COVID-19 Impact on Fashion Industry: Slow Down

COVID-19 Impact on Fashion Industry: Slow Down 1

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Many of my contacts in the artisanal fashion world have been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, They’ve had to shut down or suspend their businesses entirely. They’re not making anything and they are not providing any work for their artisans.

Much of my focus at the moment is on studying textile production in India, where the national lockdown policy has been particularly severe. Some parts of the country – but not all –  are just beginning to ease restrictions, but the pandemic has dealt serious blows– in some cases  mortal ones – to many producers. I  hope my friends and contacts find ways to survive.

I also follow the broader story in some of the specialty publications

JING Daily covers as its bailiwick the business of luxury in China – and until now, their approach seems to be if the editors click their heels, the fashion business can continue pursuing the same trends as before. Well, I don’t think so. But I continue to read their panglossian coverage for its cockeyed optimism.

More thought-provoking is the approach of the Business of Fashion, which combines pieces on the continuing consolidation and collapse of the retail sector, sustainability, and the ephemera of fashion, among other topics.

It seems far too soon to be mapping out the future of an industry when the pandemic continues to rage white hot in the US and to some extent the UK, and is barely contained in major leading European markets: Italy, Spain, France. It’s also not clear that the Asian countries that have had the greatest success in controlling the pandemic can themselves sustain a global fashion industry – I’m thinking, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and  Vietnam, certainly, although, to be sure,if we also include China and Japan, they could certainly try to give it a go, and will inevitably attempt to do so.

Yet as we so far lack a vaccine, or treatment, everything is completely speculative, especially as the future of the workplace is highly uncertain. We know people will continue to work, but much more of their labor will be done in the privacy of their own homes. In the absence of logging time at a special dedicated workplace, – as opposed to a corner of one’s house or flat – will workers have as much need for “work clothes”? Or will sweat pants, t-shirts and flannel shirts suffice? And what does that mean for the future of the fashion industry?

Future of Fashion

Last week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and British Fashion Council (BFC) took a preliminary stab at broaching the future of fashion topic, which I stumbled upon via an article in Treehugger, It’s time for a fashion industry reset:

It is a well-known fact that fashion is notoriously harmful to the environment. It’s said to be the second most polluting industry in the world after the oil and gas sector, emitting enormous amounts of carbon for all the shipping of textiles and finished products, the water-intensive production of cotton, and the toxic finishing processes for countless fabrics that get flushed into waterways with little to no treatment. Then there’s the rampant waste caused by fast fashion’s cheap, quasi-disposal styles. So it’s clear that something needs to change, but what and how exactly?

The new recommendations call for a new way of doing business that’s a fairly radical departure from the norm, but at the same time logical and reasonable to implement. All of the suggestions revolve around the concept of slowing down, as the current “fast, unforgiving pace” makes life hectic and stressful for designers, brands, and retailers.

(I have covered fashion’s environmentally destructive habits extensively; see here. here, here, here, here, and here for some background and context.)

Specific recommendations for the future of fashion are spelled out in press release, The Fashion Industry’s Reset: An Important Message from the BFC & CFDA. What the BFC and CFDA  agree on is that the world has changed, and profoundly so, and fashion too must change:

  • We are united in our steadfast belief that the fashion system must change, and it must happen at every level. We are listening to many conversations taking place. These changes have been overdue for a while, and the fallout from coronavirus has forced us all to prioritise the process of rethinking how our industry should function.
  • We encourage our brands, designers and retailers, who are used to fashion’s fast, unforgiving pace, to slow down. For a long time, there have been too many deliveries and too much merchandise generated. With existing inventory stacking up, designers and retailers must also look at the collections cycle and be very strategic about their products and how and when they intend to sell them.
  • There is a clear disconnect from when things arrive in-store to when the customer actually needs them. The delivery cadence should shift closer to the season for which it is intended.
  • Together, we strongly recommend designers focus on no more than two main collections a year. We firmly believe this can provide our talents with the time they need to reconnect to the creativity and craft that makes our field so unique in the first place. A slower pace also offers an opportunity to reduce the stress levels of designers and their teams, which in turn will have a positive effect on the overall wellbeing of the industry.

The buzzword:

  • Sustainability is an important conversation in every industry. Through the creation of less product, with higher levels of creativity and quality, products will be valued and their shelf life will increase. The focus on creativity and quality of products, reduction in travel and focus on sustainability (something we encourage of the entire industry) will increase the consumer’s respect and ultimately their greater enjoyment in the products that we create.

Sustainability remains the word on everyone’s lips. But what does that mean? We all know the fashion industry – in particular, the fast fashion segment – has a huge waste problem. Gucci is one of the first off the block to take action consistent with these recommendation and has just announced its intention, according to Business of Fashion, to pursue a seasonless schedule, Gucci Just Left the Fashion Calendar Behind. Who Will Follow? This is a small, albeit necessary step toward moving to a sustainable future. Jettisoning the notion that fashion houses must follow a seasonal schedule will almost certainly cut down on fashion waste – so the sooner other companies follow Gucci’s lead, the better. Alas, the article makes clear that Gucci will continue to show product twice a year – this perhaps allowing for continued considerable waste.

So, as to the future of fashion – sustainable or otherwise – in world where we will undoubtedly ultimately learn to cope with COVID-19, there is just so much we do not know.

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