The coronavirus pandemic is here to stay for the long haul. Once businesses are over the immediate shock, thoughts must turn to how operations can continue effectively and safely whilst the virus is also still a key consideration. This is likely to lead to massive changes in ways of working, including increasing online ways to interact as well as changes to factory operations. But while the negative impacts of this situation are many, will these alterations actually drive positive sustainability changes?
Global supply chains can not continue as before
Before the impact of the coronavirus hit, the demand for fast fashion was as high as ever from consumers – despite significant concerns being raised about sustainability, impacts on workers and environmental damage. This demand ensured fashion manufacturers ran tightly packed factories and production lines. For garment workers, these normal fashion demands mean working in factories with close working, in super close proximity with other workers, with minimal (if any) potential protection from the risks of Covid-19.
The very nature of global supply chains also meant a huge amount of global travel was undertaken between manufacturers, fashion brands and retailers. This also included consultants and auditors for compliance; including high amounts of travel for training, collaboration and supply chain compliance visits.
The coronavirus has forced change across industry
Of course, none of this is now possible. Enforced shut downs, massive impacts on supply, labour shortages, enforced social distancing and demand reductions from consumers mean that the textile industry is facing a difficult, uncertain future. Global travel is out, and the expectation of social distancing measures for at least the next few months mean operations as usual just can’t happen.
One major issue is compliance – how can the industry ensure it meets compliance measures without physical training or visits? It’s an important issue for continuing momentum in sustainability across the supply chain.
Innovation in the fashion industry is essential
As with many sectors, the fashion industry will have to adjust and plan for a changed way of working. Coronavirus isn’t going anywhere, but if fashion brands want to continue operations, significant changes to working will have to be made. The great news is that there are innovative solutions to the impacts of coronavirus. And it’s this innovation that will be essential for the fashion industry to continue, as well as positively benefit sustainability with direct action.
This includes online platforms for training, compliance and measurement. Natific is working to carry out colour measurement virtually, while Bomler has launched an online platform to enable supply chain transparency compliance to continue effectively. Textile Consult is developing essential training modules online – ensuring essential training across the industry will continue even during impacts of Covid19. All of this is extremely positive – and gives hope for continuing a dynamic, effective response in the post-coronavirus world.
Will these changes positively influence future working?
The fashion industry has needed to change for a long time. Sustainability concerns, as well as environmental damage, consumer demand and poorly controlled supply chains have left their mark on the planet.
It’s true that the coronavirus pandemic is a challenge unlike others. But solutions to the problems managing Covid19 may also help improve sustainability. Potential benefits include:
- Reduction in global travel will reduce carbon footprints and global emissions
- If customer demand is permanently reduced, will this help finally turn the tide on wasteful fast fashion?
- Will reduced demand for travel and better opportunities for a more sustainable business model help create more financially sustainable busineses?
- Moving to online training, compliance and supply chain audits are exciting developments. This may help reduce any barriers that previously existed to manage supply chains better – making access to compliance and support easier and more effective
- Will this force suppliers and manufacturers to really achieve a closed loop supply?
One thing is for certain – in a post-Covid19 world, the fashion industry can not return to normal. Will all stakeholders in the supply chain embrace this as an opportunity for real, sustainable change?
Textile Consult is a management and training consultancy operating worldwide. We’re currently working with clients to find the best sustainable solutions in the textile industry. Contact us to find out how we can advise your business on sustainable textile solutions.