COVID-19 Impacts the Fashion Industry, Surges Need for Season’s Freshest Trends- Ethics and Sustainability

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Utilise the Pandemic as a tool to build a better, more ethical fashion industry. “If there is a green lining, it may be that we jointly have an opportunity to reset the (fashion) business”- Eva Kruse, CEO, Global Fashion Agenda.

Introduction

The reach of COVID-19 has not spared creating an impact on any industry. The fashion industry has also become a witness to some harsh effects of global pandemic. Loss of jobs, reduction in incomes is now normalized. Thus, in such a difficult scenario, luxury clothing (or any, which is above essential need) is not a priority anymore. Even trend-conscious clients of the industry are now backing off, realizing the essentials of non-material roots also. The Indian fashion industry is also a witness to this dark side of decline too. It is time to now reevaluate the future!

Some major changes will also become a part of the industry. As Forbes reported, the expectation of conscious consumers will shift towards sustainable clothing. Thus, the brand purpose, commitment towards staff and customers will increase and maintained.

Karl-Hendrick Magnus, a partner at McKinsey says “Consumers have seen how vulnerable the entire world is, and the whole crisis has raised awareness for social and environmental sustainability, even among those that were not previously onto the topic.”

The psychology of affluent consumers might fluctuate. Yet the normal consumer behaviour will not go back to the pre-crisis culture! The pandemic proved to be a radical check on our blatant consumerism.

Issues – prevalent and especially highlighted in the times of COVID-19

Some of the major issues within fashion industry highlighted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1.  Extremely fragile and loose-linked supply chains.- This is how the crisis of one country leads to detrimental consequences in others.
  2. Exploitation of cheap labour- Absence of social security for the workers, also taking care and precautions of health and safety of the workers.
  3.  No financial buffer, at all- Leeching off of profits and concentrating on that has made sure there are no resources to cover for the current state.
  4. Lack of accountability– Lack of coming through, by the industry power players, on their legal responsibility and moral obligations.
  5. Overstocking– The issue has and will, in particular, get highlighted in the plummet of consumer demand.

The issues vary and exist in large numbers. It can’t be let to slip away this time. A strong case for social protection systems has developed. People are becoming aware! thus, 69% of people want the fashion industry to create better pay, conditions and job security for garment workers, and more than a third think that the industry should take responsibility for retraining workers if jobs are under threat.

Focus Areas for the link between Ethics and Sustainability

Addressing Greenwashing and Fast Fashion

Greenwashing is a marketing method. It uses climate crisis as a means to promote business without making any fundamental change to the business. Brands can make vague claims or omit important and relevant facts. Fashion industry exploits this method for their benefit. Many brands are guilty of this practice, including names like H&M and Lululemon among others. They capitalize such tactics on the basis of the ‘conscious’ customers, employing alleged “green” and “ethical” pathways.

“Lines of clothing labelled as ‘sustainable,’ such as H&M’s Conscious Collection, represent a small minority of a fashion brand’s overall stock, but a large proportion of what the brand shouts about in their marketing.”

The lack of apathy, responsibility and credibility is jarring. Case studies emphasize upon the fallibility of fast fashion’s attempts at becoming sustainable.

The link in Other Dimensions

The exploitation cancellations of Garment Industry Workers

The direct impact of COVID-19 on the garment industry is in the form of mass cancelations. This is due to travel hiatus, international lockdowns and also keeping in mind the health and safety concerns. This also due to the practice of brands paying up only after receiving all the goods. Thus goods that are already completed or are in production also end up being cancelled and unpaid for. Many factories and suppliers are also forced into insolvency.

Times are tough, brand behaviour is making it tougher. Accountable decisions have to be made and enforced by the power of the industry. This can help decide the fate of the crisis faced by garment workers. In India, approximately 300,000 garment factory workers left stranded without job, social, or health security.

Thus, the workers have been asked to not come to work, not stay in their ‘factory hostels’ since it is getting very difficult to maintain Social distancing, the primal requisite.

Approach for the future – with the integration of laws and regulations

Laws and regulations help govern the working and mechanism of the industry. Therefore, strengthening the
provisions within International Labour Organization Conventions and Labour laws of India must be the first direct approach adoption.

A better regulation/surveillance system may also work. But certain other factors are also at play which need consideration. A significant number of garment workers in India also operate in the informal economy means that even where national and international labour laws exists, workers in the informal economy often fall outside of their scope of protection. Widening the reach of the law is a necessity. But, other methods must stay in use.

The governments across the world must commit to bold steps with due diligence to help create an ethical, sustainable, and a resilient fashion industry.

Incorporation of ‘regenerative’ approach can enable sustainability as well as promote equality and upliftment. Boycotting greenwashing, and instead have a renewal and reuse mode of approach towards our consumption can go a long way!

Protection of Interests

To protect the interests and basic rights of the workers, brands can set up emergency relief funds. A very inspiring implementation of an ideal approach is visible in the case of Community Clothing. They aim to create quality and affordable clothes. Thus, their process of working also helps create good jobs and restore economic prosperity to some of the UK’s most deprived areas.

The current crisis also provides an opportunity to start building a bridge to better future for the fashion industry.

“If we fail to utilize this opportunity for change, we are going to see a crisis much bigger than coronavirus.”


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