The COVID-19 crisis has hit many industries very hard, including fashion. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the global textile and apparel industry is sinking.
Large brands and retailers worldwide have canceled orders and closed stores down. Some of them even refused to pay for clothing that had already been manufactured.
For developing East-Asian countries where most clothes are manufactured today, the consequences are devastating. Factories stood still, businesses went bankrupt, and millions of people lost their livelihood.
Farmers and garment factory workers were laid off and had to return to their hometown without enough resources to nourish their future and their families.
Luckily, conscious consumerism is growing. Millennials and Generation Z especially believe that companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues, as shown by recent studies.
Sustainability has become more present in the mind of consumers to reduce waste, pollution, and carbon emissions, according to the McKinsey COVID-19 consumer survey.
The most promising change after the pandemic is the globally growing importance of local, fair, ethical, and sustainable apparel production. Fashion doesn't have the luxury to ignore sustainability anymore.
The COVID-19 has forced us to rethink the way we produce and consume clothes. And that's a great thing. Ultimately, every progress takes time. But with a collective effort, we can all work towards making fashion more sustainable.
The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters globally. It has been responsible for environmental degradation and human rights violations for decades. The COVID-19 crisis has only made it more obvious.
Here are 4 easy ways to make the global fashion industry more ethical and sustainable after the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Listen to conscious consumers
Consumers everywhere are starting to rethink how they spend their money. They are planning for the future, being more careful about spending and saving more than ever before.
One of the most positives after the global lockdown is the shift towards more environmentally friendly consumption. Conscious consumerism is growing. Fashion customers are asking for more transparency, accountability, and sustainability.
Brand and retailers must do their best to lower their carbon, energy, and water footprint to survive post-COVID-19. The fashion industry doesn't have the luxury to ignore sustainability anymore.
Green fashion is growing stronger than ever. Conscious consumers, particularly Millennials and Generation Z customers, are demanding fashion brands and retailers more sustainability.
The 2020 ThredUp Resale Report highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has "changed everything". 70% of all consumers believe that addressing climate change is even more important due to the crisis.
"For all the challenges COVID posed to our assumptions about consumer behavior, one thing is clear: consumers everywhere are prioritizing value and accelerating the shift to thrift. [...] The youth of the world are more switched on than ever about the health of the planet. With their words, deeds, and dollars, the younger generation is demonstrating a genuine desire to be part of the long-term solution to fashion waste."
- Anthony Marino, ThredUp President
Fashion companies need to make more sustainability efforts to thrive in the market after the coronavirus pandemic, taking massive action to reduce pollution, waste, and carbon emissions.
Otherwise, they will lose market shares, the trust of their employees, suppliers, partners, and customers.
2. Say no to greenwashing
More people are concerned with the impact of fashion on the planet, people, and animals. That doesn't mean that they will tolerate shortcuts to answer their demands.
Be very careful of misleading claims about the eco-friendliness of products or services. It is greenwashing and is illegal because it makes the company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.
Greenwashing is part of a marketing strategy that makes fashion brands appear more ethical and eco-friendly than they are to appeal to eco-conscious consumers.
Businesses use greenwashing as the easiest solution when they don't have the willingness or the ability to deliver on what eco-aware consumers are expecting.
This is trend is not only present in the fashion industry, but also food, automobile, consumer electronics, personal care, and cosmetics.
The upcoming economic downturn after the coronavirus pandemic might decrease the demand for environmentally friendly products temporarily. However, it will remain a priority for a lot of consumers in the future.
During the economic recession of 2009, Cone conducted the Consumer Environmental Survey with 1,087 U.S. adults and found that the demand for environmentally responsible products remained strong with the state of the economy.
44% of surveyed American consumers indicated their environmental shopping habits have not changed as a result of the economy.
3. Reduce, reuse, recycle
Consumers now expect more sustainability for the apparel, footwear, and textile industry. Sustainability was already gaining popularity before COVID-19 and is now one of the biggest challenges we are facing.
To keep the trust of their employees and customers, fashion brands and retailers must protect the environment and the people involved in the supply chains.
To do so, reduce, reuse, and recycle. The fashion industry must move away from the traditional and linear business model of take-make-waste toward a more circular and regenerative textile economy.
To build trust, find customers, suppliers, and partners, fashion brands and retailers must remain optimistic, provide value, and take massive action for the integration of more ecological, social, and economic sustainability practices.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), and Higg Co jointly published a new report titled Weaving a Better Future: Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19.
"The pandemic has forced all of us to take a step back and reset our priorities. One key takeaway is that a new transparent model that showcases verified sustainable practices will have an edge over other traditional business models."
- Sanjeev Bahl, Saitex Founder, and Chief Executive Officer
The 26-page report insists that carbon reduction, sustainable materials use, improvements in social and labor practices, and circular economy models are a priority.
4. Include the social dimensions
Sustainable ethical fashion is much more than a trend. It's a revolution for the planet, as well as people and animals. Sustainable ethical fashion is a movement driving change towards economic, social, and environmental sustainability.
Sustainability often referred to as the green economy, is so much more than just environmental protection. It has economic, social, and environmental dimensions.
Unfortunately, the social dimensions of sustainable fashion are often misinterpreted, misapplied, or completely forgotten by brands, retailers, manufacturers, and consumers. They aren't well understood or integrated into sustainable development discussions.
We need to reduce the impact of the fashion system on the environment as well as the people working in the textile supply chains. Low wages, poor working conditions, lack of healthcare, sweatshop labor, and animal cruelty aren't sustainable.
The global textile and apparel industry employs more than 300 million people around the world, most of them in developing countries. Every fashion company needs to work toward treating its employees and local communities better, protecting marginalized or disadvantaged groups.
Efforts toward sustainable development won't succeed if social dimensions aren't addressed more comprehensively. They have received relatively little attention compared to economic and environmental concerns. And this needs to change.
All in all, we all have our role to play in making the fashion industry more ethical and sustainable after the COVID-19 crisis. We need to keep pushing forward and innovating to be better prepared for the future.
I hope for a better textile and apparel industry in the coming years, a fashion world that moves away from mindless consumerism, protects the environment, where all humans and animals are cared for.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.