Did Covid-19 Increase Fashion Sustainability?

The spread of Coronavirus was the beginning of a stay-at- home era. The pandemic taught people how to live without touch; less face to face interactions, less occasions to shop for, and less reasons to go out. As a result of the conditions brought forth by Coronavirus, people have been given an opportunity to rethink their purchases and switch to smarter ways of living. 

Without reason to go out, the opportunity to switch to sustainable fashion was presented. Sustainable fashion includes environmentally friendly production, resources and disposal, along with better quality materials- therefore beneficial to both wallets and the planet. With stronger material, people are less prone to go out and continuously buy clothing, therefore creating less waste. Sustainable fashion provided numerous benefits, and the pandemic created the perfect transition opportunity. 

In recent journalism and market studies, there has been a sense of hope around rampant U.S. consumerism. According to an Accenture study, consumer habits have been rapidly changing during the pandemic, and will be permanently altered toward ethical and sustainable consumption; which will be the primary concern of the majority of shoppers going forward. Forty-five percent of those polled said they were making more sustainable decisions, and they expect to continue these choices after the pandemic. Genomatica conducted a survey in July that echoed these sentiments: During the pandemic, 85 percent of Americans thought about sustainability “the same amount or more,” and 56 percent “want both the government and brands to emphasize sustainability even when dealing with other problems.”

While the pandemic allowed people to consider new lifestyles by choice, many others were forced into more minimalistic ways, and then later realized the benefits. Restaurants were shut down, leading to an increase in grocery shopping and self-reliance. The world became virtual and no longer was there a need to purchase new clothes every week when they could get by in their pajamas. 

However, on the flip side, some handled the change of circumstances differently, and this can be tied back to financial and income levels. 33 percent of customers were financially constrained, with less disposable income than before the recession, and began shopping more cost-consciously, while 26 percent actually raised both their disposable income and free time, and chose to enjoy new leisure pursuits. The largest contributing factor to fast fashion’s appeal are the low prices, and with the financial losses caused by the pandemic, many people saw the short-lived financial benefit and were convinced. However, the quality and style of these clothes promise single wears, and long term, being forced into the purchase/disposal cycle the fast fashion companies promote would only cause further strain on a fiscal level. 

With those who gave into “boredom buying,” came the drawbacks of online shopping. Online shopping adds a list of steps, which put together, are far more detrimental to the environment than in-person alternatives. The added materials of the packages the clothing is shipped in, plus the transportation costs lead to more problems in need of sustainable solutions. 

There have been some recent positive developments in the long-term feasibility of online shopping. Amazon has placed an order for 100,000 electric delivery trucks, therefore relying on more sustainable methods of transportation. Additionally, retail pickup lockers are becoming more popular as a substitute for goods being delivered incrementally to customers’ homes. The secondhand market on the internet has also been appealing: According to ThredUp, the resale industry is worth $20 billion right now and is projected to double in size by 2022. This can be accredited to the rise of thrifting amongst younger generations and the popular apps like Depop and Poshmark (Fashionista).  

The need to reclaim a sense of normalcy and power is also a factor in pandemic consumption patterns. This is known in China as “revenge shopping,” which refers to a person’s enthusiastic return to the shopping scene after being forced to withhold funds for a long period of time. Since so many of the conventional outlets for pleasure — movie theaters, malls, parties — have been suspended, people cling to the feeling of materialistic satisfaction that online shopping offers (Fashionista). 

With evidence pointing to each side, the fact is that both the fashion industry and consumers must be held accountable. The biggest move that needs to be made is a mindset shift, and self conscious actions. The gap between consumer surveys and consumer action is massive and has taught the lesson that transitioning to a sustainable economy needs to be supported by more than just personal wishes for change. 

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