Written by Zenda Nel
Sustainability Fashion Writer

In 2020, the global fashion industry faced substantial disruptions affecting every aspect of the industry, from resource providers, manufacturing, and distribution channels to sales and fashion events. Both supply and demand were affected.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for the industry, it was in trouble before the pandemic struck. The industry was severely criticized for its outsized negative impact on the environment and unfair labor practices, particularly in developing countries.

Asia and the Pacific was the first region to feel the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Asia and the Pacific region is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic as it accounts for 60 percent of the world’s total apparel exports. The region was hit by factory closures, falling consumer demand, and severe supply chain disruptions. In addition, exports to regions in the European Union, the United States, and Japan plummeted by about 70 percent. 

At the beginning of the crisis, many global buyers reacted to falling consumer demand by canceling orders and requesting discounts from suppliers. Several established retailers declared bankruptcy or went into administration, while the remaining requested extended payment terms beyond the usual 45 days. Observers note that many buyers were already in trouble before the crisis, some of them deep in debt.

The sudden drop in consumption and consequent fall in buyer orders has forced many suppliers in the region to close their factories, either temporarily or indefinitely, which affected women disproportionately as they are the majority of workers in the textile industry. Many of them were dismissed, furloughed or worked shorter hours. 

The loss of income from canceled orders was partially offset by a surge in demand for face coverings. Several factories in various countries in the region shifted to producing face masks in order to meet global demand.


What does the future hold for manufacturers in Asia?

According to a recent report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Asia will continue to dominate global garment production in the future. The market will be characterized by two distinct types of manufacturers: those with more advanced operations and those that will continue to focus on low-skilled and even-cheaper production.

Larger and more professional manufacturers that continue to invest in technology to advance their production are likely to grow, absorbing smaller outfits that won’t survive the crisis. The more professional manufacturers are expected to upgrade factories and invest in technologies that will increase their competitiveness and put them in a stronger position to negotiate terms with buyers.

Both buyers and suppliers may be more selective about who they work with post-pandemic. Buyers will be more influenced by suppliers’ long-term competitive advantages such as digital capabilities, speed, agility, adherence to OSH standards, and sustainability. On the other hand, Asian manufacturers may alter their customer base based on how buyers acted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both sides will seek to minimize risks.


Unfortunate outcome

Observers note that manufacturers who offer the lowest prices will still attract orders from buyers focused on price, if they are prepared to work for little or no profit. These suppliers could increase their market share, which could result in the closure of more responsible manufacturers whose costs are higher because they comply with codes of conduct and regulations such as minimum wage requirements and worker benefits. So at least in the short term, we’ll see a continuation of workers being exploited for the production of cheap garments. 


A look at the future of the apparel industry post COVID-19

There are already signs of the impact of the pandemic on the fashion industry. For instance, young consumers are insisting that brands commit to sustainability and are themselves committed to spending less on purchasing apparel. There is a tidal swing to resale fashion, and fashion houses and designers are finding new ways to introduce their creations to consumers. 


What will fashion shows look like post COVID-19? 

Even before the pandemic hit, brands were starting to question the viability of glitzy trade events and fashion weeks as they became more aware of the resulting untenable carbon footprint. Brands started experimenting with digital technologies to take fashion to a broader audience. check out Local Threads

In the future, virtual reality and augmented reality will play a more significant role in showing designers’ latest creations. Virtual reality puts people in a computer-generated environment, while augmented reality overlays images in a person’s current environment. This means that consumers anywhere in the world will be able to experience live fashion shows presented by popular brands from the comfort of their homes.

Examples are the work of  artists like Tupac Martir and Gareth Pugh who create multimedia fashion exhibitions and immersive mixed reality experiences to display their clothes. These kinds of initiatives are expected to become more common.

Photo by Raden Prasetya on Unsplash

The TikTok effect


Fashion influencers started first with bloggers and then Instagram, and now it’s TikTok’s turn. During lockdown, time spent on social media increased. People discovered and followed fashion influencers who had started pivoting from Instagram and other platforms to TikTok, where they are having a huge impact on the fashion industry.

Trendsetters like Bella Hadid started posting on TikTok, and fashion leaders like Saint Laurent, Prada, and Louis Vuitton are live-streaming their fashion shows on the platform. The video platform has also become a talent scouting opportunity, where influencers, models, and designers are discovered through the videos they post. IMG Models and other modeling agencies are scouting TikTok for fresh new faces.check out Local Threads

Designers are using the app in a creative way. They don’t only model their clothes in their videos; they also share their creative process and snippets of their daily routines, which garners many likes and reposts, further growing their follower base and influence. 

TikTok being the go-to social media place for Gen Z, their passion for sustainability has led to repurposed or upcycled clothing brands gaining traction on the platform. New, small-scale eco-friendly brands are being born and followed enthusiastically on TikTok.


Resale fashion takes off

Buying second-hand has become a full-blown fashion trend. According to a recent ThedUp report, 40 percent of millennials and Gen Z shoppers have bought second-hand apparel, shoes, or accessories in the past 12 months. The report notes that 33 million consumers bought second-hand garments for the first time in 2020.

According to the report, the post-pandemic consumer cares more about sustainability than before, preferring garments that can be resold to disposable ones and detesting eco waste. 

In fact, the resale market is projected to surpass fast fashion in the next decade, with an expected value of $64 billion by 2025. Large sums are already being spent in anticipation of this turn in fashion spending. For instance, Etsy, which specializes in handmade and vintage items, has spent $1.6 billion to buy the British second-hand fashion resale app Depop, indicating a growing demand for second-hand items on Etsy. 

Fashion retailers have taken note. Fast fashion stalwart H&M has launched its own initiative called H&M Rewear. On their resale platform, consumers can buy and sell any piece of clothing from any brand. Sellers receive either a direct deposit or an H&M gift card. check out Local Threads


Will online shopping lead to the disappearance of retail shops?

According to Coresight Research, up to 10,000 U.S. stores could close their doors by the end of 2021 as consumers have become used to the convenience and safety of shopping online. Last year 8,700 stores closed, more than 3,000 of them fashion retailers.

With more closures expected, does that mean that shops selling apparel will disappear altogether? 

While shopping in general has gone digital to a large extent, physical stores are unlikely to disappear as there is simply no image online that can replace the thrill of touching and feeling a fabric and trying a garment on for size. As José Neves, founder and CEO of luxury French brand Farfetch, told Fast Company: ‘’I don’t think there is any scenario in the future in which fashion will exist online only. Fashion is a physical object: We’ll never be able to entirely digitize it, the way Spotify did with music or Netflix did with movies. But fashion needs to embrace digital if it is to survive.’’

Photo by Dhaya Eddine Bentaleb on Unsplash

COVID-19 has intensified the general move to athleisure


The months of staying at home stuck in front of computers not having to dress up for office has led to the so-called casualization trend. This trend was already noticeable before the pandemic, but being cooped up indoors has intensified it. With events cancelled and no need for formal clothes, we have all donned our baggy tracksuit pants and large comfy tops and plan to stay comfortable in the foreseeable future. 

The athleisure market has experienced astonishing growth. Globally, it value is expected to grow by 

$153.02 billion at a CAGR of 7% during 2021-2025, according to a recent Techvanio report and Allied Market Research expects the U.S. athleisure market to reach $257.1 billion by 2026. Online surveys and social media posts also clearly show a general move away from denim jeans to athletic pants. What people want now is comfortable clothes that look good for Zoom meetings.


Final thoughts

The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the world economy in general and it will have a long-term impact on the fashion industry. The industry faced many challenges before the pandemic and are still facing those issues plus new ones. But it’s not all doom and gloom – as new trends in manufacturing, buying habits, and marketing emerge, the industry that is famous for its creativity will find a way to not only survive but thrive in this new post-pandemic world. 


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