Fashion in the light of COVID-19

Every day I help fashion companies to become more sustainable, from strategy to process implementation with my company Rethink Rebels. Wanting to be sustainable an acting accordingly is not yet in sync for most companies. Especially not in the crisis that we are all in now. I would like to explain what exactly is wrong in our clothing chain and what you can do about it.

Fashion is one of the world’s largest industries. It’s also a significant contributor to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Next to that it’s responsible for 17-20% of industrial water pollution and social challenges such as (child) labor rights are tremendous. The current business behavior is evident: large orders are placed at the manufacturer by the brand. Only weeks or even months after delivery in EU/USA the manufacturer gets paid. This means that manufacturers usually pay in advance all materials and accessories, including the garment workers, to make the ordered products and only then they are delivered to the brands and paid much later. Which is softly said a big risk.

Millions of orders are canceled due to COVID-19
Because all stores are closed as shoppers are obliged to stay at home, large brands and retailers are canceling future orders in large numbers. The retailers and brands refuse to take responsibility for the clothing that has already been produced and ready to ship (in quite a few cases: shipped already). To cancel this, emergency commissions and contracts are used to stop shipments to avoid paying the readily produced orders. Not always management or CEOs are making these decisions, but private equity firms are demanding these cancellations. Look at the left at the overview of Fashion Revolution of all (known) canceled orders so far in Bangladesh.

The image only gives the data of Bangladesh. In addition to Bangladesh, there is of course also a lot of production in China, India, South America and so on. In total, this concerns huge high amounts of garments that are canceled at the moment.

More than 1 million clothing workers are on the street
This massive cancellation of orders by retailers/brands means that factories can no longer sell these goods. This, in most cases means that they can no longer afford the clothing workers. Today, more than 1 million garment workers have lost their jobs as a result of these massive cancellations from above-named brands, among others. These workers are therefore immediately on the street, without an emergency fund. Update: bit by bit productions are re-opening in a 1.5 meters society.

To give you a small estimate: worldwide there are more than 50 million garment workers who work in low-income countries export mainly to North America, Europe, and Japan. Most of these garment workers are women who are the main earners for their families. Very few of these garment workers are paid enough to save, often they receive less than the living wages. Who is going to help these garment workers, now that big brands are canceling their orders en masse? Which emergency fund is there for them? And how to get it to them?

While we’ve been trying to put an end to overconsumption for years, we also know that despite our unexpected production shutdown, the most vulnerable, lowest-paid people in the fashion chain are feeling the worst effects.

We are responsible for the way we spend our money
We as consumers but above all as believers have a responsibility for these people because we are part of the entire clothing chain. We wear garments that were produced by hand. As a clothing consumer and believer you have the opportunity to make a change. We cannot allow great poverty, famine, and anarchy to break out. Be aware that every time you spend your money, you vote for the kind of world you would like to see. So spend it wisely. If you think sustainability is important to you, you can show it right now.

What can you do?
Even though we may be in quarantine, our voice can still be enhanced with the help of social media. Especially if we do it together. Ask your favorite brand #WhoMadeMyClothes and demand that fashion brands also protect workers throughout their chain as well as their own, especially during this unprecedented global health and economic crisis. If you want to know if your favorite brand is acting sustainable: check out their website and look for their sustainability communication. There could be some greenwashing, so be curious and don’t be afraid to ask more. Do you want to apply for your vote?

Sign this petition
Sign this petition now: the Global Relieve Fund for garment Workers Combatting COVID-19 petition now! And then there are sustainable solutions to avoid purchasing new garments through reuse such as swap events, repair your garments, rent your garment (Lena Library Amsterdam/Spinning Closet) or resell your items and purchase vintage and pre-loved items. My favorite online stores: The Next Closet & Rebelle.

Curious for more? Read more articles here.

With love,
Rachel Cannegieter
Founder & Head Rebel

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