If there were ever a time for fashion to reinvent itself, it is now. The industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Billions of dollars of clothing orders placed with manufacturers around the world have been cancelled. Major physical retailers have shuttered. Online sales are down by as much as 30-40% in the US. A majority of fashion businesses are likely to suffer financial distress over the coming months. Many will not survive.
A so-called “black swan,” COVID-19 has exposed a fundamental weakness in the traditional fashion system: matching supply and demand. Industry leaders have long known that the old way of doing things – i.e. seasonally manufacturing items abroad without any advance customer feedback and then, months later, hoping that these items sell in retail stores around the world – doesn’t work. Industry overproduction runs at an incredible 30 – 40% each season. For a business with $2.5 trillion in global annual revenues, fashion is ripe for an overhaul of how it produces and in what quantities.
Not only is the traditional fashion system financially wasteful, it is also very damaging to the environment. According to the 2019 Global Wellness Trends Report, fashion is the world’s second worst offender in terms of water pollution. It is also responsible for roughly 10% of all carbon emissions. The price of beauty on the planet is high and real.
So as the world sits on pause during this COVID-19 crisis, there exists a rare opportunity for the fashion world to rethink how it does things, financially and environmentally. This is certainly true of the major incumbents, fashion houses that control a large portion of the industry value chain. But it also applies to new entrants: innovators and disruptors that might find it the perfect time to shake things up and improve upon the status quo.
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