The impact of Covid-19 on the fashion industry
What's happening now?
The world on the other side of Coronavirus (Covid-19 or Covid) is still an unknown but hotly discussed topic. For the fashion industry, Covid has left retailers struggling as supplier chains unravel, high-street stores are failing behind closed doors and brands are unable to stay afloat. But it goes deeper than that, Covid has shone a glaring light on some of the top brand’s ethical practices, and the results are less than pleasing.
Not only has Covid seen the sudden closure of some big brands, but it has impacted every part of the fashion production process. Countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia, where many clothing factories are based, are feeling the economic strain. Whereas, back in the UK, brands like Primark are cutting costs where possible, cancelling forward orders and refusing to pay rent on their storefronts.
Historically, high-street and fast fashion brands have been grown through mass production and customer demand - hardly the most sustainable of practices. Yet, once shops close and consumers stop buying, what happens to those shops? We’ve seen large-scale companies close their doors and abandon their factories, leaving thousands without pay or job security. Factories which they don’t own but relied upon for their garments, factories they now have no value for. This directly impacts workers in countries which do not have security of our NHS and social support.
What’s more is that the companies that own the factories have already paid for the materials (and in many cases the cutting and manufacturing as well) when orders have been outright cancelled, meaning suppliers are left dangerously out of pocket. Traditionally they work on very small margins, owing to the ruthlessness of fast fashion brands that play their suppliers off one against the other, so they are under existential risk.
What will happen next?
Post isolation and, with hope, post-Covid-19 there will be a change in the fashion industry, with a push towards practices that are sustainable, ethical and have humans at the core.
Take, for example, global fashion shows, a change that has been on the cards long before lockdown. According to a Zero to Market report, “A retailer will fly an average of 19,214 kilometres (nearly 12,000 miles) every year to attend showrooms at fashion weeks” that is twice the average travel of a global citizen. This increase in carbon footprinting sparks the question, how necessary is this travel? More importantly, are there more sustainable changes we can make? These discussions were all theories until Covid isolation saw the shut down of travel, now the fashion industry is forced to digitise and change, as are our expectations. At last, the BFC has moved to a digitised fashion show event this summer, forced to do so by Covid-19.
We can see that values that were once considered necessary, no longer hold their ground in the new isolated world, and once we re-emerge, how different will society be? Our focus will shift towards considerations of the planet, how we can live more responsibly and how we can use technology to help us to do so. From being able to buy products locally, to companies upholding ethical practices, things will change.
Here at Culthread we are currently testing a solution to this in our factories in Vietnam. We are training our designers to use CLO 3D fashion design software software whereby designs can be shown on digital bodies for review. This will allow us to make changes to garments digitally, and reduce our carbon footprint considerably by ensuring samples are not flying around the world for approval.
How will the industry need to adapt?
Post-Covid, fashion will need to show its worth in a society that is no longer about spending as much as it can as fast as possible. Companies will need to strengthen their supply chain, working with the countries and people who own these factories to secure better pay, standards and expectations. The global fashion industry- will have to slow their rate of production, using the internet and global links above leaving large carbon footprints.
The way we engage with products will need to change too. The high-street will need a re-invention from the bargain sales and mass production sweeps to provide quality and sustainability that customers are willing to invest in. The suppliers of fast fashion brands, many in countries such as Bangladesh, are heavily hit by Covid cancellations, and may never recover from these losses. Stores and production lines will need to become more conscious of what they are creating. We have turned a corner where holding mountains of stock and working on items 6-12 months in advance has become antiquated, wasteful and out of line with how people are feeling.
Post-Covid consumption will not only change at face value, but it will force companies to become transparent or suffer ostracisation from buyers. Consumers will be more engaged and vocal about where their products are sourced, seeing a shift from fast fashion to sustainable fashion. Encouraging companies, to be honest about their values, whether in factory conditions, the life cycle of a product or in the materials used. Post-Covid fashion will call for a more honest brand-consumer relationship. With less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing being recycled into new clothing, according to A New Textiles Economy report, companies will be pushed to consider longer life cycles of their products. As well as the economic cost of disposal, which currently sits at the estimated cost of £82 million per year.
Which brands will thrive, and which will suffer?
The fear now is that, as always, those with the most power and connections will rule the industry. An example of this sits with one of the largest online shopping platforms, Amazon. Amazon has utilised its global distribution network to transfer medical goods, as well as everyday shopping needs. They will become even more powerful as fashion brands who previously shunned them come to consider the vast platform as a means of survival.
Although this will mean more efficient use of technology to distribute within society, this could also see the disappearance of small brands and designers, who are unable to pay Amazon’s cut, compete with mass production, mass connection and mass scale that larger conglomerates can provide. The only way to prevent this is to call for transparency across all aspects of online shopping, to encourage larger brands to be held accountable as us smaller brands are.
What will brands need to do to survive?
It is no shock, then, that there will be a selection of brands and companies that will succeed naturally in the Post-Covid fashion world. The sustainable, vegan or ethically transparent fashion brands which truly look after the humans they employ, will see a rise in engagement and appreciation. Those who are openly cruelty-free and ethically run will be written about and focussed on more. This will include support for practices that can last through changing economic situations. Ethics will become nearly as important as aesthetics when it comes to fashion, and brands will need to respond to that.
Online practices are becoming a norm, as is shopping within people’s means. Although post-Covid may see people returning to spending money on luxury items, many traits around online shopping and more tactful shopping will remain. An affiliation will form with brands that were present and transparent through the crisis.
What we can do as consumers?
In the post-covid world, there are a few things consumers can do and a lot that companies can do to support this change.
First, be vocal and clear about what values you hold. This Pandemic has shown that the key to a successful fashion industry is the consumers. As consumers, we need to be vocal and clear about the things we expect to see. Demand that retailers have ethical practices, source sustainable materials and value every part of their production process.
For us, Culthread uses only recycled cruelty-free Peta approved materials, ‘deadstock’ and other stock materials - so new fabric is never produced for Culthread jackets.
Next, push the brands you like to be transparent. As consumers we hold the power in our wallets, so let’s call for companies to show their documentation of what is going on in factories. Push for visibility with working conditions, ask for transparency on what they do and what they use. By pushing for a focus on the human element of fashion we can recreate an industry that focuses on creating good, long-lasting products rather than simply making money. At Culthread, we are proud to work with our small privately-owned factories, as equals.