There is barely a person on earth who hasn’t been impacted by the global pandemic. Nevertheless, this catastrophe of a year has also played an important role in exposing dramatic disparities the world over; which is why we want to discuss the impacts of COVID19 on garment makers and the business of fashion. The good, the bad and the ugly: this could be an important chance to take stock of the exacerbated inequalities worldwide, but also a time to think about what needs to change!
As most retailers closed their doors in March, the fashion industry encouraged us to keep shopping online, but with many taking a cut in income and nowhere to go, demand for new clothes wained. While this meant a good opportunity for the Fashion Revolution to push their #LovedClothesLast campaign, the worry was that the return to normal life would quickly rejuvenate our consumption muscle memory. Crafting did take off, there was certainly more time to mend and a new appreciation of the natural world around us seemed to blossom. While this may have somewhat been the truth, with the economic impacts now being felt more widely, and often unfairly, the breakneck speed of previous fashion cycles has still resulted in mountains of overproduction.
When we found out many factories, some in the UK, producing for fast fashion brands had continued to put workers at risk in the midst of rising cases, it became more apparent that the solidarity of isolation was not a privilege afforded to everyone. Whilst elsewhere in the world, many were losing their jobs in the face of uncertainty with no security blanket to fall back on. Writing for the Business of Fashion, Bangladeshi garment manufacturer Mostafiz Uddin reminds us, “Poverty is a killer too, and many more people die from poverty than from COVID-19”.
Throughout much of the fashion industry, buyers often pay their suppliers weeks or even months after delivery, meaning the factories have already spent upfront on materials. When irresponsible brands started cancelling orders and withholding payment in the face of the pandemic, not only we're livelihoods lost but millions of items left behind had to be destroyed or stored for the future. Many factories in Bangladesh have been shut down indefinitely. With little, if any severance pay and prior wages so poor there was no room to save, many workers have been left with no way to support their families never mind pay for healthcare in the face of the virus.
While exposing the massive power imbalances that exist between big companies and the countries where their clothes are made, the role complex supply chains have played in cutting off empathy has also been painful to see. The likes of UK retailer New Look not only cancelled in-production orders but suggested an indefinite delay in payment as “a matter of survival” - ignoring the survival of supply chain workers indirectly employed.
But there is hope that this unusual year has built some unlikely connections, a sense of solidarity over this shared experience and, one hopes, a greater capacity for empathy. Learning about what goes on where fashion makes its clothes, we have to acknowledge that this is not sustainable and use our voices to make a change. We don’t need to support big business any longer, those controlled by shareholder pressures are rarely concerned with working conditions, truly fair-trade, social security and certainly not empowerment. So choose wisely and keep on asking #whomademyclothes?
Here at Mayamiko, we’re proud to say when the virus hit we sent our workers home, making sure they still got paid and, where possible, our wonderful women tailors helped to make masks for the community from their homes. We also turned our production facility at first into a distribution centre for needed resources. And our supply chain? We already had control of, so no production was created without the demand. However, we’re just a small cog in an industry which needs a much bigger cultural shift.
Next week comes the weekend commencing with Black Friday and ending with Cyber Monday, it’s a new opportunity for discounting that has now become a part of a seemingly global culture. Given the effects of COVID19, this will be an opportunity for many fast fashion brands to shift their mountains of unsold stock. However, we wont be taking part! Joining forces with Fashion Revolution, we’re taking part instead in the campaign to tackle the environmental and social damage of the hyper discount culture. So, boycott the sales, demand transparency and stick up for the workers who make your clothes. If you want to read more about how to get involved see > HERE.
Thanks for sharing our vision!