Over the last 18 months the world has descended into a craziness the likes of which most of us have never really experienced before. The very nature of how we interact, work, shop, engage and live has changed dramatically as we all collectively fight the COVID-19 global pandemic. The impact that this has had on the retail sector is extreme - the impact that it is having on the $2.5 trillion fashion industry is catastrophic, and it’s being felt at every level of its value chain.
Fashion is best described as a discretionary expense and we would normally expect to see a decrease in discretionary spending during times of crisis. However, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen that the value of the fashion sector would drop by more than the decrease experienced by the overall stock market - a whopping almost 40 percent! .
Some might see this as the perfect storm that creates the environment for an initiative like Populace Threads to thrive, and in some ways, I guess it is. There is most definitely an increased focus on finding new ways to direct spending, and a renewed focus on all that is recycled and sustainable, as globally the disparity between what we need in life and what we want in life becomes glaringly obvious. However, the more I read about the state of the fashion industry the more worried I get about the knock-on effects, because we’re not just talking about ‘things’ here – we’re talking about people – and a lot of them!
In the report ‘State of Fashion’, McKinsey & Company analysis estimates that if stores remain closed for two months, then 80 percent of the publicly listed fashion companies in Europe and North America will be in financial distress. Closer to home, recently released statistics by the Australian Fashion Council (AFC) indicate that two thirds of the Australian fashion industry don’t think they will be able to bounce back after the COVID shutdowns . Demand side crises are being created by contractions in consumer spending and supply side crises are being caused by halted or slowed manufacturing, retail store lock downs, and humanitarian crises in low-cost sourcing and fashion manufacturing hubs, such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Honduras and India. Bangladeshi garment manufacturer, Mostafiz Uddin issues a timely reminder that, “Poverty is a killer too, and many more people die from poverty than from COVID-19”. ‘Fashion Revolution’ notes that millions of garment makers have already lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 and have no access to social or financial safety nets. The incidental (or perhaps direct) impact that the decimation of the fashion sector is having on people in some of the world’s poorest countries is devastating. (And may well go unnoticed by the rest of the world which is equally devastating.)
Although these are extreme times – couldn’t it also follow that reducing production cycles and increasing recycling and reuse of garments might also create a similar impact over time in these countries? It’s easy to get a bit caught up in it all at times – the idea that what we are doing ‘over here’ to help, might actually end up creating a human disadvantage ‘over there’. I get trapped at times in these loops of “if we dramatically reduce fast fashion – what happens to all of the people that work in the low-cost sourcing and fashion manufacturing hubs? Does all of this sustainability and environment ‘do-gooding’ actually lead to worsening poverty cycles and greater disadvantage in nations that are the least able to withstand them?
What I try to remember when I get caught up in it all is that sustainability and circular fashion are complex battles fought on many fronts. Individuals, organisations and governments must all do their part to take action (big and small), that will collectively change the outlook globally. There are organisations in the Circular Fashion ecosystem that work tirelessly for workers’ rights, breaking poverty cycles, recyclable materials production, efficient agricultural processes, sustainable design and many, many other areas. I don’t have the expertise or the ability to make an impact in many of these areas, but I do have the ability to create a platform like Populace Threads. With Populace Threads, our small yet significant part of this whole will provide a platform that makes it easy for people to recycle, reuse and share fashion. Our mission is to create a community of likeminded people and organisations who will collectively work together to decrease the amount of landfill that is being generated by throw away fashion each year. We are passionate about making a difference to the planet and about changing the consumer view of clothing and fashion.
We’d love to hear about the things that you are doing every day in your world to make a difference to the things that you are passionate about.
 McKinsey Analysis, based on data from S&P Capital IQ