Covid-19: crisis or opportunity for sustainable fashion?

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

The Gively team have established that, in terms of all the possible impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continued reduction of the environmental impacts of the fashion industry looks an unlikely one. 

Pressured at all levels of the supply chain to cut costs in the face of a dramatic dive in revenue, short term concerns like paying the bills might seem likely to take priority over long term issues like climate change, which may appear a luxury in such times.

And yet, some fashion experts think that the changed circumstances of lock-down may lead to space for re-evaluation of such urgent industry problems as plastic pollution, workers’ rights and climate change, and that positive moves which have begun on these issues could be built on.

It all depends on whether public opinion will force fashion to regard sustainability as a core requirement. Decision makers are still taking stock of this, as well as all the other challenges that the new situation imposes. A concern might be that easier routes like recycling ocean plastic into fast fashion might win over more tricky issues like emissions or microplastic pollution. 

A key driver will be which parts of fashion houses are responsible for taking sustainability forward. If as in previous years the agenda comes from marketing departments, the scaling back of this function may spell trouble for climate concerns. However, it is possible that customers could prioritise sustainability as a key demand in their choices.  As we spend less on clothes, we may come to realise that we need fewer clothes, and that those clothes we do have must be environmentally friendly, making sustainability a key selling point.

Trends already seen in the growth of demand for repairing clothes or sharing may grow further, though health concerns may mean some consumers are unwilling to contemplate second-hand products. Disruption of long supply-chains may make producers consider more local sourcing of materials and processing, and could be linked in to issues around resource use in the agricultural production of the raw materials used in clothes. At the least, the value of diversifying in these respects may become more obvious to decision makers.

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