Fast Fashion in Crisis in the Midst of a Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted every type of industry for the last couple of months. One sector that is in particular trouble is the fashion industry, specifically fast fashion. A combination of retailers suspending new orders to workers being furloughed has created a bleak picture. To many, this crisis is not a surprise considering how a few major retailers have recently filed for bankruptcy, as well as there being a growing need for sustainability within the industry.

Trouble for Factories Overseas

When it comes to producing fast fashion garments, a majority of the items U.S. retailers sell come from overseas countries, where the overhead and labor is cheap. In many of these countries, such as China and Bangledash, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have caused many of these factories to close with a majority of workers being furloughed.

According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), over $3.1 billion worth of work orders have been cancelled or suspended since the start of the coronavirus crisis. With ready-to-wear garments making up 84 percent of Bangladesh's exports, worth over $40 billion, the cancellation of orders has taken a major hit to the country's economy. In addition, over 2 million factories workers have been directly impacted, leaving many furloughed without pay.

The cancelation and suspension of orders in Bangladesh have directly impacted major fashion retailers, such as H&M. The fashion giant said it would pay and take the deliveries that had already been manufactured for the company, as well as those currently in production. However, the fashion retailer has furloughed many of its employees with over two-thirds of its stores being closed temporarily worldwide due to the pandemic.

Major Fashion Retailers are Being Hit Hard

In addition to H&M, fashion giant Inditex, which owns Zara among other stores, closed over 4,000 of its stores worldwide. With store closures, comes employee layoffs and furloughs. It is estimated that over 700,000 retail sector employees are unemployed, with that number looking to rise.

With many retail businesses deemed "nonessential" by the government, major fashion retailers have had to make huge layoff and furloughs. TJX Companies, which owns TJ Maxx and Marshalls, furloughed a majority of its 286,000 store and distribution workers in the US and elsewhere. In addition to TJX Companies, department store giant Macy's has put a majority of its 125,000 employees on furlough.

The Future of Fast Fashion

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the fashion industry hard, with some retailers having to close their doors for good. However, the pandemic has caused the industry to rethink its practices and look towards sustainability.

Before the pandemic hit the world, the term "slow fashion" has been gaining traction within the industry and among consumers. The term, which refers to sustainable and second-hand garments, generated over 90 million social impressions from February 2019 to February 2020, according to Lyst's Consumer Fashion Report. Overall, there has been a 37 percent increase in sustainability related keywords, such as "second-hand" and "upcycled fashion" from 2019 to 2020.

There is a clear interest and need among consumers for the fashion industry to change their practices and create more sustainable. The world will just have to wait and see how the fashion industry changes post-pandemic.