The pandemic has made time for sustainable fashion
Local sustainable business owners comment on the influence of COVID-19 on the sustainable fashion industry
The pandemic has made many people more aware of social disparities and world issues. As people have slowed down, spent more time on social media and realigned their priorities, it’s become nearly impossible to ignore this wave of social movements. One of the movements that have drawn consumers’ attention is the rise of sustainable fashion brands.
Sustainable fashion encompasses secondhand or upcycled clothing, ethically-made clothing where all workers are paid a living wage and clothing made from natural, renewable or locally-produced materials. The pandemic has highlighted that brands that do not consider these factors are not sustainable.
The fashion industry used to produce about 150 billion garments per year. But when COVID-19 hit, it changed how often people shopped for clothes. Spending on clothing has decreased, with many people now facing financial difficulties and others spending the day in pyjamas. Many no longer have the desire to, nor see the necessity in, constantly purchasing new clothing.
The fashion industry used to produce about 150 billion garments per year. But when COVID-19 hit, it changed how often people shopped for clothes. Spending on clothing has decreased, with many people now facing financial difficulties and others spending the day in pyjamas.
“I think when everything slowed down and COVID first hit, people had time to stop and think and to get out of their everyday rushing from here to there. We just had so much time to do nothing that a lot of people cleaned out their closets . . . It just gave everyone a second to develop a new perspective and a new relationship with their clothing,” explained Priya Mohan, founder and owner of Sari Knot Sari, a sustainable fashion brand in Hamilton.
As consumers’ relationship with their clothing has changed, the pandemic also revealed major issues within the fashion industry. Consumers have been able to observe how a decrease in clothing demand translates into a reduction of the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. At the same time, garment workers have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Especially as stores closed and some large brands refused to pay their manufacturers, many workers were laid off without adequate severance payments.
Awareness of these issues within the fashion industry has led some shoppers to seek more sustainable alternatives. Unfortunately, sustainable businesses were also hit hard by COVID-19. With the pause on bring-your-own-containers initiatives at many grocery stores, coffee shops and other businesses, many had no choice but to buy products in plastic packaging or accept plastic bags instead of reusable ones. Additionally, a great deal of personal protective equipment is only single-use or wrapped in plastic packaging to be sterile.
Sustainable businesses had to alter their business models in order to adapt and remain compliant with pandemic protocols. The Pale Blue Dot, a general store for sustainable living, used to host regular clothing swaps, but these have been interrupted by the pandemic. The pandemic also negatively affected the supply chains of local sustainable businesses, especially as suppliers closed offices and negotiated continuing production while complying with social distancing standards.
However, Morgan MacDonald, who owns slow fashion clothing line Mettamade, doesn’t see this slowdown as an entirely bad thing.
“[T]he supply chain is still to this day delayed. Things are taking much longer than they were pre-COVID. And I think it goes to show that this slow fashion model is . . . almost non-negotiable at this point . . . [I]t means that people can be more intentional with their shopping . . . They can take more time to research what they want to purchase and where it's coming from. I think it's a good thing. I think it’s making people realize clothing is not disposable and we don't need to be consuming it as quickly as we were told that we should have been until now,” said MacDonald.
This increasing intention around shopping during the pandemic has been paired with a push to shop locally and sustainably. More than ever, people are concerned with combatting the climate crisis. However, as individuals, this issue can often seem overwhelming and the impact of our own actions too small. It’s important to know that small actions like shopping at local businesses or choosing sustainable fashion do matter, if only in that they get people thinking.
“What I’d really like people to come away with — even if they don't buy anything — is just to have stopped and thought about “Hey, where does my clothing come from? Have I ever thought about pollution in waterways when picking my clothing?” . . . So I think even if I just get people thinking about that, it's sometimes just the seed that gets planted that you know, may or may not bloom into a greater consciousness of the choices that we make around fashion,” said Mohan.
“What I’d really like people to come away with — even if they don't buy anything — is just to have stopped and thought about “Hey, where does my clothing come from?""
For many consumers, especially students, the price of sustainable fashion has always been a barrier. However, people are beginning to realize that buying less and buying secondhand is also a way to shop sustainably.
“For me, I start with secondhand because a lot of the ethically made clothing [that] we all aspire to — locally made, Canadian-made, natural fibers — it's not always accessible for everybody. Especially if you want to slowly convert your wardrobe towards that, right? So for me, I have found this love affair with buying secondhand for over 10 years. Because it’s just so affordable, and it makes so much sense: these pieces of clothing are in perfect condition so why not extend the wear of them?” said Mary Luciani, owner of The Pale Blue Dot.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of working within one’s means and focusing on doing the best you can at the present time, rather than the best you could do in an ideal world. It’s important to remember that the world doesn’t need a few people living sustainably perfectly, but rather it needs everyone to do their best.
“It’s about balance. That's what I've learned from everything. Living a more mindful lifestyle you'll drive yourself insane if you try to find the perfect solution. So I would say just do your best, within your means,” said Luciani.