Transforming the fashion industry
Task of transforming the industry has begun, but the big question is whether we will
23 June 2021 - 15:40Picture: ISTOCKPicture: ISTOCKIt was often said in the past year that old systemic global inequalities were magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect of the lockdowns around the world. The dysfunction of political and socioeconomic systems we had come to accept as ever-present features of society could be ignored no longer. We had to act differently to create a different future.
The global fashion industry was no different. We had begun to see the beginnings of a revolution in the industry for some time. Consumers had begun to demand more sustainability in the production of their garments, particularly as we started to see how much of it ended up in landfills. The exploitation of labour to mass-produce cheap clothing was also increasingly highlighted, as was the practice of dumping by the developed world.
It is ironic that an industry built on innovation, creativity and diversity was so slow to innovate in terms of sustainability, how it mistreated those who relied on the industry to survive and failed to create conditions conducive to new entrants accessing markets. Amid the challenges brought on by the pandemic lay an opportunity for us to address these deficiencies and build an industry able to create shared value while being environmentally conscious. headtopics.com
The entire value chain, which includes the design, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, retailing, advertising, and promotion of all types of apparel, was severely affected by the pandemic. According to McKinsey’s The State of Fashion 2021 report, the industry lost about 93% of its economic profits in 2020. GlobalData puts this at about $297bn.
In SA, despite the hard lockdowns that only allowed the clothing industry to return to full retail at level-3 restrictions, it is a testament to our collective innovation and creativity how many pivoted into manufacturing masks and other forms of personal protective equipment. The mask has now become a fashion staple, an accessory that adds character to one’s outfit. Some may not be so keen to let go.
It is said there is nothing like a crisis to bring people together. We saw this in the industry as we began to collaborate and find new ways of supporting each other, while leveraging our collective strengths. In this way we also created shared value and benefits for a wider range of players in the industry. By “making the circle bigger” we began to actualise the concept of the circular economy.
A November 2020 Circular Fashion Report compiled by a group of academics and industry leaders suggested that the potential value of fashion’s circular economy could be as much as $5-trillion globally. To benefit from and leverage this opportunity, we need to consider how to create structures and mechanisms. headtopics.com
While this concept refers to the fast-growing movement to reuse and recycle all materials, eliminating waste and pollution and regenerating the environment in a “circular model,” Covid-19 has forced us to do more than just think about the sustainability of the fabrics we use and how we dispose of them.
In SA, the concept has extended to many of us actively working together to help service providers and others keep their heads above water and their doors open. Sustainability came to also include people and businesses. I found that the concept ofubuntu
was so strongly aligned to that of the circular economy that we will continue working in this way. Creating shared opportunities and win-win solutions will also positively affect transformation in the sector.These were important lessons in a time of unprecedented crisis. As SA rolls out vaccines, it seems we may soon be past the worst of the pandemic. This presents a ray of hope for the events and entertainment sectors, and with this the high-end fashion industry. Vaccinations mean the opening of sectors of the economy that have been severely restricted for the past year. It also means the opening of borders, travel and international fashion shows.
My parents were recently vaccinated along with some older relatives, and I am grateful they can be protected from the devastating impact of the virus. I will be registering to be vaccinated with great enthusiasm when registrations open for my age group. headtopics.com
As the need to social-distance became a matter of life and death it was easier to see our interconnections and the impact of our actions on each other. As the physical masks went up, the masks we had used as filters in our lives came down. We saw things differently, and through this could make new choices to build a new reality. I am excited to be alive and to have lived through this time – the opportunities are endless as we overcome the pandemic.
In her 2004 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Wangari Maathai said: “In the course of history there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”
These words have never been more relevant. The work to transform the fashion industry has begun; we now need to make the tough choices to continue. The question is, will we?• Sindi is founder of the Africa Rise fashion emporium.Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?Read more: Business Day »
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