Could the pandemic get rid of fast fashion for good?


Lucia Thorne

Even though the world is forced to adapt to the pandemic, the fashion world may never be the same again.

By Jialin Xu

COVID-19 has heavily impacted the fashion world, which has led to more than a one-third drop in revenue within the fashion industry. Even though the world is forced to adapt to the pandemic, the fashion world may never be the same again. 

As the pandemic changes our view of the world, it also changes how clothing companies view their products. A notable change would be the recent trend of sustainable fashion that consumers can participate in by purchasing less clothes in general or buying second hand apparel.

The clothing in your closet today has decades of history behind it, and it is important to look at how today’s world will impact the meaning of these clothes. Before World War II, slinky and sumptuous evening dresses dominated womens’ closets. However, as women began to integrate into workplaces—while men were busy fighting in WWII— jumpsuits and pants became the new norm. Post WWII, Christian Dior introduced the “New Look” to bring back femininity into women’s fashion, though trouser pants still remain a mainstay. 

Through understanding history, we can discover that each major fashion movement has helped reshape the public’s relationship with clothing. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

During this pandemic, many fashion companies had to temporarily close down physical retail stores, in which  80 percent of transactions are done, and move entirely to e-commerce. What’s worse, many factories in garment-producing countries are shutting down because of the shortage of raw materials from China.

On the other hand, the pandemic has given the fashion industry a break, and has allowed companies to rethink the issue of overproduction.

According to McKinsey & Company, 100 billion items of clothing are produced each year when there are only 8 billion people living on the planet. In what is called “fast fashion”, businesses compress the production line to replicate runway pieces, regardless of the quality, focusing instead on generating huge revenue through the use of mass-production. 

Fast-fashion is a leading factor of climate change. After wearing certain clothes a few times, people will throw out unfavoured pieces, which will end up being burned or disposed of in a  landfill. An article from The World Resources Institute reports that it takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt—the same amount of water to meet an average person’s drinking needs for two and a half years. It also said that garments made by non-biodegradable fabrics will remain in landfills for 200 years. This data demonstrates how fashion industries deplete the planet’s natural resources. 

Fortunately, we can see that fast fashion is facing backlash and that sustainability could become the mainstream post-pandemic. 

Designers are conscious about their relationship with nature even before the pandemic. In September of 2019, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri collaborated with the Paris-based environmental design collective Coloco to set up the Christian Dior Spring 2020 Ready-to-Wear Collection runway show. The catwalks were surrounded with jungles and trees. After the show, the trees were replanted around Paris. 

The purpose of this, as Chiuri explained in an interview, is “to translate this idea of a garden into concrete action: a support project that can create other gardens in the community.” 

Though it is unrealistic for brands, especially for luxury brands, to transfer its supplies into sustainable ones overnight, many designers reflect the concept either in their collections or on the runway. 

Alongside COVID-19, sustainability has been brought back to the spotlight again. The pandemic has demonstrated how fragile human bodies are. If we continue indulging in fashion, despite the ongoing harm the industry inflicts on natural resources, then the sustainable solution will no longer be available to us. 

Gucci, the leading luxury fashion brand, launched its first sustainable collection, “Off the Grid”, in June. In this collection, all garments are made from recycled, organic, bio-based materials. The brand is sending a message that “if we lighten our environmental footprint we can enjoy the world with greater freedom.”

From its fashion video, the producer kept a good balance shifting the scene from the modern buildings to a small-scale treehouse in the city. It implies that modernity can coexist with nature as long as we maintain reverence toward it.

Another crucial factor in accelerating the use of sustainability within the fashion world is consumer behavior. Due to COVID-led store closures, consumers’ desire to support fast-fashion has drastically decreased. Masha Birger, who runs sustainability consulting firm ESG alpha, confessed that the crisis pushed her to clean out her closet and focus more on buying well-made, classic, multifunctional pieces. 

Birger is not the only case. According to a survey of U.S. consumers aged from 20-22, 63 percent of respondents reported that they expect to spend less on apparel. This result is not surprising since no one wants to buy new clothes when they’re stuck at home. This is a special period of time, where consumers are—more than ever—cautious about their spending.

Subsequently, when consumerism is forced to decrease, the fashion industry produces less to avoid a surplus of unsold stock. 

Elizabeth Segran, a staff writer at Fast Company, commented that “the next phase of fashion’s evolution will really come down to our individual choices.” Industries always pivot to cater to what the market wants and needs. Not retailers, not influencers, not celebrities, but you and I can change the fashion industry. If we keep a sustainable mindset, purchase fewer clothing items, and keep a curated wardrobe, we can eliminate the damage that the fashion industry has and continues to bring to the environment.