Change in Fashion? Experts Say It is Now or Never

The coronavirus is a chance for the fashion industry to start over, claim leading fashion experts. Leading industry professionals see in Covid-19 an opportunity for the apparel and footwear industry to reinvent itself and move away from the mass production, contributing to its daunting environmental impact. "We will have to pick up the residue and reinvent everything from scratch once the virus is under control. And this is where I am hopeful for: another and better system, to be put in place with more respect for human labour and conditions," said Li Edelkoort, one of the world's most influential trend forecasters, advising fashion companies and brands around the world in an interview for Dezeen. According to the trend forecaster, the coronavirus epidemic also caused a "quarantine of consumption" which could change profoundly the way people think of fashion.

How we got here?

The global health crisis caused by COVID 19 triggered an economic recession for the fashion sector, but also raised questions about overproduction and excessive consumerism driving the fast fashion industry. With retail shops closed and supply chains disrupted, warehouses started filling up with unsold overstock, exposing the unsustainability of fast fashion business model. Fearing the economic fallout, people started prioritising purchases and demand for fashion products dropped. Studies show that 65 % of consumers in Europe and the US decreased their spending on apparel and footwear. The result – products manufactured before the outbreak are filling the shelves of warehouses, for which even online shopping is not a remedy. Designed to create fast profit by producing, using and disposing of a product, the fast fashion has been evading any environmental responsibility for a long time. Now, combined with the unravelling health crisis and an economic recession, the fast fashion model, becomes a recipe for disaster with social and environmental implications. With high street brands pumping out as many as 10-15 collections per year, questions about the overstock are arising. According to The State of Fashion 2020 Coronavirus Update high-street fashion brands will try to sell the old collections at discounts to compensate for lost profit and lure consumers back in shops. This could harm small retailers and manufacturers, who don't have the same competitive advantage as the multinationals and don't manufacture products in advance. The report warns of the possibility that fast fashion brands could resort to old tricks such as sending clothes to incarceration. However, this could be a risky move triggering a backlash. Given the complexity of the situation, many experts are trying to promote more sustainable alternatives. In an interview for Euronews, the head of British Fashion Council (BFC) Caroline Rush said that upcycling the excess stock of garments could reduce to their environmental impact and prevent waste. "My optimism is, as we go through this, that we really think about the inventory challenge that we're facing for this season, and use that as a unique opportunity to really think down the line: what will happen to that stock, where will it go?" said Caroline Rush. According to her, fashion designers should be compelled to consider recycling their excess stock of garments, "so that the product we have is re-used, shredded, goes back into new yarns and created for the future". However, when it comes to recycling in fashion, statistics are grim - only less than 1% of all textiles worldwide are recycled into new textiles.

A Catalyst for Change

Global crises are known to trigger an unexpected change in consumers behaviour. After the 2008 financial crisis, many people shifted to "fewer, but better" philosophy by investing in good quality timeless goods rather than buying into volumes. Now experts predict a further rise in popularity of slow fashion, a shift led by consumers trying to be more responsible in their purchases. This could also mean a surge in the repair services and second-hand shops as a means to prolong the lifespan of clothes. These two aspects of both slow fashion and fur also offer more affordable opportunities for consumers. "People are keener than ever before to celebrate longevity and imperfection in clothes, particularly now that we are so aware of the impact our throw-away culture is having on the planet," said Suzie de Rohan Willner from the British slow fashion label Toast for Vogue. Isolation gave time to consumers to slow down and rethink their entire approach towards fashion, consumerism and sustainability. "Climate change is the next great challenge we need to address together, and this pandemic is forcing us to acknowledge that economic, environmental and human health are all deeply interconnected, and meaningful solutions will only be possible if integration, collaboration and transparency are at the forefront of a new industry paradigm," said SAC Executive Director Amina Razvi. Economists estimate that despite the contraction of 27 to 30 %, the fashion would also be among the first one to recover. But a crisis is always a catalyst for change. Many hope that now, facing consumers demand for a change, the global apparel and footwear industry would finally do what it was promising for a long time – slow down and take responsibility.