These last months have seen a shift in priorities, altered perspectives, and exposed problems that were already there.
The problems faced by the fashion industry, from racism to worker exploitation to environmental damage, were evident even before the pandemic. The last six months have only made these issues worse, and many fashion lovers are now faced with the reality that a industry that provides so much joy can also cause so much harm. The positive side to all of this is the fact that brands and consumers feel compelled change, which hopefully will lead to a better fashion industry.
Many designers have been accumulating large quantities of inventory since March. Many factors are responsible for this: retailers cancelling orders. Consumers who are cash-strapped don’t require anything new based on their current lifestyles or either of these. Businesses that shut down and were thus unable to ship their products. More designers are reminded every day by this unsold inventory, regardless of the reason. Some designers used this opportunity to explore their archives and use leftover fabric to create new collections.
Marques’Almeida launched ReM’Ade in June after realizing how much of its deadstock fabric was being held. Danish brand Cecilie Bahnsen launched the “first” of many upcycled collections in July. Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring 2021 Show featured looks from a prior collection. Ganni, a Danish export, has used deadstock materials and debuted a rental partnership with Levi’s at Copenhagen Fashion Week.
The reexamination of consumer relationships to the most polluting industry in the world has also forced them to reconsider their relationship. ThredUp’s 2020 Resale Report found that 70% of consumers believe climate change mitigation is crucial. According to the report, there will be a rise of secondhand shopping as well as a decline in fast fashion sales, which is the worst culprit when it comes waste and unsustainable supply chains. Conscious consumers will no longer be able to justify purchasing a dress because it is pretty or cheap, especially when it comes at the expense of the environment. To make a shift in fashion consumption habits, we need to ask hard questions. Is there a right or wrong way to consume fashion? Is it possible to love fashion while being ethical and responsible?
These are questions I have asked myself before, but this time it has led to new insights in my shopping habits. I have always dismissed the idea of a capsule wardrobe, but during the pandemic I realized that I only wore 10 to 15 of the same items every day. This is despite my wardrobe not shrinking no matter how many spring cleanings I do. I am currently on round 4 since March, but who counts? While I still long for the day when I can wear the yellow pantsuit I bought before Quarantine, or the mini bag I purchased from them, I don’t have the same desire to buy anything new. This might mean I’ll continue wearing the same item over and over, but that’s OK. I should be able to value my clothes enough to want it to be worn every week instead of just a few times per season.
This idea is not new. Slow-fashion brands have preached a “buy more, save less” mentality for many years. This movement evokes fashion’s old ethos. Vintage clothing can withstand decades of wear while new clothes can barely last a year. This mentality is now common in the top echelons. The pandemic has halted the production of designers who were producing anywhere from four to eight collections per year. They were able to take more time for thought and make better decisions. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, the brand’s most important fashion news this spring, announced that it will no longer show five collections per year.
Ditte, Ganni’s creative director and co-founder, said recently to us that “we have to do more responsibly.” “If you don’t, there won’t be a place for you in this industry in the years ahead.”
This kind of fashion has been coming for some time – the pandemic only accelerated it. Designers are under immense pressure to respond to social media trends. There is also the problem of an archaic fashion calendar that is constantly out-of-season. Summer dresses arrive in the winter, and fall coats in summer. It doesn’t make sense for the customers, and it is even absurd for the designers making these clothes. They are fed up. A May open letter was written by Dries Van Noten, a Belgian designer, and included other fashion leaders and designers. It called for a “fundamental, welcome change” in the fashion industry that would simplify businesses, make them more sustainable, and align them with customers’ needs.
Even though the call for mindful and sustainable shopping was already there, it is now that the time has come to reevaluate your shopping habits, buy secondhand and support companies who are kind to the environment and their workers.
I have accepted the fact that fashion is my passion too much to stop shopping. However, I can ask myself the following questions before I buy anything: Do you need it in your closet? What do I envision myself wearing this in 20 years? It was made by whom and in what conditions? What about secondhand versions? Is it worthwhile? This last question is particularly important because money is limited right now so it really does matter what you spend it on.
What should we spend it on now? These are some ideas: Look for brands that adhere to ethical and sustainable practices and are inclusive. Designers creating high-quality staples that will last for many years. Fashion that brings joy and comfort in a time where there is little to cheer for or be comforted by. It’s not the black turtleneck I reach for week after week. But the Victor Glemaud yellow-printed pants that I purchased two months ago that I wear when I need to feel better about myself. Isn’t fashion supposed to make you feel good?