How Coronavirus Is Affecting Sustainable Fashion Businesses10 min read

Araceli Gallego /

Bill Gates said that the next catastrophe wouldn’t be a war, but a pandemic. It sounded like science fiction, but it is happening. We could say karma is a b5tch and all this Coronavirus is a sign of who is boss. We, humans have been polluting relentlessly our water, earth and air and now we have to stop on our tracks for own survival. We are living history as it unfolds. The one that our children will study in the books, ipads or virtual classrooms. Covid-19 is here and we have to #stayhome. But how is coronavirus affecting sustainable fashion businesses?

As a premonition we saw quite a lot of masks in the last edition of the Neonyt runway show AW2020/21. The theme was “Air” and how polluted it was. And we have to say it was, because pollution has come down. China, the so-called factory of the world, is frozen, quarantining whole cities and stopping production. Many European countries are following suit. The air quality has improved dramatically not only due to the stop in manufacturing but also due to the fact that there is much less traffic on the roads.

Li Ederkoort said it very clearly “The virus will slow down everything. We will see an arrest in the making of consumer goods. That is terrible but some how, positive because we need to stop producing at such a pace. We need to change our behaviour to save the environment. It’s almost as if the virus is an amazing grace for the planet.”

SUSTAINABLE FASHION: REACTIONS TO CORONAVIRUS

The situation is affecting every sector, and fashion is no different. We have seen the closure of many shops, offices, even discontinuation of online service, like Patagonia. Others, like Lululemon that regularly hosts workout classes in their shops are cancelling them and reducing their hours of operation.

Reformation cancelled their events and factory tours, closed their shops although their ecommerce remains open. Everlane closed their physical shops but keeps offering their products online. Most of them will be able to pay their workers while the production and purchases stops but it will all depend on how long this crisis lasts.

Ecoalf is doing two very proactive campaigns. One of them sharing cooking lessons, yoga sessions and kids’ activities online. The other having people sending them videos with the message #Istayathome while wearing their products. This is helping get the message across and having some free publicity at the same time.

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A model walks the runway at the Neonyt show during Berlin Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2020 on January, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images for MBFW)

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A model walks the runway at the Neonyt show during Berlin Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2020 on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images for MBFW)

SUSTAINABLE LUXURY ON HOLD

Luxury brands are also feeling the pain. Vivienne Westwood sent all her employees home and has closed all the physical shops in Europe and US. Now it is offering free international shipping during the outbreak to drive traffic to her online shop. The designer, in a heart to heart IGTV, says she wants to help Save the World and will be paying her employees fully while this crisis lasts. She showed concern about how lengthy this crisis might be, but she is hopeful. She just finished a new manifesto and invites us to stay tuned for further development and actions.

Stella McCartney is also in self-isolation and sends a message to pause and look at things in a different way. She sends love, gratitude and strength to everyone fighting coronavirus. Not long ago in December, they were shooting in their factory in Italy. Who would have thought what would come next?

BUSINESS AS USUAL?

Whatever the way, with the very much needed social distancing, shopping is going to get to new lows. The economic impact will only be known once all this passes, but forecasts are scary to say the least. There will be not only huge losses in the sector, but also a lot of jobs being made redundant. That will bring consumption down and we will be in a deeper economic crisis.

The virus outbreak started in China and affected many of the fashion weeks that were about to take place in Asia. Shanghai Fashion Week, China Fashion Week, Seoul, and Tokyo Fashion weeks cancelled or got postponed until further notice.With Hong Kong being out of the bets getting double hit with the previous social unrest and now the Coronovirus outbreak.

Followed by Moscow Fashion Week and Bridal Weeks at New York, London and Italy. This is leaving plenty of emerging designers without the possibility to showcase their collections and get to be known by buyers, press and the industry. Some are getting creative doing small shows with some of their fellow designers to later stream it online or have video material to share to their prospects.

Coronavirus is hitting very hardly Italy, specifically the Milano area. Events in the area got affected but even more than that, that area is key when it comes to production of luxury items. Factories are also quarantined and that might translate into some supply chain disruption. In any case, as the consumption is expected to drop, so maybe, we don’t even get to notice it.

When it comes to sustainable fashion events Copenhagen Fashion Summit announced also their postponement until October. 

The leading show on sustainable fashion, Neonyt, is not cancelled. Organizers are assuming that the situation will have eased by the end of June and that they will be able to hold the event as scheduled in a safe, optimistic and forward-looking environment. However, they are already working behind the scenes on a plan B, just in case.

On the other hand, Neonyt, the global hub for sustainability, fashion and innovation, has informed of the status quo of the plans for Neonyt in Summer (30 June – 2 July 2020) during Berlin Fashion Week. “We, the management of Messe Frankfurt, are assuming that the situation will have eased by the end of June and that we will be able to hold the event as scheduled in a safe, optimistic and forward-looking environment at Tempelhof Berlin. However, we also have to admit that it is very difficult to make predictions about the future – even for the experts. Therefore we are already working behind the scenes on a plan B and are in close contact with all market participants and the responsible authorities in Berlin. We will continue to keep you and everyone else involved in Neonyt informed on the planning status as comprehensively and promptly as possible, especially since we are more than aware of the huge effort participating in the event requires of you. We are expecting that a final decision – based on government regulations – will be made by the end of April as to whether Neonyt will be taking place as planned, or whether it will have to be postponed. The cancellation of Panorama fair is not affecting us at all.”

A NOTE OF HOPE

Having runway shows cancelled, shops and factories closed and everyone talking about the economic crisis after the pandemic might not help, but it can give us the push to think outside the box, get creative and find better solutions for our industry. A change was needed and long due but having the investors interest at heart was not helping to change the deeply rooted systems fashion works on. Maybe now, we get to have factories in proximity, maybe now we get to produce only what is required. Maybe now we get to appreciate what is important.

Coronavirus might be a great opportunity. Not only to get closer to our family members, our neighbours, our colleagues… but also to people we don’t know like those garment workers in Asia, the refugee families tired of being rejected, to the Earth we tend to forget because we are so busy running around.

This is giving us the time to slow down, reflect and connect back again to what we really are. And it is showing us in all our weakness and strength, in all our fear and empathy, that we are connected, intertwined as the threads in a loom.

Let’s hope we put that re discovered connection to good use and make the World a better place for once.