The Impact of COVID-19 on Sustainable Fashion Innovation?
The Impact of COVID-19 on Sustainable Fashion Innovation?

The impact of Covid-19 on the global fashion industry has been multifaceted: on one hand, the government-imposed lockdowns forced retailers to shut shop, causing enormous loss to the fashion brands and on the other, it wreaked havoc on the manufacturers and workers. Garment orders worth billions of dollars, including finished products, were cancelled by the brands leaving the manufacturers stranded in a dire situation where they received no payment for labours they had already performed. The livelihoods of the garment factory workers came under threat, and the brands themselves struggled to find ways to get rid of their unsold inventory. The fate of the industry as a whole had become precarious in the wake of the pandemic but what’s interesting to note is that the industry faced the challenge displaying incredible tenacity, coming up with prompt innovations that helped to ease the situation to some degree.

While the traditional retailers reeled from significant loss in sales, the online retailers witnessed an unexpected growth. Amazon was not the only company to experience a radical boost in sales but clothing brands like H&M and Puma also noted that more consumers were starting to buy from their websites in the era of the pandemic. It would not be improper to call this the renaissance for the fashion e-commerce industry, with old and new brands turning their attention to the innovation and development of an e-commerce segment for their brands. Fortunately, the said digitization has an unmissable sustainability element to it - a shifted focus from brick-and-mortar retail stores to online stores is highly likely to reduce energy and water consumption by the brands.

New Ways of Doing Business

The most noteworthy innovation, however, is taking place in the fashion supply chain. With the travel bans and closed borders, it has become difficult for brands to physically supervise their productions or meet manufacturers, and taking cue of the problem - which is not really a new one in the industry - production platforms are now coming to the rescue, striving to digitise the entire supply chain. Just the way people started ordering everything from toiletries to groceries online with the onset of the pandemic, the clothing brands came across opportunities to order, manage, and receive the delivery of their bulk orders through online platforms. Such production platforms have been helping brands to meet manufacturers, compare the deals offered by different manufacturers, place orders, verify samples, derive quality check reports, and receive the final delivery on time without having to move an inch. With an approach where production strictly meets demand, the platforms are helping brands to better plan their inventories and creating earning opportunities for the manufacturers at the same time. Since the whole sourcing process takes place through such platforms, the payments for the manufacturers can also be guaranteed.

Transition to a Sustainable and Innovative Approach

The fact that such innovation in the supply chain is helping the industry to take small steps towards sustainability demands to be acknowledged. The need for the brands to travel for supervising production, especially when outsourcing the manufacturing, has been eliminated, which will positively help to reduce carbon footprints. Also, since the entire supply chain is being made transparent through digitization, every step in the course of the production is becoming traceable in real time. This in turn would help brands to know about the exact production practices being undertaken - they have a scope to verify the sustainability certification of the manufacturers, can influence the dying methods undertaken, and can exclusively opt for sustainably produced raw materials. With an innovative data-driven decision making approach, brands now have the scope to check the past performance of the manufacturers in terms of production and also sustainability before committing to a partnership.

Ray of Hope

Apart from these changes, the industry is also increasingly experimenting with local manufacturing to reduce the need to outsource. There is a possibility that latest innovations in low-cost local manufacturing tech, accelerated by Covid-19, will bring about change in the geographies of production, doing away with the need to ship products across nations and continents, thereby making the sourcing process more sustainable. It appears that it will be a time-consuming endeavour for the fashion industry to rise out of the ravages caused by the pandemic, but there certainly remains a ray of hope that a number of sustainable innovations which have come around as a by-product of the pandemic will benefit the industry in the long-run.

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