were cancelled by brands, leaving manufacturers abandoned in a dire situation where they received no settlement for labours they had already performed. The livelihoods of the garment factory workers became complex and the brands also scuffed hard to find ways to get rid of their deterred inventory.
The fashion industry represents an essential part of our economies, worth more than US$2.5 trillion and employing over 75 million people globally. Over the past decades, the sector has seen spectacular growth as clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2021. Well, we can’t deny that good fashion comes at a tremendous environmental and social cost. Though the fashion sector is booming, it has negatively impacted the fashion industry, increasing pollution, drying up water sources, carbon emissions, human rights and gender inequality. Besides, 85 per cent of textiles go to the dump each year, and washing few types of clothes sends a weighty amount of micro-plastic into the water bodies. And to overcome these impacts, the need for a shift to sustainable fashion is noticeable.
Using chemicals in clothes production also raises significant and severe health concerns, both for the workers in the industry and consumers. Additional impacts on health also arise from pollution.
The social and environmental cost of the fashion industry forces us to redefine fast fashion and strain the demand for more sustainable business models and practices. These post-COVID-19 circumstances may hasten the shift to greener and more sustainable chains, which will be decisive for business and impact the fashion industry’s future as a whole.
“Fashion can be a universal player in protecting the planet.” Hence, the following is how the fashion industry moves toward sustainable fashion post-pandemic.
- Digitalisation as a Sustainability Element: During the COVID-19 period, traditional retailers stumbled from a considerable loss in sales, whereas online retailers witnessed incredible growth. Brands like Amazon, H&M, Puma and others experienced a radical boost in sales and noticed that more consumers were starting to buy from their websites in the pandemic era. It would not be alright to call this the renewal for the fashion e-commerce industry, with old and new brands turning their attention to the innovative revolution and development of an e-commerce sector for their brands. Mercifully, digitisation has an unmissable sustainability element and can shift focus from brick-and-mortar retail stores to online stores, which will be highly likely to reduce energy and water consumption by the brands.
- A Changeover to a Sustainable and Innovative Approach: It’s a fact that such innovation in the supply chain is helping the industry to take small steps towards sustainability demands to be admitted. The need for the brands to travel for supervising production, especially when outsourcing the manufacturing, has been eliminated, which will positively help to reduce carbon footprints. Also, since the entire supply chain is being made transparent through digitization, every step in production is becoming traceable in real time. It would help brands know about the actual production practices being commenced. Through an innovative data-driven decision-making approach, brands can have the scope to check the past performance of the manufacturers in terms of production and sustainability before committing to a partnership.
- Repair, Redesign and Upcycle Fashion: Repairing and redesigning is the trendiest fashion in an industry full of options. Consumers, brands and retailers are also following the five Rs of style – Reduce, Repair, Recycle, Repurpose and Reinvent. Brands improve the overall customer experience by providing guidelines to ensure that their purchase lasts for long. Some brands are offering repair facilities for their clothes. Moreover, it can further be redesigned. Clothes that can’t repair can get recycled or redesigned. In recent years, brands have taken many redesigning initiatives to give old items an entirely new look. This way, the fashion industry saves on raw materials and natural resources. Upcycle fashion uses either pre-consumer or post-consumer wastes to manufacture new products. The process reuses old clothes without going through the recycling process. The fashion industry will be more sustainable with repaired, redesigned and upcycled fashion.
- Clean and Green Fashion: Since we know that the fashion industry is among the most polluting industries globally, from animals to plants – the fashion industry is troubling all, that is why it becomes crucial to make the production clean and green. Consumers no longer accept brutal and cruel fashion and dress for the planet by prioritising environment-friendly style. Consumers understand the need for a sustainable world and are fond of green clothing with minimal or no effect on the earth. The products made from renewable resources come in the category of green. At the same time, clean implies natural or synthetic, which is not harmful to our health.
- Experimenting with Local Manufacturing: Aside from these changes, the industry is also rapidly experimenting with local manufacturing to reduce outsourcing. With the possibility that the latest innovations in low-cost local manufacturing technology, accelerated by COVID-19, will change production by minimising the need to ship products across nations and continents, thereby making the sourcing process more sustainable. It might be time-consuming for the fashion industry to overcome the damage caused by the pandemic, but there indeed remains a ray of hope that several sustainable innovations that have come around post the pandemic will benefit the industry in the long run.
Fashion should not cost the Earth. So, buy less, choose well and make it last.