COVID-19 is changing the fashion industry— and for the better, too
Coronavirus may be the nail in the coffin that forces the industry to look inward towards sustainability and ethical labor.
It is safe to say that the way we look at everyday life has been thrown out the window because of COVID-19 and the newfound normalcy of social distancing. However, the problems that have erupted because of the virus are not necessarily new— rather, they have laid dormant among bigger issues. The world's current cultural changes have pulled the curtain back to reveal various issues that are prevalent and need to reach the surface;one of these mainstream events— COVID-19— has drawn mass attention to resolving the economic, social, and ethical issues caused by pandemics and other crises. It makes us weigh the things we value with a sharper regard: quality of life or convenience? Profit or craft? Artifice or the human good?
To begin, the virus has revealed Western society's heavy reliance on fast fashion., "Fast fashion" refers to the mainstream consumer clothing manufacturers who churn out a concept of a garment to a piece of clothing within a matter of two weeks (in comparison to an independent designer, who might take a year for their designs to go from ideas to rack). This occurs at the cost of workers in third-world countries working in poor conditions for long hours, barely making ends meet for the torturous conditions they face daily.
Though many fast fashion companies, such as Zara and H&M, claim that their workers receive comfortable work conditions, it seems that due to the horrific circumstances that third world laborers have faced because of COVID-19, these companies have left them in the dust. With cancelations of this season's clothing orders from top fast-fashion companies like Gap, workers in countries like Bangladesh, where 84% of the country's exports are readymade garments, will end up jobless and starving. Therefore, the ramifications of purchasing clothing from fast-fashion retailers is something that should be taken with grave concern, as countries like Bangladesh are the most prone to the virus's severe aftermath.
President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Rubana Huq, notes that this "situation is apocalyptic," as some fast fashion companies are delaying or even lacking a plan of action for the terrible situation given at hand. In fact, Huq claims that “The cancellations and hold instructions coming in from Western fashion retailers are pushing us to the point of insolvency, with massive open capacity and raw materials liabilities.”
The careless actions of fast fashion companies and the lack of extreme action from the public illustrates how society sees clothes as merely artífice. Though it can be something rather challenging to recognize actively, our clothes all come from some place and mean something to someone. A sweater might represent something to wear in one person's mind, while to another, it might embody their livelihood. Therefore, it is critical to recognize the history and significance of what we wear in order for the fashion industry to progress in a positive direction.
Not only will the workers of fast fashion retailers get financially hurt from the virus economic onset, but it will also harm small independent designers who make up a large percentage of the industry. “COVD has had negative effects on us, as we endured our worst sales in March,” says Andrea Campodonico, owner of boutique Doza . Often, these small independent businesses are the wheels of the industry that drive creativity, grit, and groundbreaking content. In fact, despite the blows independent designers and boutiques have taken, Andrea believes that “small boutiques and designer labels may feel more in tune with customers,” a feat that only the personal touch of these smaller stores and designers could achieve. This only proves how necessary these people and shops are to the Industry, and how much of a shame it would be if they were to be wiped out because of the viruses’ economic implications.
Independent and small designers are more prone to permanent effects on their craft because of the virus. With the closing of small factories, independent retailers might not have the means to produce their lines or clothes. This, along with the closing of wholesale stores, which act as a big platform for small brands to sell, is a frightening conceit— it can become increasingly harder for an independent business to make a profit. Canceled orders mean a canceled future for these designers. These brands do not have enough mainstream recognition, and therefore these losses will be significantly disastrous for the company's future, and the futures of the designer, their employees, and their families.
"We could lose a whole generation of designers," says Josh Goldman, co-founder of the boutique Ikram. In fact, with bigger brands, it becomes difficult to read the lines of whether or not their designs, profits, and charges are for the sake of making cash or artfully crafting clothes for buyers. In fact, Goldman even suggests that “It is possible that the idea of being a small independent designer that is the dream of so many kids in fashion school will become a thing of the past.”
Koen Oosterom, the manager for Bangladesh and Myanmar for Fair Wear, an organization that aims to improve working conditions for textile workers, suggests that coronavirus might be exposing the industry’s hidden lacunas. "There have been many tough conversations as of late about the sustainability of the industry. This situation is underscoring how unsustainable many of its practices really are."
Fashion is a balancing act between art and industry. Because it is such an abstract term that can have varied meanings among different people, it can sometimes be acknowledged by those who see it as art when we only acknowledge fashion for the everyday clothes we wear. Because of COVID-19, however, the fashion industry must change, in that it must make choices emphatically acknowledging the artisan and craft over cash and the consumer. ✰
Eloise Moulton is the Fashion Editor at HALOSCOPE. She also is a freelance writer and stylist who's worked in the fashion industry for many years. Her favorite things include Ashley Williams hair clips, comfy sweaters, The Girls by Emma Cline, and Studio Ghibli's movie Spirited Away. You're most likely to find her sifting through comic books at her favorite comic book store, Forbidden Planet, scouring for the perfect babydoll dress at L train vintage, or watch RuPaul's Drag Race with her dog Peanut. You can follow Eloise on Instagram @eloisemoulton.