Almost seven months into the pandemic and with customers giving more thought than ever to how and on what they want to spend money, one might begin to wonder where the hopeful voices of the fashion industry have vanished to. Many of the big-name brands that were making a lot of noise when they pledged prioritising sustainability in the future a couple months ago have become suspiciously quiet.
Even though offline retail, for example, had already experienced massive cuts in sales and traffic even before the onset of the crisis, there’s a palpable ignorance to that fact hovering over local high streets plastered with screeching-red sale signs. But culturally speaking, we were already befriending mindfulness and sustainability even before the shutdown – or so it seemed.
We didn’t need this pandemic to know our reckless ways of consumption were going to implode around our heads eventually. Given its unexpected enormousness, however, it’s more than just a tad ironic to find what tipped the scales only with the augmenting help of a microscope.
Among many other things, this crisis has finally unveiled one major problem: for way too long, many of us seemed to underestimate how intricate the relationship between fashion and the economy actually is since the former has always had a slightly frivolous taste. But does it, really? That piece of garment. Those slick sneakers. That fancy candle holder. Sometimes they are just a grave stone of a capitalist society. But what about those other times? When they represent something truly meaningful? Labor, imaginative power, or an investment in the future of the person who put the effort into producing it. Those long-forgotten values that – not to sound overly poetic – ultimately make our lives worthwhile.
Sustainability, among many other watchwords that made a career over the course of this past decade, can’t become another empty shroud in the ocean of abandoned promises. We mustn’t let this happen. This is not the time to get cynical. Granted, it’ll be interesting to see how many of the big names will actually stick to their vows and it might still be too soon to make any stout predictions, let alone accusations. But why wait for others to lead the way anyway? Lest we forget, consumption is a dichotomy.
If there’s anything we should take away from the mess we’re in, it might as well be a lesson on self-reliance. Perhaps it’s time we took action as responsible citizens of an undoubtably monetary society and try to think outside the confinements of trends, fads and Ugly Sneakers. We need to realise that we as consumers are in fact a real force, the ones that hold businesses accountable. We also ought to be aware of the declarations we make with our day-to-day decisions. In the end, every purchase we make is ultimately a manifestation of our belief that [insert brand name] is worthy to exist.
We’re in the middle of one of those situations that can’t be reversed. Much like after the invention of the internet. Or, more acutely, climate change. There’s no going back to what was before, try as they, the big corporations – or we, the consumers – may. Even various recent studies indicate that only those brands will be able to survive that are willing to commit to their promises and rethink the ways in which they operate.
After all, “consumers are planning to invest in durability and are more open to repairing” is what a recent McKinsey study found out. Li Edelkoort, the world’s most famous trend forecaster, took it even further when she told Dezeen Magazine “My future forecast for the Age of the Amateur seems to come much faster than I anticipated” hinting that people-based initiatives and local industries will gain momentum post-corona. With all this in mind, it makes sense that a general reorientation is not an option but a requirement if the big players of the industry want to maintain power. A couple of recycling bins, are you kidding?
Still, it might even be naive to assume we could actually expect producers to upend their modus operandi over night when up until a couple of months ago it filled their pockets abundantly. Defeat sure hurts and licking ones wounds takes time. But a toxic system that’s been losing ground for so many years can’t be squeamish when we’re talking survival – economically speaking and as a species.
Change is already here. You can see in the faces of customers unsure if, considering the obvious hardship and sorrow of so many, they should still be shopping at all. When consumers care enough to fiddle around for the material description and provenance on the inside of a garment and will let it go if what it says doesn’t resonate with their values, you know we’re only maybe half a generation away from changing our cultural shopping behavior at least for the better. So the industry might as well jump on our side.