The long-awaited change in the fashion industry

Protest with Fashion Revolution's slogan "Who Made My Clothes" 
Image by GreenSefa via Flick

Evelina Kaganovitch
medium: @evelinakaganovitch

Evelina is an Australian Fashion Designer who is passionate about using her voice to advocate for more sustainable practices in the fashion industry.
There has never been a better day than today to create change in the fashion industry.

What effect fashion currently has on the world

We all know that society’s habit of purchasing fast fashion is bad news for nature and for humans. In most cases, mass-produced clothing is unsustainable, wasteful and damaging to the environment and the people involved in making it. And big chain retailers such as Zara and H&M’s entire business model relies on fast turnover and continuous sales. The few businesses that are focusing on sustainable practice are far from being circular. Yet this year has turned the industry upside down. Amidst a global health pandemic, sales have never been lower. So what does this mean for the fashion industry? And what does sustainability have to do with it? To put into perspective the scope of the issue we are dealing with; 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted by the Fashion Industry every year (1), all while garment workers are at a huge risk of modern slavery.

How COVID-19 is slowing down the fashion industry

COVID-19 is bringing an opportunity to stop and reconsider what it means to ‘make fashion’. The notion of the world slowing down is creating more space to think about how a garment is designed and manufactured and whether the way it was produced empowered the people involved or subjects them to modern slavery. And our buying habits have a lot to do with it. They say power is in the hands of the consumer. And by asking more questions about the origins of a garment before purchasing it, instead of making an impulsive decision makes a huge difference.

Consumer habits have changed

Sometimes, what is needed is a big change to make us reflect on our habits, lifestyle choices and the implications they have beyond the outfits hanging in our wardrobe. COVID-19 is forcing the whole industry to simultaneously shift into a new sphere. Even though there is little financial gain to be made in this time, it is creating space for realizations that clearing items we do not have emotional attachments to is liberating. The new generation of fashion labels that invest in telling the story of the brand, and that are nimble, agile and build on sustainable values are what will be considered a successful business. It’s as though someone has pressed an ‘update and restart’ button on the industry.

What cancelled orders mean for garment workers

From the COVID-19 crisis, we see that it is not only a health crisis but also a humanitarian crisis. In many developing countries that rely heavily on manufacturing orders from Western Economies, the effects have sent shockwaves. Bangladesh is experiencing a ‘catastrophic’ situation with retailers such as Primark and Matalan cancelling £2.4bn of orders and leaving thousands of garment workers with no paycheck. In this situation, the supplier suffers the most from the way the supply chain operates. They are responsible for sourcing the materials, hiring staff, producing the garments and are only paid when the stock has been shipped.  

The future of fashion

Many consumers will become more considerate about what they are buying. As an iconic fashion designer and activist Vivienne Westwood says “Buy less, choose well” will become our mantra. Luxury brands will pick back up and shoppers will develop more brand loyalty based on the decisions companies will display in this hard time. Consumers will be more considerate when investing in new pieces and choose local labels over popular fast-fashion houses whenever possible. According to the BOF COVID-19 report, “Many consumers will be looking for so-called “investment” pieces — minimalist, last-forever items, that feel more responsible given the state of the world”.  Innovation will also fill the industry with more creative methods of recycling materials and upcycling existing ones. Brands will also shift more towards utilizing technological advances to produce fashion in a way that creates less by-product and uses already existing materials, such as plastic bottles floating in the oceans or old tyres that no longer serve a purpose. More interdisciplinary collaborations will happen from the current pandemic and we will see some interesting industries crossover and come together. A great example is luxury goods maker LVMH converting 3 of its perfume factories to make hand sanitizer.

What you can do to change the industry for the better

A path to a more sustainable future for fashion takes a collective effort. But a good starting point is to choose fewer but better quality clothing from a brand that is transparent about their manufacturing process and whose values you believe in. Join the Fashion Revolution movement and ask ‘Who Made My Clothes?’. Speak this message loud and clear and hold companies accountable to be more transparent. At the same time engage in discussions and symposiums to share views and thoughts with friends and strangers, as we can all learn something new by listening to each other. We are sitting on the brink of change, and at last, consumers are in the driver’s seat.

*This article predominantly expresses the views of the author

  1. Fashion Revolution
  2. McKinsey FashionScope Analysis 2019



© sauer zine 2020