A new era for the fashion industry?

Actualizado: 20 de jul de 2020


Versión en español Over the past few decades, the fashion industry has thrived due to its infallible supply chain and unwavering demand. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, ground this well-oiled machine to a halt, as the industry began to face difficulties producing their goods and the demand for non-essential items fell. The pandemic has undoubtedly forced several industries to reconsider their business structures and long-term futures. This is certainly the case with the fashion industry, one of the worst affected by the virus.  Fast fashion retailers want to make their clothes as cheaply as possible and are willing to permanently damage the environment to do so. According to The New York Times, 60% of fabric fibers are now synthetics derived from fossil fuels (1), materials which will never decay. Most other garments are made of cotton which must be grown extremely quickly and in extremely large quantities to keep up with the demand, requiring copious amounts of insecticides, pesticides and water. The amount of chemicals is so high that these farmers can develop tumors from being constantly exposed to them.  It’s no secret that fashion workers are heavily exploited. The rise of globalization allowed companies to set up production factories absolutely anywhere in the world. They certainly took the opportunity; 97% of clothes are now made overseas. Garment workers are often forced to work 14-16 hours each day. They often work in unsafe buildings and breath in toxic substances, dust or blasted sand. An 85% of these workers are women, which makes the production and sale of trendy ‘feminst’ slogan t-shirts really quite insulting and bizarre. Child labour is widespread and regulations protecting workers are almost nonexistent. The working conditions of fast fashion workers can only constitute modern slavery.  Disregarding workers rights and their environmental impact has turned the fashion industry into an economic success which is now worth almost 3 trillion dollars. The key word in fast fashion is fast. Garments are produced, purchased, thrown out and repurchased fast. This changed when government-mandated lockdowns stood between clothing stores and their usual customers. So, how have they coped?  Lockdowns have left stores with weeks’ worth of unsold items in what Caroline Rush, Chief of the British Fashion Council, describes as an ‘inventory crisis’. The industry has also experienced a cash flow problem, as most clothes purchases still take place in physical stores. The crisis has certainly made the industry reflect. Rush stated in an interview with Euronews: "Our industry… does have an impact on the planet... There are definitely things that we could do better and now is the time to think about that." (2) Indeed, several major fashion brands have said they will reduce the number of annual seasons from four to two, to help reduce their environmental footprint. Others are considering relocalising their supply chains, as the crisis has drawn attention to their dependency on far away, low-cost suppliers.  Not only has the outbreak prompted reflection from the industry itself, but from consumers too. Stephanie Phair, chief Customer Officer at luxury fashion retailer Farfetch, states: "People are thinking a lot more around endorsing companies that have a mission… that do good in the world." (3) Phair is right. Distanced from physical stores, I did consider both which brands I was buying from, and how many items I was purchasing. Something became quite clear to me: almost everyone is addicted to buying clothes. We consume about 80 billion pieces of clothing every year, 400% more than we consumed 2 decades ago. Not only are we addicted to buying them, we are equally addicted to throwing them away. These wasteful habits are, in fact, encouraged by the industry whose ‘Planned Obsolescence’ strategy ensures clothes fall apart, wear out or lose shape to encourage consumers to buy more.  During these difficult times, many of us have thought about what’s really important to us, and re-assessed the lives we had been living up until lockdown measures came into force. The lockdown prompted me to assess my consumer habits, and learn about the industry I had been supporting, and I would love to encourage others to do the same.  Millions of people do rely on the fashion industry for work, and while we do not want to rob workers in third world countries of the little income they have, this is no excuse not to act. I believe we must demand greater transparency from fashion retailers and be ready to criticize their wrongdoings. We must leave fashion brands behind and begin supporting sustainable companies. The recent crisis may well have pushed several fashion retailers to examine themselves and in some cases, implement small changes. However, it is the consumer who must change their habits and put pressure on major fashion retailers to become more ethical and sustainable.  References: 1. Schlossberg, Tatiana, (2019) Article https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/03/books/review/how-fast-fashion-is-destroying-the-planet.html 2. Huet, Natalie, (2020) Article https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/22/could-the-coronavirus-crisis-spell-the-end-of-fast-fashion 3. Orlova, Daria, (2020) Article https://newseu.cgtn.com/news/2020-05-05/How-will-COVID-19-change-the-fashion-industry--QdWaZBwGCQ/index.html

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