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Fashion in the time of coronavirus

by | Mar 17, 2020

Talking fashion during a time of coronavirus seems fickle, but it’s in fact really important.

Many institutions and organisations have had to take difficult decisions to help stop the spread of infection by cancelling gatherings, lessons and shows. This weekend African Fashion International cancelled the last day of its fashion week in Cape Town. Founder and Executive Chairperson of AFI, Precious Moloi-Motsepe says that it is our collective responsibility to contain the spread of the disease, and advises others to remain cautious “but not paranoid”. Vintage with Love has postponed its massive annual secondhand clothing sale. Fashion colleges have closed or introduced limited hours on campus. Johannesburg fashion college Lisof posted on Instagram today that “after much deliberation and debate as well as consultation with external stakeholders, including STADIO, we have made the decision (and it is an exciting one) to go online.”

While we know these cancellations are imperative, we are very concerned how these and the general isolation will impact small businesses. The Financial Times reports that while the $2.5tn global fashion industry is dominated by huge companies such as €200bn-LVMH, most designers are smaller businesses. “It is these independent designers that are facing a cash flow crisis as supply chain delays and reduced demand due to the coronavirus outbreak lead stores to cut or refuse orders.”

Supporting emerging creatives and entrepreneurs is core to the work we do at Twyg. Many livelihoods and businesses are now in danger. As business slows down, incomes will disappear. Will our government do what the Italian and New Zealand ones have done and establish a fund to help small businesses? Will it cut taxes? Will it offer wage subsidies to small businesses that need it?

We are not sure of all the ways we can support these businesses, but at least, if we need to shop, let’s make sure to shop from small, local and independent designers. Most of them have online shopping options. Take advantage of current sales and discounts. And once we’re all back on the party circuit, be sure to keep shopping local.

Another reason why coronavirus is important is that this time could offer us the opportunity to rethink the fashion industry. One of the obvious implications of what we have seen over the last few weeks is that global supply chains are much more vulnerable than anyone had ever believed, and that local stores that rely on international production are, therefore, also vulnerable. We need to think how the industry can become both more sustainable and more local at the same time.

Remember these facts about the global fashion industry (ex World Economic Forum):

  • Zara puts out 24 collections per year, while H&M offers between 12 and 16.
  • A lot of this clothing ends up in the dump. The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.
  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions — more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
  • If the fashion sector continues on its current trajectory, that share of the carbon budget could jump to 26% by 2050, according to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

We need to reconsider business-as-usual. How do we support African creatives and fashion designers at the same time as reducing carbon emissions? How do we employ people while we reduce the quantity of clothes produced?

While we reconsider fashion, remember to be cautious and respect that the coronavirus threatens both lives and livelihoods. We need to act responsibly and take care in order to protect each other.

And remember to support small businesses where you can!

For more food for thought, here are some articles we’ve been reading:

Main image: Unsplash

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