Sustainable fashion – a term that has risen to become a mainstream movement, especially in the last few years. The world has seen established, prominent brands revise entire business models, and new initiatives around this movement. It would serve well to offer the technical definition of the term at this point – “the movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice.”, via Wikipedia. A useful addition to the technically-sound definition can be “mindset”. Sustainable fashion has always been, in its core essence, a mindset. A mindset spanning almost all of the supply chain; where every purchase or production decision is consciously made against the backdrop of the greater, unselfish good. In other words, sustainable fashion is a way of life. In today’s day and age, any analysis on sustainable fashion cannot be complete without the lens of the COVID-19.
The Coronavirus pandemic this year served as a long overdue reality check to all of humanity. All facades of modern life – transportation, urban design, social constructs, and so on – were put to the toughest test seen in recent times. The fashion industry is no different. The role of the industry as a high-impact pollutant is widely established – production practices that overburden natural ecosystems, mismanagement of fashion waste accounting for high landfill occupancy, and heavy societal constructs that dictate extensive consumption. In a post-pandemic world, sustainable fashion is a natural alternative. Surely the world must switch to a system more harmonious with the already over-stretched fragile natural balance? The answer to that is yes, it must – with humanity on the brim of a climate emergency and a biodiversity collapse, sustainable fashion must be the solution. The real question, however, is – is such a switch realistically, logistically possible?
To attempt to answer that, again, the lens of one of modern world’s most dominant systems must be used; capitalism. In the pre-COVID world, especially with the efforts of environmental rights groups, sustainability was edged forward on major corporate agendas. Progress was made across all spheres – from planning to reporting. However, in the post-COVID world, a bleak new set of facts emerges. This pandemic has disrupted supply chains, forced long-term closures and slashed consumer spending power in unprecedented ways, unlike anything in modern history. The fashion industry is facing severe repercussions in the form of sapped demand, managing wages and salaries as well as non-performing real estate costs. This scenario does not bode well for the case of mainstream adoption of sustainable fashion, which was on track for considerable progress.
As is widely known, some of the core tenets of sustainable fashion involve fair wages to workers, sourcing of responsibly grown raw material, and high-quality waste management. In the current economic scenario, therefore, the most pressing concern is to stay afloat for the fashion industry. Prospects for a revolutionary shift – and a highly capital-intensive one at that will be slim. Long-lasting, systems change will take a considerable while, clearly.
As bleak as the outlook might appear, reality suggests differently. On a personal account, anecdotes of members of local communities, notably college students, give way to cautious optimism. Independent “clothes-mending” services in an opposition to fast fashion can be seen popping up across local Facebook groups; online marketplaces that promote the resale of pre-owned fashion items and, generally, a high level of alertness to combat today’s consumption-driven culture is visible.
In conclusion, sustainable fashion in the post-pandemic age refers to a collective way of life – a mindset. Every individual can contribute – or take away from – progress on this crucial, central movement. The impact of your decisions, and mine, can not be overstated enough. After all, as the famous adage goes, there is no Planet B.