Could Fashion Actually Slow Down and Be Sustainable Post-COVID?
The industry was slowly trudging toward sustainability even before the pandemic. However, what could be one of the most powerful solutions- slowing down production- didn’t seem to be big on any brand’s agenda. Post-COVID though, it might become a powerful way that brands move toward sustainability.
Tina Yinyin Wang reports in, “Consumer Behavior Characteristics in Fast Fashion,” “In Zara, if a design doesn’t sell within a week, it is withdrawn from shops, further orders are canceled and a new design is pursued. In this case, Zara chooses to cater to the consumers by denying their own design without loss of time. No design stays in the shop for more than four weeks, which encourages Zara fans to make repeat visits.”
In this way, fashion becomes driven by consumer buying habits and not based on designs made by a team of creatives —
It’s probably this very sentiment that has led many fashion aficionados to declare, fashion is dead.
While the fashion industry has been crawling throughout the pandemic, it’s curtailment has not been a complete win for sustainability-enthusiasts.
Meaning, while the slower production may be a win for environmentalists, it’s not a win for sustainability. Because when we talk about sustainability it’s not just about the waste. We have to include in the conversation fashion’s impact on water, agriculture, pollution, and the human element.
The fact remains that Fast Fashion is reliant on cheap labor.
So even if we can slow down manufacturing production and the number of collections, it won’t be the end-all solution to the problem. The Fashion industry as we’ve come to know it is not sustainable from any angle.
Recently, while tapping through Instagram Stories, a hazily filtered video of someone thumbing through their wardrobe caught my eye.
The caption reads:
“Wild that I haven’t worn half my wardrobe in like 5 months.”
I let that sink in.
The video continues, showing a hand leaf through hanger-after-hanger of floaty, floral garments.
I would like to think that if we, as consumers, have realized anything during this time, it’s the untenable practices we upheld so rigorously in our lives before COVID.
Hopefully, we’ve come to the realization that we no longer have the impulse to consume to the same extent as we were pre-COVID.
Back in April of 2019, Glossy.co quoted Diana Smith, an associate director of retail and apparel at Mintel:
“There’s been a 130% increase in Google searches on sustainable fashion in the last year, so there’s clearly a growing interest in this area.”
But even considering this, a critical question appears:
Will millennials and Gen Z’s sustainability and radical transparency needs outweigh their need for instant gratification and a good bargain?
Alongside those Google searches for sustainable fashion, is also the glaring profit fast-fashion businesses had been racking during the past couple of years.
To quote VogueBusiness from 2019, (before the pandemic shook the industry to its core): “…retail conference organizer RetailX’s Fast Fashion 2019 report, fast fashion will represent 10–20 percent of total revenue share in key European fashion markets in 2019. In the £42 billion UK fashion market, this equates to £4.2 to £8.4 billion annually.”
Diana Smith, later gives an update on the Mintel blog, speaking to how COVID will affect consumer behavior, “Prior to the pandemic, shopping behaviors were largely automatic and routine, motivated by unconscious needs such as saving time (convenience) or saving money (value).
These will always remain key drivers of shopping behavior but consumers will more strategically consider what convenience and value means to them in the context of their personal safety.”
I would venture to add consumers will be rethinking what convenience and value mean in the context of global sustainability, as well.
Between the wants of the consumer and the decisions of the industry, it’ll be hard to determine if the fashion industry could actually succeed in slowing down production.
— But now would be the perfect time to take the necessary steps to do so.
A group of people, from within the industry, are calling for substantial change to how the industry operates.
In an Open Letter To The Fashion Industry, industry experts are requesting significant changes
(I’ll highlight just three below):
“We hope to achieve this by adjusting the seasonality and flow of both womenswear and menswear goods, starting with the Autumn/Winter 2020 season — ”
1. Put the Autumn/Winter season back in winter (August/January) and Spring/Summer season back in summer (February/July)
2. Create a more balanced flow of deliveries through the season to provide newness but also time for products to create desire
3. Discount at the end of the season in order to allow for more full-price selling — January for Autumn/Winter and July for Spring/Summer”
Within the higher echelons of the design industry, it seems to be moving in the right direction.
However, the fate of achieving sustainability in fashion appears to be in the hands of the Fast-Fashion Supply-Chain and consumer.
And since the fast-fashion business is heavily reliant on the consumer we have to ask:
Will a push from the industry coupled with the fall-out of a pandemic be enough to push consumers away from their overindulgence in the cheap and fast fashion trend?
Be as it may, there could be hope that fast fashion retailers could step up to the plate on their own. Anna Gedda, the Head of Sustainability at H&M Group, expresses some apprehension in an interview with Forbes.com,
“We can see that we really need to transition to a more resilient, diverse business model — a much more circular business model than what we have today.”