Will fast fashion survive the COVID-19 crisis?

By Delilah Kealy Roberts

Published Jan 30, 2021 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes


There are many reasons why people choose to invest in high-quality, long-lasting garments, but regardless of this, the fast fashion industry has grown exponentially over recent years. Before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, it was easier than ever to buy a £1 bikini from a high street store, or order clothes online that had been crafted using cheap, man-made fibre and exploitive labour. However, many major fast-fashion brands rely on worldwide supply chains and therefore the global pandemic, paired with changing attitudes towards unsustainable fashion, are likely to spell disaster for the industry.

So, what’s the alternative? Sustainable fashion that champions quality over quantity is already seeing a resurgence, and thanks to economic factors, environmental fears, and human rights activism, high-quality heritage brands are likely to define the future of fashion. Let’s take a closer look at where fast fashion made some wrong turns, and why sustainable and high-quality garments are more important than ever.

The effect of COVID-19

Not only has the COVID-19 outbreak had a major economic impact on fast fashion outlets, but it has resulted in a change in popular opinions surrounding some well-known brands. Many fast fashion retailers chose to keep their outlets open for the majority of March 2020 despite clearly fitting into the ‘non-essential’ category. A great number of these brands also faced criticism surrounding the treatment of their employees who have faced mass lay-offs.

Naturally, the economic fallout that will inevitably follow this crisis will affect all fashion outlets, big and small, cheap and luxury. However, if we refer back to the outcomes of the 2008 financial crash, we have reason to believe that high-quality fashion brands and luxury goods will bounce back more quickly than fast fashion will. According to Vogue Business, “The economic downturn of 2008-2009 shaved 9 per cent off the value of the luxury goods market, although it recovered quickly.” And this recovery will be key during the months and years following the global pandemic we are living through now.

Environmental impacts

The fast fashion industry is currently one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis. Due to global supply chains, inadequate recycling systems, and throw-away culture, the industry makes up a shocking ten per cent of global CO2 emissions.

What’s more, these garments that require so much energy to create and ship are likely only worn a few times. In fact, in the UK the average item is only worn 14 times before being discarded, a figure that motivated GLAMOUR to introduce its #30Wears challenge last year.

From excessive plastic packaging to returned items heading straight to landfill, there are countless environmental issues with the world of fast fashion. This leaves us turning to the alternative: quality garments and ethically sourced clothing.

Why quality is key

From locally sourced materials to sustainable supply chains, high-quality fashion houses are thriving. Brands such as Walker Slater, a traditional heritage fashion house specialising in Harris tweed jackets and waistcoats, are now proving that quality garments will always demand respect and deliver customer satisfaction. Such companies have built up customer loyalty over years and shoppers will stick with them through thick and thin, rather than opting for a high street brand. High-quality brands champion the importance of buying clothes for life instead of just singular events, combatting throw-away culture and striving to put an end to the mounting piles of clothes ending up in landfill.

In addition, sustainable companies take each stage of production into account, minimising their environmental impact at every opportunity. When analysing a brand’s sustainability, check that it uses locally sourced, sustainable fabrics such as wool, tweed, and sustainably sourced linen. What’s more, local supply chains are of vital importance when it comes to sustainably. Make sure your new item hasn’t racked up too many air miles before it reaches your wardrobe!

High-quality companies are also likely to take more care in making their production lines eco-friendly. Walker Slater, for example, prides itself in using LED lighting in all locations alongside centralised recycling of paper and packaging, glass and plastics. A number of its main manufacturers also use solar energy to power their factories. It also works to support other sustainable mills and knitwear companies.

Choosing quality pieces over hoards of fast fashion items that will likely fall apart within years of their purchase will benefit both the environment and your wardrobe. What’s more, it is important to support such ethical business get back on their feet after the coronavirus pandemic so that they can continue doing their part for the environment. Investment pieces may be more expensive in the short term, but they will serve you well for years to come proving themselves to be a worthy investment.

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