Text by Carina Parke
Photo by Flaunter
It comes with no surprise that COVID-19 also leaves its marks in the fashion industry. But long before the global crisis, one thing was already certain: There has to be a change. And while still facing the pandemic, it might be just ahead of us.
It is certainly not possible to sum up the entire fashion industry, but it is safe to say that the machinery as a whole is facing change. Change, that might came more drastically than expected when the coronavirus started to spread all over the world. We are still in the middle of the pandemic, still processing, fighting and learning. While the outcome is open, you can see especially fashion in another light now. But the question, if its future is crystal clear, remains …
“Do we still need fashion? Do we still need to buy more clothes? Does it still make sense to fly 1,000 people from one country to another to attend 15 shows? There are a lot of questions out there and now is the time to start discussing.” Everybody who heard these words from Vogue Italia’s editor-in-chief Emanuele Farneti in the #BoFLIVE session at the end of March ‘20 knew that old ways might get old-fashioned in a hurry. Since then a lot has happened but Farneti already was sure about one thing back then: “There will be an aftermath.”
Is this the downfall of consumerism?
Let’s get it straight: When an editor-in-chief of a traditional and the most renowned fashion magazine in the world spills the tea like that, things are definitely heating up. Actually, they were long before the crisis, when consumers started to be more conscious about the environment and its connections to what they buy and what they wear. Relations are undeniable since the fashion industry produces ten percent of all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply according to Business Insider. Still, people want more and more, and then they don’t want it anymore. So up to 85 percent of all textiles are waste and go into landfills each year. But unfortunately, only trends are transient, clothes aren’t. Long before someone hung them in their wardrobe they already had their permanent impact on the planet.
The term “destructive” might come to your mind now. Wasteful consumerism was or is on the edge and it finally needed to be pulled back, where it is under control. And there it was, the new longing for sustainability which already has its influence on the industry. Thanks to activists and scientists but also to certain companies, often small labels, that understood the needs of consumers – and nature. But in an era of greenwashing, that is often dominated by big players, a revolution still seems far away, just somewhere in the future.
The power of self-reflection
Well, it never seemed more accurate to say that the future is now. While the whole world stood still because of social distancing, time outside the bubble started running differently. The economy suffered fast and in this case, fashion companies have felt the impact right away. The damage control from the fast fashion industry was doing special offers and letting everyone know how their perfect loungewear should look like and how fashionable one can do a workout in their living room. All because consumers shouldn’t forget to buy, not even at the moment.
But I guess, these challenging times led to a lot of self-reflection. I would like to claim that many people started to deal with themselves, their believes, wishes and hopes. Some of them might have been created out of desperation and less financial possibilities which the lockdown brought. So less consumerism is not always a matter of positive willpower but does it even matter at this point? What matters though is that those who still financially can, can do better.
What mindset do you have in mind?
The way I see it, it is all about the mindset. Because a mindset cannot be dictated by the industry. I can only be created from within by yourself and your personal beliefs, that could lead to a brighter future. So what does that mean for fashion? Alec Leach, the founder of Future Dust, put it in a nutshell for i-D: “We need to reconnect with the reason we fell in love with fashion in the first place, to rediscover the tangible, everyday joys that come from owning and wearing our clothes. We should remember that clothes have the power to make us feel like our best selves, to help us discover hidden parts of our identities.” He also states: “We need to understand that whether we like it or not, everything we buy has an impact on our lives. From picking up packages to dry cleaning to uploading photos to resell apps, clothes don’t just cost us money, they cost us time and energy as well.”
Therefore, the fast fashion industry could slow down further when more and more people have time to reevaluate their mindset – like right now. But let’s not forget about high fashion that has suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic as well. According to a joint report from The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company the personal luxury goods industry is estimated to have a global revenue contraction of 35 to 39 percent in 2020. But it apparently did not scare certain designer brands to say goodbye to long traditions, even though those traditions are part of the important prestige value that comes with high fashion.
The reaction of major fashion houses
Saint Laurent, for example, did not hesitate to announce that because of the current situation it will not do a Fashion Week runway show in Paris this year. Instead, the brand wants to “take control of its pace and reshape its schedule.” It did not take long for media outlets to ask themselves if this is the launch of the end of Fashion Week as we know it. It is very interesting to see how other major luxury brands responded to the crisis as well. If there is one thing I have noticed, it is how a lot of those seemingly untouchable institutions started an eye to eye conversation and showed their vulnerable and social side.
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Valentino supported the fight against COVID-19 with a donation of two million Euros and the luxury group LVMH, that brands like Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Christian Dior belong to, announced to produce disinfectant gel and then donate it to french hospitals and health authorities. Shoe brand Jimmy Choo came for the people in lockdown to challenge their creativity and started the project “CHOO SKETCH”, where everyone can participate and create their very own shoe design which could become part of an exclusive capsule collection. The proceeds from sales will be donated to charity.
Getting conscious about our surroundings
This pandemic has definitely shown that we are all in this together and nobody can just getaway. But we have to acknowledge that the crisis did not affect every individual equally. It is easy to ponder about the future of fashion, about the change of a mindset that can turn the whole industry upside down. But it is a very privileged point of view. Because while some of us hold the power in their hands and can decide how their next shopping steps will be as well as if they want to revolutionize their consumerism or not, other ones do not even have a choice to worry about that.
While brands all over the world keep on connecting with their consumers digitally and try to get through this crisis together, we also have to look behind the curtains and talk about the people losing their jobs because drastic change is happening in fashion right now. We have to talk about what the extended periods of unemployment mean for workers in fashion manufacturing hubs. And despite the fashion industry, we at least have to be aware of the pain and struggles people might have because of the current situation.
Since this is so complex and will not be worked through in one article, there is just one thing left to say. One thing that will never change, even if everything changes: Let’s not forget about being human and empathic. Not in fashion, not in other industries. Not while and not after the pandemic. Damn, it sounds so easy, doesn’t it?