The pandemic has forced us to confront the current flaws in just about every aspect of society – including the fashion industry. This global 2.25 trillion-dollar industry now has the opportunity to respond sincerely and lead a revolution against...well, apparently everything they’ve been doing. While it might be a while till we can truly say “after” the pandemic, perhaps that chance is sooner than we think.
In our sobering situation, we’ve seen what we can live without, and frankly, that it’s a gift to be alive at all. Rather than live in fear, it’s important we keep those things that, no matter how trivial they may seem, add color to our lives. The feeling after lounging around in groutfits for a year is evidence that expression through fashion is a basic part of our identity—and we’ve been missing it big time. But like anything else, if we want to make it, we have to adapt. In light of all we’ve learned, here’s what that could look like for the clothing industry if we stick to our guns:
- Sustainability and ethicality. Over the past year, we’ve realized who the real “essential workers” are and because of that, two major groups have been brought to center stage: scientists and marginalized people groups. It’s time to only support businesses that consult and listen to scientists, and protect our vulnerable workers when it comes to clothing manufacture. Whether you agree with “Cancel Culture” or not, it’s discussion has shown that people are willing to call out and ditch completely anything that goes against what’s right. It seems more people are starting to put their money where their mouth is because while we had already seen increased awareness toward sustainability, many businesses from farming to fashion saw up to a 90% increase in sales of their most ethically-marketed products since last March (Latham 2020). Coincidence? Probably not.
- Cost effectiveness. Now don’t get me wrong. With money-devouring monsters like healthcare, insurance, and student debt joined by shaky job availability and a need for hand sanitizer every time you touch a keypad at the grocery store, I know people are looking to save money—it’s hard to see a future where clothes are prioritized over these things. Plus, boring stuff aside, research suggests that 76% of consumers would rather spend money on experiences than material goods (Momentum Worldwide 2019). It’s an understatement to say we missed out on a lot of experiences last year, and while many are happy to be healthy, awareness of this hangs over all of us. No doubt, shoppers will be looking for options that afford both desires to live life and look good while they’re at it.
- No more arbitrary rules! The idea of living a full life is valued more than ever, and (alongside moral responsibility, of course) that includes having fun and feeling good! Huge amounts of clothes from spring 2020 are piled up in storage that according to the traditional fashion industry mindset, would be “out of style” (McIntosh 2020). But there’s no need for the fashion calendar to tell people what to wear, when. We clearly have plenty of clothes—they just need to be available whenever we’re feeling it! Everyone’s tired of sweatpants (and sorry for hoping events would get canceled, okay?) and now there is no season or occasion we’re waiting for to wear clothes that reflect the inside. Life’s too short to not wear a (maybe even shorter) zebra print dress with a (faux) fur coat and some white knee high boots even if you’re just going to dinner with friends.
The fashion industry and shoppers have been trying to find the all-important balance between morality and style for some time. The Coronavirus has put that effort on super-speed by revealing what needs to go: wasted money, wasted time, exclusivity, lies, injustice. We decidedly have some things that should stay too: authenticity, inclusivity, contactless interactions (ahem, shopping online), and respect for the earth who seems to have said, “I’ve just about had enough of you guys.” It looks hopeful that people are listening and applying what we’ve learned to make real change across the board—maybe we’ve finally realized that at the end of the day, we are all in this thing together.