how pandemic affects fashion industry

The annual summit of The Business of Fashion has finished recently. This year it took place online. The main topic for discussion was building a responsible business in the fashion industry. The summit was attended by BoF founder Imran Amed, editors of the publication, and other industry experts, including CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. Chip Bergh, designer Gabriela Hearst and activist and founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity Kalpona Akter. 

Fashion summit

At the beginning of the summit, Imran Amed outlined the reasons for the deadlock in fashion today. The crisis that followed the coronavirus pandemic led to a fall in demand, but the reason for the current crisis was not a pandemic – it has just accelerated it. In the past few weeks, the crisis has been also exacerbated by the death of George Floyd, one of the last victims of police brutality. The tragedy has led to a movement against systemic racism – the fashion world also did not stand aside. 

He also noted that the planet suffers from excessive consumption. According to his words, the fashion industry has produced 114 billion things during the past year.  Most often these are cheap models of clothes made of poor quality materials that are created in terrible working conditions. 

Levi Strauss & Co

The first speaker of the online summit was the CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. He discussed the consequences of the pandemic, the creation of a comfortable working environment, and Levi’s racial policy. «We have something to be proud of, but the racial diversity in the company is our vulnerability, we have something to work on. But now it’s time for changes in Levi’s», said Chip Bergh.

He also shared his thoughts on sustainable development in fashion. “I believe that the pandemic will make sustainable development more important in the consumers’ minds. Sustainable development has been an engine of innovation for Levi’s. In his opinion, in the post-pandemic future, there will be a renewed demand for vintage. «This is proven by our customers who want to buy 25-year-old denim jackets».

At the end of the interview, the CEO of Levi’s gave advice to those who have just begun to work in the fashion industry: «Define the company’s moral guidelines and values. When you face tough choices – they will be the ones that suggest you the right thing to do. Second advice: be guided by these values in real life, not just in words».

The issue of equality in the fashion industry at the summit was discussed by Aniya Williams, the head of the Black & Brown Found – an organization that helps Latino and African-American entrepreneurs. According to Williams’ opinion, racism consists of different actions, both insignificant and serious, but «mainly racism begins with little».

«Listen and check in practice. Do not contradict your own beliefs and denials. Provide jobs for others. Do not ask yourself if «people of color» should be welcome (both personally and professionally). Finally, be responsible», said the expert. 

Global Policy for Fashion Revolution

Activist Kalpona Akter, the founder of the Centre for Workers Solidarity, discussed with Sarah Ditty, Director of Global Policy for Fashion Revolution, and Sarah Kent, an expert from The Business of Fashion, the problems in labor law and supply chains.

Sarah Ditty has paid attention to the fact that today the supply of clothing to stores inevitably involves violations of labor rights. «The way the industry works encourages a short-sighted approach and puts profit as it is above everything – even above human life. Brands are required to do the least – to honor the contracts they have signed and to pay for things they have already produced», she says.

Eileen Fisher notes that customers may notice you because of your attitude to sustainable fashion, but they should also like the brand itself. Another discussant, Gabriela Hearst, has always considered sustainability to be the guiding principle of her brand. She said that in 2020 the brand cannot continue to exist without supporting eco-initiatives. «Just start [making the brand more sustainable]: don’t be afraid of being judged, don’t be afraid to do something wrong. It’s evolution», summed up by Gabriela Hearst.

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