Most people must have ignored this Neftake the minute they read the word fashion and, a week ago, I would probably have been one of them. Fashion, while being one of the most glamorous of the arts, is extremely underrated and is considered to be frivolous and for the shallow-minded. And yet, each of us is affected by it. Not only is fashion a soft power tool, but it is also economically humongous, being valued at a whopping USD 2.5 trillion in 2017 itself. Moreover, the fashion industry provides jobs to millions of people across the world and will be relevant for as long as humans wear clothes. This is why learning lessons for this industry is also of utmost importance in these times.
As of April 2020, due to COVID 19, the global fashion industry was expected to face a 27 to 30 percent contraction in revenues and, many companies already facing financial difficulties before the pandemic were expected to go bankrupt. This has indeed come true as many big names in fashion like JCPenney and J.Crew have filed for bankruptcy while many like H&M and Espirit have permanently closed many of their stores. At least one-quarter of garment workers in Bangladesh have been fired or furloughed and more than 1,200 garment workers working for H&M have been fired. With European retailers scrapping more than USD 1.5 billion worth of Bangladesh orders, nearly 1.5 million Bangladeshis’ jobs are at stake with most being furloughed without payment. And this is in a situation where the factories were already working in dismal conditions. However, despite the bleak reality, many fashion brands and companies have taken various steps to combat coronavirus.
COVID-19 Coping Steps
Most luxury brands like LVMH, Versace, Dolce&Gabbana have made donations, started making PPEs, masks and hand sanitizers and so on. But being a country where the fashion industry is not as rampant as the ones where most luxury brands reside, besides producing masks and hand sanitizers, most fashion brands in Nepal can’t follow the footsteps of these brands. However, there are many other steps the Nepali fashion industry can take to cope with COVID-19.
One very obvious step for companies is to start establishing themselves digitally. Steven Tai, a designer, made a lookbook consisting of 360-degree gifs to showcase his collection which ultimately led to 50% of the total orders being placed for the season. With people scared to go to physical stores, the digital arena of fashion is thriving. Moreover, to make at least some revenue and encourage shopping, there have been a slew of sales and discounts across the fashion world in order to get rid of the current inventory.
While the earlier measures are being employed by most fashion companies and retailers, a unique reinvention that may be interesting for boutiques is that done by suit maker Suitsupply which has installed clear dividers for the staff to do their job while making it comparatively safer. The retailer has also introduced options of booking sterilized fitting rooms or private shopping suites by appointment.
In regards to maintaining hygiene to become more inviting to customers, most large retailers like Macy’s and Kohl have either completely closed their fitting rooms or kept a few of them open. Moreover, they have also created a policy of keeping returned clothes for 24 hours or more before putting them back on the shelf and of course, have increased social distancing measures and placed sanitizers across their shops. And this has been seen with most Nepali clothing stores as well such as Feminista Clothing which recently posted a video about the measures they are taking to remain hygienic. Thus, there is an increased focus on increasing consumers’ trust so that companies can retain old customers as well as attract new ones. On the unique front, companies like Healthe have advertised that they have created UV-C light that can kill COVID 19. But what they don’t advertise is the potential harm that UV light can create for a human body.
Need for “Darwinian” shift
Regardless of all the short-term measures that the fashion industry can take to stay afloat, what has come out of the whole discourse is that the fashion industry, like many others, is broken. The industry produces 10% of all human induced carbon emissions and is the second largest-consumer of water in the world. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Fashion creates thousands of tons of waste and employs tens of millions of people in horrible working conditions. Overall, the fashion industry is broken and this may be the perfect time to repair it.
Two major ways of “repairing” the industry are shifting to on-demand clothes and apparel and moving to a more local production of clothing. On-demand clothing would remarkably decrease fashion’s footprint by reducing the unnecessary dumping and would also encourage manufacturers to make better-quality products which last longer. And this is essentially what our ancestors used to do by employing tailors due to a lack of readymade clothes which became the fashion in fashion due to an increasing Western influence of fast fashion. Moreover, an increasing focus on local production could also lead to a decrease in environmental harm and would even create various jobs which would, ideally, reduce the brain drain from countries. The biggest lesson that the fashion industry in Nepal can take is that although change is difficult, it is needed.
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Thumbnail picture source: https://bit.ly/2ZphHPi