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Has COVID-19 eradicated fast fashion?

With shuttered store fronts scattering the high streets in the wake of a global lockdown, could COVID-19 be the unprecedented force to counterbalance the environmental threat of fast fashion?

Over 350,000 tonnes of used clothing piles into our UK landfills each year, many of which is within only one year of it being made. The impacts of fast fashion and it’s environmental detriment have become a growing concern. Demands from consumers for brands to prioritise their sustainability measures as well as providing transparency regarding their ethics, were beginning to spark movement in the retail world. High street brands began to update their material ethics, pledging to source more sustainable fabrics and textiles in an attempt to eradicate the use of materials such as polyester - often a signature material of low-cost, fast fashion clothing. But even with these small changes, the idea of clothing being for short term use or ‘disposable’ was a concept ingrained within the consumer, as brands continued to accelerate their productions.

As cases of coronavirus soared in the UK, consumer spending took a significant nosedive. Suddenly, shoppers were jolted into a new way of thinking. The encouragement to buy solely essential items meant that spur of the moment or occasion driven purchases were no longer taking place. As a result of the pandemic, shoppers were hit with a fresh perspective on what they truly needed rather than what they desired for the short term. Guided by the requirement to make more considered choices, impulsive buys from shoppers which previously kept businesses booming, declined dramatically.

With the closure of non-essential shops, retailers were becoming reliant on the revenue from their online stores, but it seems that this was also in decline during lockdown. With no pubs, restaurants, theatres or nightclubs open and restrictions on social gatherings, those who did take advantage of online shopping were truly left ‘all dressed up and nowhere to go’ (the sales of loungewear, however, gained a noticeable increase) Another contributing factor of course, is that much of the UK were either receiving a furlough wage, working less hours or were out of work entirely; meaning less expendable cash to invest in fast fashion items. Research estimates that retailers will have an average 20% loss due to covid-19. These statistics shine a light on the irreversible damage to smaller businesses who were under considerable threat due to the unprecedented decline in profit; culminating in a push in the initiative to ‘shop small and independent’ and turn a back on fast fashion.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a jarring effect on consumers. As stores begin to reopen, it is unclear whether slower, more considered shopping will stay in the long term or if consumers will return to their previous habits. Time, and numbers will most certainly tell.

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