Is it a turning point for fast fashion?


Covid-19 will be a “turning point” in the fast fashion model as consumers will prioritize quantity over quality in the future due to pandemic

The coronavirus outbreak is having a far-reaching impact on businesses in almost every part of the world – whether be it small or big scale. It has a great impact in the fashion industry. Many clothing brands are in threat of business failure and may threaten the current high production, fast fashion model and result in fewer, smaller collections from a more sustainable supply chain.

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Fast fashion relies heavily on cheap manufacturing until Covid-19 began to wreak havoc across the globe while some of the world’s biggest supply chains in China and Bangladesh heading to shut-down which has created unprecedented challenges for retailers. The Spanish group Inditex which owns Zara and Pull & Bear reported a 24.1 percent drop in sales globally from the beginning of March.

Lutz Walter, Director for innovation and skills at Euratex, the European apparel and textile confederation recently told an online business portal, “The crisis will disrupt and change many ways if doing fashion business around the globe.”

He also predicts that there would be more focus on flexible sourcing i.e. smaller orders, closer to market, and more diversification of sourcing location.

Moreover, he suggests some prompt re-shoring with “more focus on critical local supply chains in the EU/US and questioning of total clothing export dependency in Major CMT (cut, make and trim) countries like Bangladesh.

Re-localization for sustainable supply chains

The Covid-19 pandemic may encourage the re-localization of sustainable supply chains. China with 37.6 percent of all global textile export has faced huge obstacles since the outbreak of Covid-19 as companies have a heavy dependency on low-cost suppliers and cheap labor markets. On the other hand, the localized supply chain would be the carbon footprint for the industry as less travel would be required.

Dr. Gianfranco Di Natale, Managing Director of Italian clothing and textile industry federation Sistema Moda Italia says, ‘the demand for the product from truly sustainable supply chain will increase as was already happening before the crisis.”

The Covid-19 will lead to a weeding out process of the weakest player and survivors must have a flexible/fast responding, digitally connected supply chain and strong trusted business relationships, Euratex’s Walter warns.

Fast fashion to sustainable fashion

The large stocks of unsold inventory would turn consumers against “buy to throw” and rather prefer “buy to keep” and the increasing demand for brands that can demonstrate sustainable production in response to the needs of the planet.

“Brand story, incredible product and a sustainability message will be really key for brands to survive this and stay relevant to what consumer wants,” said Elizabeth Stiles, UK-based fashion industry consultant.

Orsola de Castro, the founder of the UK-based fashion sustainability campaign Fashion Revolution argues that the pandemic will be a “turning point” in the fast fashion model as consumers will prioritize quantity over quality in the future due to pandemic.

Robert Burke, a New York-based retail consultant thinks, Covid-19 may push the brands away from traditional wholesale business models and sharpening their focus on direct-to-consumer and setups to control their own space and inventories within surviving department stores.

He also says, “The bigger brands were already learning to be more flexible with deliveries to their own stores and the brands usually know how to run retail better than the departmental stores.”

Fast fashion may well survive the pandemic but it must change going forward. Fast fashion has an opportunity to reconstruct itself as the pandemic has forced the industry to slow down. This will enable us to respond to changes in demand and will see designers reducing the collection process and consumers seeking more longevity in the purchase.