How has COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) affected fashion? Will it lead fashion to a more sustainable future for the fashion industry?
I’ll start this blog post by saying I don’t work in the fashion industry and really, I can’t predict the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. But I feel that, like many parts of our lives, our choices towards fashion will be changed and impacted by the outbreak – but whether it’s for the better, and more sustainable, I’m not sure.
At the beginning of lockdown, I thought that this would be the thing that changed the fashion industry for the better. The enforced slowdown of our lives would help us make more considered buying choices and tah-dah! Sustainable fashion is a go-go. Obviously, it’s far more complex than that, but with the world slowly starting to re-open now, I’m less convinced we’ll see as big a change as many might have hoped.
Sustainable fashion is a privilege many can’t afford. We’re currently in the worst recession on record, with unemployment rising, and food banks having record levels of demand. To think that everyone can afford to pay for expensive clothes is naive. In turn, the fashion industry will be trying to restart; and taking risks will not be something fashion companies will be keen to do at the moment. When COVID-19 cases came to Europe and lockdowns started to be enforced, the share prices of Inditex (owner of Zara) took a massive hit; likewise H&M’s share price halved in value in less than a month between February and March, shaving millions off its’ valuation. These companies will be wanting to shift volume – fast – to make up the months of lost sales and to deliver value for their shareholders. What this ultimately means is a load of marketing towards consumers to make fast fashion purchases.
Purchasing new items of clothing or fast fashion could also be linked to self-confidence, too. If I think back to when I was the least confident in myself, that’s probably when I bought the most quantity of clothes. Because I thought I needed to wear something particular to a certain event. Or that as I’d put on a bit of weight I couldn’t possibly wear something that would show my legs. So I’d panic buy something, that’d make me feel better and more confident for a bit (even just an evening). I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, but my need to panic buy is definitely less now I feel more comfortable in myself. And let’s not forget – there are many contributors of the fashion industry and media which know just how effective this confidence-knocking is as a marketing strategy; I for one hope we don’t move backwards in terms of seeing clothes and beauty products on representative models.
All of this being said, I know that many have used this time to consider their choices. To think not only about the sustainability of their purchases, but the moral and ethical implications of them, too. The Black Lives Matter movement getting the publicity it deserves highlighted further that many of the companies we purchase from every day are owned, or run, by white (usually male) people; and that everyone needs to do more to make sure that black owned businesses are supported. Although not directly Coronavirus-related, it’s an important consideration of the current social climate and one which should impact the fashion industry for the better.
When it comes to my personal fashion choices – I’m trying to do better. I now understand the implications of my purchases more. I’m buying pieces that are more timeless and will last me a while, and I’m not shopping as often – as well as trying to buy from small and sustainable brands where possible. As I’ve not got as many events on (both social and work), I’ve not felt the need to buy anything new. But really, I’ve never really needed to. Next time I do have something I think I’ll try one of the many clothes rental services which have popped up in response to demand for sustainable fashion – or, of course, wear something I already have. It’s a journey, and I’m not promising I won’t ever buy from Zara again (nor am I asking you to). But I know I’m privileged enough to be in the position to make these choices – we need to be cognisant of the fact that many are not; and that change won’t happen overnight.