Designers have responded to the crisis with attitudes geared towards sustainability and transparency, but many fast fashion brands won’t budge until laws are changed.
More and more designers have chosen to focus their efforts on sustainable practices in the last few years. Fashion shows for Fall 2020 were the most sustainability-focused of any season, ending only a few months ago. And while we watched, focused on the looming devastation of climate change, another complicated and unfathomable crisis waited for us all — even the seemingly invincible fashion industry.
“We were living in a bubble. Today we realize there is only one bubble that’s important: Our planet,” says Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing.
“The fashion system was already facing something big, and this moment has only accelerated all the questions.” Rousteing wants to be more spontaneous, to open doors for people who are not part of the system, and embrace freedom.
Stella McCartney has said that she now wants to be “completely recycling, completely circular, completely environmental […] It would be a real disservice if we didn’t come out of this moment with a deeper level of thought as to what we do and why we make it and how we make it,” she tells Vogue.
At Chanel, Virginie Viard reflects on growing up with two parents for doctors, and the compassion that was impressed upon her as a child.
“I feel truthfulness and a realness will be leading me going forward.”
Their statements echo intentions of a movement that was gaining popularity before the virus hit: degrowth.
“There is no way to both have your cake and eat it, here,” Giorgos Kallis, an ecological economist, writes in his manifesto, “Degrowth.” “If humanity is not to destroy the planet’s life support systems, the global economy should slow down.”
Although fashion shows such as Milan and London fashion weeks have moved online, there are physical shows scheduled for September 2020 that are expected to continue. Some fashion sustainability advocates had already called for fashion shows to move online before the pandemic began in order to help curb the waste and carbon emissions produced from fashion week. Because of the freedom of presenting digitally, designers can also choose to create a short film or interview to present instead.
Although revelations are echoing throughout the fashion industry, they are not reaching some fast fashion conglomerates so easily. The demand for fast fashion plummeted when covid-19 hit the US and Europe. Orders were left half-sewn, or waiting to be shipped, or shipped and hanging on garment racks in stores. Brands such as H&M (being the first to do so), North Face, Vans, and Calvin Klein offered commitments to their suppliers for guaranteed payment for finished and unfinished items. Other companies, however, flat out refused to pay suppliers, or are taking advantage of the current crisis by demanding discounts from the suppliers. Olivia Windham Stewart, a human rights advocate and supply chain specialist says, “[…] for many workers, the only thing worse than being exploited by a global brand or retailer is not being exploited by one. And so they accept almost any terms offered.”
The EU commissioner for justice recently announced the Commission to introduce rules for “mandatory corporate environmental and human rights due diligence” across all sectors. Hopefully, other parts of the world will soon follow.
READ MORE: It’s all about Reduce, Repair, and Upcycle when it comes to sustainable fashion.