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Could Coronavirus Heal Our Fast-Fashion Addiction?

By Lizzy Cooney

The world has halted in its tracks. People and industries are slowing down, and the way we view the world is undeniably changing amidst this coronavirus tragedy. It’s predicted that Covid-19 will lead to dramatic social and political shifts around issues such as pay and work conditions, but all this has got me wondering what the impact of coronavirus will be on our consumption habits, especially in fashion…

I don’t know about you, but since being in lockdown and leaving my normal wardrobe at uni in Leeds, I’ve worn so many forgotten American Apparel crop tops. I’ve even nearly cracked out my old Topshop ‘GEEK’ t-shirt (it’s now in the Oxfam bag, nobody panic). In terms of fast fashion, I’m not too bad, but where I may have otherwise popped into a shop or placed a Depop order to fill a ‘gap’ in my wardrobe, I’m noticing I already have everything I need. This period has forced me to be more creative with what I wear and also to give less of a f**k, because there are so many more important things going on.

Grab yourself a cup of tea, and have a read of the ways lockdown could reimagine our relationship with our clothes as individuals and as a society. There are even some challenges involved (how exciting).

1. We can't pop to the shop, so will have to be mindful of personal taste and wear old clothes in new ways

When I’m not wearing joggers and a baggy tee, I’m delving into the depths of forgotten regions of my wardrobe and stringing together some fun and timeless outfits which, by dint of being older, cannot rely on trends to look good. An estimated £30bn unused clothes hang in British wardrobes, so using these in creative ways will make us more mindful of what we actually like which encourages more sustainable habits.

There can be a pressure to wear things which are ‘cool’, but with the pandemic still continuing to spread so quickly, fast-fashion has become less accessible meaning access to and reliance on trends is less possible. It may cause us to consider what actually works best in our wardrobes (it miiight even cause brands to slow production, but I’m not holding my breath).

The fact we can’t pop to Primark or Urban Outfitters to revitalise our outfits inherently means the trend pieces, symptomatic of fast-fashion, are less prevalent in our wardrobes at the moment. This means people will wear what they want and rely less heavily on these throwaway items. Being ‘cool’ will be determined less by the economy and fashion industry, and more by our own taste.

The change within the industry as we know it may encourage consumers to be more mindful with their purchases, both on a personal level and when considering the process it takes for clothes to get from the factory to the shelves. It’s possible this crisis could encourage us to stop and re-evaluate how we consume, accelerating the already existing increase of cynicism towards fast fashion brands evidenced in the increased popularity of slow fashion brands and the use of vintage, re-sell, and rental websites. I recommend OneScoop Store, eBay, Depop, Vestiare, and Rotaro!

CHALLENGE: Wear something you’ve not worn in years with something you wear all the time. I wore a shirt I bought when I was 12 (?!!) tied up with my trusty Ribcage Levi’s.

2. Online, business is open as usual, but we need to recognise the harm that online shopping poses to workers

£10bn worth of clothes are sat in UK warehouses due to the closure of high-street stores and the implementation of lockdown means online shopping has become a hobby for many. But it’s all too easy to imagine your clothes appearing out of thin air when you order from online retailers. Importantly, the coronavirus, whilst a medical catastrophe, also shines a light on inadequate working conditions and exploitative bosses which tends to go unnoticed while our capitalist economy is thriving.

The amount of ‘£130 on NastyGal, oops!’ stories I’ve been seeing is sickening. 98% of ASOS warehouse workers in the UK reported feeling unsafe during the crisis, and delivery drivers are putting their lives on the line every time you click ‘buy now’ on a cheap Missguided t-shirt. Just because these workers are almost invisible to us doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect their safety as much as that of frontline medical staff. This will hopefully lead to an increase in consumer awareness and consideration of the working conditions in factories abroad, too.

Next and Primark had to halt their production line because their sales fell so dramatically that there’s no more room in their warehouses to accept deliveries. So, whilst online shopping is not banned and many fast-fashion companies are extending returns windows and introducing ‘generous’ sales to shift stock, our intentional boycott of ordering non-essential items could dramatically alter the production chain worldwide and catalyse a change in how fashion brands operate. 80% of fashion brands are expected to be in financial distress because of this virus which obviously is not ideal for jobs and the economy, but it could be an opportunity for alternatives to arise. Honestly, I’m not sure what this means for workers on the shop floor and in factories faraway, but I should hope this new conscience around fashion that is ever-increasing will lead to more corporate social responsibility and ethical practises globally.

CHALLENGE: Don’t buy a single clothing item online during lockdown in order to protect workers, unless it is sustainably sourced and you are sure production and delivery is safe. I’m doing DIY on some old bits to spice up what I already own.

3. Coronavirus has made us stop and think, so people will question why we actually want new clothes

Was it something you saw on Insta? Were you inspired by a film you just watched? Have you just had a break-up? Did you just get a good/bad mark in a uni project? Or are you just bored?

In the West I think we can all agree our consumption of fashion and other goods has become devastating to our planet and ourselves. The reliance on ‘stuff’ to make us happy takes us away from thinking about who we truly are and homogenises us into beings which can be suppressed by capitalist ideals - we will only be happy if we have perfect skin, and we will only be cool if we wear branded trainers, right? We know it’s bad for our mental health, but we still compare ourselves to others and try to realise this fictional image of what we want to be by buying things to get us there. It never works and the whole thing is a scam. Well, I call bollocks. And hopefully this period of reflection will change our society, our policies, our economy, and help us leave these thoughts in a pre-Covid-19 world.

CHALLENGE: Write down three things new clothes make you feel, and try and recreate these feelings in a different way. I’ve noticed new clothes can make me want to go to new places SO I just looked at new places to go to on Airbnb instead (after this is over, of course) and the satisfaction was the same – I slowly and carefully imagined myself wandering the streets of Copenhagen in things I already own, rather than creating a fantasy image that could compel me to buy new things.

No matter your current stance on fast or sustainable fashion, this pandemic will likely make many of us think about our consumption habits and production processes. The current pause on the £2tn fashion industry has denied us of our endorphin-inducing shopping trips and has made online consumers feel guilty about their purchases as the awareness of the danger this imposes on workers has become heightened.

The Covid-19 outbreak is accelerating the already existing ‘trend’ of sustainability as well as creating a society that champions compassionate values, ultimately (hopefully) resetting the world to a less materialistic and ruthlessly profit-making mindset. With a bit of hope and effort, this will lead to permanent changes to our consumption habits, the fashion industry, and perhaps even our wellbeing and creativity.