The post-Covid19 world will be a different world with many new 'normals' and give the fashion industry another chance to adapt itself.
Historically, the fashion industry has overcome many big crises like wars and endemics through its innovative spirit and adaptation. Chanel emerged as one of the most celebrated designers through her contemporary clothing lines that were ahead of its time but catered to the need of the post-war consumers. Presently, Covid-19 has created a global disruption that needs immediate attention and introspection.
During the first phase of the pandemic, a few scientists from the US and UK argued that it has natural origins and attributed it to massive deforestation, excessive environmental exploitation and wildlife while others differed. However, it became evident that apart from humans, animals and plants were happy due to the pandemic. Mother Nature regained its purity. Such an appalling situation calls for a paradigm shift in every dimension of human lifestyle and fashion is not an exception. The fashion community has always seen crisis as a creative opportunity and may overcome the challenges in the following few ways.
From overproduction to sensible production and consumption
We live in a world that produces 100 billion garments per year. About 40 per cent of what we buy is unworn. Presently, 20 per cent of global industrial pollution is caused by textile waste that uses more than 25 per cent of chemicals produced worldwide. It is now high time for our mainstream industries to think-act-appreciate and repair-recycle-redesign consumer's products. The low-value t-shirts and denim not only create a mass of fashion-addicted-people but also generate tonnes of textile junk. The industry should focus on producing high-quality goods with longer product life cycles than goods with 'planned product obsolescence' factors- the success mantra for fashion and lifestyle industries for ages. What may be the alternative? Retailers can come up with new ideas of leasing out, renting, and pay for use fashion items that may solve consumer requirements. Covid-19 has already taught consumers to be mindful. FICCI forecast it as a half-trillion USD opportunity in the 'Circular Economy Symposium, 2018'. Even marketing guru Philip Kotler has critically commented on over-consumption and growth-led economy in his article related to 'Post Covid Economy.' Now it is time for implementation.
From global to local
Covid-19 has thrown open the extreme vulnerabilities of the global fashion supply chain. Livelihoods of many, including the labour-intensive apparel and textile industry workers, have been shattered. The two months of industrial closure has made these migrant workers unemployed and put them at risk. They had to be brought back to their villages for survival. Industrial jobs in the cities could not provide them safety, security, or a dignified life. Probably, their inherited, traditional knowledge will make them self-dependent again. Many of these workers are not willing to go to the towns in case they get livelihood opportunities locally.
National Innovation Foundation (NIF) is trying to tap the grassroots innovation to develop and commercialise the local economy. For example, the invention of the 'Laxmi Asu Machine' by a rural young boy of Andhra Pradesh has drastically reduced the drudgery of the pochampally sari weave and increased its productivity and income. Such local, contextual solutions can empower rural communities and build a robust socio-economic system.
According to Ela Bhatt, the founder of the world's largest informal women organisation SEWA, if people purchase fashion products produced within a 200 km radius, then a more sustainable local fashion value chain can be rebuild. It will generate more local employment, reduce carbon footprint and build a community that will be responsible for its sustenance and growth. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' may be perceived in the same direction.
From chemical to organic
Cotton farming is a black spot in the fashion value chain as it is associated with chemical pesticides, fertilisers, groundwater depletion, food insecurity and debts that have led to the cause of farmers' distress and suicide. Therefore, Rose Marcario, CEO, Patagonia, advocates industrial agriculture to consider regenerative farming as an alternative strategic function to mitigate and end the climate crisis. It can reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter, restoring soil biodiversity and carbon sequestering. Patagonia has invested heavily in it and is now a successful model gaining worldwide admiration.
From mainstream to questioning the status quo
In the fashion world, the discourse and application of alternative narratives of fashion have already started. Questioning the status quo and the counter-narrative fashion philosophy is becoming the new normal in fashion academia. Kate Fletcher, Professor, London School of Fashion, is a pioneer in this school of thought. She argues for the earth logic, i.e., putting the earth first and not the economic growth and believes in the notion of fashion experience than consumption. The focus has to change from excessive fashion production, buying and selling, to nurturing a healthy and transparent fashion value chain.
Since long, leading Indian fashion brands have been using the US or European system of measurement to construct ready-to-wear apparel for Indian consumers. National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), the leading fashion institute of the country, has proposed developing an Indian size-chart under the project 'Size India' for the local citizens. It also aims to create a country-specific fashion forecasting system that will encompass the diversity in trends within the country itself. Such initiatives have the potential to empower social and national level market and economy.
New paradigms of knowledge can create ripples that would clean up the earth. Encouraging and implementing unique philosophies like permaculture, a nature-based design system, building resilient communities, developing the local economy, promoting local consumption, and adopting to more uniquely and naturally-developed handcrafted products can provide a pluralistic approach to our existing fashion systems. To summarise, the post-Covid19 world will be a different world with many new 'normals.' The fashion industry also needs to adapt to such changes for its growth and sustenance.
About the authors: The authors are faculty members at NIFT, Bhubaneswar and the opinions expressed in this article are personal. The authors acknowledge the help of Harsha Rani and Pratiksha Pattanaik.