Months of lockdown had a huge impact on fashion, with tons of clothes unsold, which is now forcing the industry to convert itself into a more sustainable and techy one. Global Fashion Agenda updated its sustainability plan in order to guide fashion leaders through the current crisis.
In particular, the new CEO Agenda 2020 – COVID-19 Edition aims at raising expectations around the hot topic of sustainability both in the short and the long term.
“This crisis presents a unique opportunity to reevaluate the lexicon of fashion and to evolve individual business models and industry systems alike,” said Global Fashion Agenda’s CEO Eva Kruse. “Only by rethinking and rebuilding systems in a collective effort, will we find ourselves in a just and sustainable future post-pandemic. The prosperity of each individual business, communities and our planet depend on the decisions we are making today.”
The publication includes a list of six opportunities for fashion executives to reinvent their business after the pandemic.
1. Map social and environmental impacts along the value chain
2. Build trust and brand loyalty
3. Raise the bar on supplier relationships and shift to equal partnerships
4. Address stock levels and markdowns by scaling new business models
5. Accelerate the digitalisation of business processes
6. Shape the e-commerce infrastructure of the future
The sixth tip highlights the role that tech may play in the future, not just with online shopping but also with alternative forms of exchange. In fact, “40% of consumers, who did not shop online previously, started using online channels during COVID-19 and 26% expect to shop less at physical stores following COVID-19.”
Apps are already leading the way in this sense. For instance, two Irish rental platforms called Nuw and Sharedrobes allow users to share items and so “build an infinite wardrobe”. There’s also Lena, a fashion library from the Netherlands, where you can borrow clothes with a subscription.
The idea behind these initiatives is to embrace fashion without hurting the planet, since (according to a briefing from the European Parliament) “clothing accounts for between 2 % and 10 % of the environmental impact of EU consumption.”
“Given the huge amount of our planet’s precious natural resources used to produce clothing, it’s unthinkable that perfectly wearable items should be destroyed or sent to landfill under any circumstances,” says Emily Macintosh, a textiles campaigner from the European Environmental Bureau and coordinator of the European Environmental Bureau’s Wardrobe Change campaign.
In Europe, the COVID-19 crisis has been showing some industry’s weaknesses. Macintosh explains that, over the last few months, they have seen consumer demand for fashion crash. “Brands responded by cancelling orders and delaying payments to suppliers leaving millions of vulnerable workers who make the world’s clothes without vital income or social protection. COVID-19 has highlighted once again the power imbalance in the fashion industry where companies have huge leverage over the livelihoods of the people who power their profit.”
At the same time, the new Apparel Global Market Report 2020-30: Covid 19 Impact and Recovery shows that “the growing awareness on the adverse effects of the textile industry on the environment is encouraging customers to opt for sustainable materials”.
“Sustainability in fashion was already a priority for increasing numbers of people before the pandemic, but counting on voluntary action from businesses to change fashion is what has led to the situation where (after food, housing and transport) textiles are Europe’s fourth largest environmental offender,” Macintosh says. “European governments must back ambitious policies to ensure clothes are bought and sold through shorter and more resilient supply chains, the wealth created is fairly distributed, and that support is directed to businesses based on the remanufacturing of textiles, the sale of second-hand clothing, and the provision of repair and rental services.”
The European Commission is currently working on an EU textile strategy that will set new laws to tackle waste and exploitation in the textile industry. “It’s vital that the EU textile strategy includes strict rules on environmental protection and purchasing practices,” Macintosh adds. “It must take a truly comprehensive approach by taking into account all the problems across textile supply chains from hazardous chemical pollution and nature loss, to corruption and human rights’ abuses.”
A woman working in the design sector told: “Companies may decide to slightly change their new spring-summer collections and put them on the market next year, or they can just start sales as soon as possible.”
For now it’s all up to the leaders in the sector, whose future doesn’t look easy. Another report by McKinsey & Company forecasts that the global fashion industry will contract by 27% to 30% in 2020.