How The Global Pandemic Changed Fashion

By Isabelle Rust

It all started in 2020. The rumblings of this unknown disease began in January 2020 as the world watched Wuhan and eventually China be put into lockdown as they built emergency hospitals in six days. The impact of this disease was then realised as respective countries began to prep and pre-empt the arrival of the disease into their own country. Music events, then weddings and then business meetings began to be cancelled during February and when March struck here in the UK it was clear Covid-19 had taken over. Then on the 23rd March 2020, Boris announced his 3 week lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’. We didn’t know it at the time, but a lot has changed since this day over a year ago, sadly a lot of lives have been lost but there are some silver linings as the country effectively reset. In regards to fashion, it is a very interesting angle to look at. Whilst the economy suffered, the planet started to revive with an emphasis newly dedicated to sustainability. The UK and other countries were forced to halt our indulgent consumer nature we were all used to pre-covid, since the means to do so were cut off.

Empty Oxford Circus, 15th April 2020

Whilst it’s not surprising, a recent report by the Business of Fashion, marked 2020 as the worst year on record for the fashion industry with a 90% decline in profits. Many retailers were forced to make their employees redundant, however one area of the fashion industry dramatically thrived since the proportion of clothing purchases bought online rose to 77% from its pre-existing 30% rate before the pandemic. This isn’t surprising to most of us, but it has accelerated the trend towards more digital means of purchasing. Although online shopping dramatically rose, not all garments were being purchased at the rate they were being sold at pre-covid. Anything related to loungewear, home exercise wear and outdoor clothing were exponentially in demand. The specific retailers in this space profited massively, with Desmond & Desmond, a luxury pyjama brand, seeing their sales rise 300% during April-June 2020.

While some retailers thrived, other haven’t. The sad truth of the downfall of the fashion industry due to shop closures has heavily impacted women since women are the main taskforce within the industry. Garment workers in Bangladesh, Vietnam & India have taken the brunt of the downfall, however, at a domestic level, shop floor staff have been badly affected too as Draper’s reported more than 23,000 UK redundancies have been made this year in the retail sector. The collapse of the department store, Debenhams, sadly wasn’t a shock but it has been a huge financial blow for many designers who deeply rely and benefit from high street collaborations under the designer umbrella of Debenhams which now no longer exists.

However, as I mentioned earlier the psychological consumerism reset has been vital and is definitely a major positive that can be taken from this pandemic. The fashion loving population of the UK has welcomed many new sustainable brands onto the scene as sustainability and eco-conscious shopping skyrocketed with many habitual consumers of fast fashion being forced to change their habits. A number of large fashion designers have also taken the time to diversify their sustainability credentials, such as Georgio Armani, who have declared their intention of reducing their collection sizes to minimise the waste they produce. Gabriela Hearst, a luxury womenswear designer, has also stated that she will be using her dead stock to use new garments and pieces rather than disposing of them. She calls it ‘cooking with leftovers’.

This positive movement towards sustainability has forced many of the designer power houses to move on from the regimented fashion show schedule which has revolved around New York, London, Milan and Paris for decades. Louis Vuitton’s SS20 menswear collection was showcased in Shanghai instead of Paris during August 2020, which was also streamed online on platforms such as TikTok. This is now known to have attracted over 100 million viewers worldwide. This allowed luxury fashion to become more accessible, changing their brands’ consumer relationship which is another benefit that has emerged from lockdown and the pandemic.

The big question is whether our new interest into sustainable means of fashion will stay solidified as shops begin to open again on the 12th April. I really hope and believe they will. There is no doubt it will dwindle to begin with as we all shop in anger for our post-lockdown outfits, however, I believe the sustainability movement of capsule collections, minimalizing waste and eco-conscious shopping will increase steadily from now onwards. So, to appreciate and celebrate this movement, here are some of my favourite sustainable brands for men and women who have emerged out of the pandemic nailing it for men and women!