Initially, the uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown restrictions caused a pause in thinking in many areas of the consumer society. This is especially true of the British fast fashion custom, which has already been sent 11,000 items of clothing go to landfills every week. Being at home is, in some ways, an opportunity to slow down consumption and break the cycle of fast mode. But does it last?
Six months after the crisis, the status of the fashion industry is very complex, but overall clothing sales have declined. During the nationwide lockdown in the spring, in-store sales – which have been so far the most popular way to buy clothes – down nearly 70 percent. Online clothing sales rose in April to 22 percent above 2016 levels, but in an economy where consumers have little choice but to shop online, this was lower than expected. Meanwhile, sales of household goods rose 187 percent in 2016.
Online sales increased rapidly during the lockdown – except for clothes
Internet sales values at current prices are seasonally adjusted
Even the fast-growing fashion giants have had mixed years. In its annual report, released on October 14, ASOS reported a 329 percent increase in profit before tax, driven by a 19.3 percent increase in sales in the UK, US and EU. At the same time, however, the company’s gross margins fell, as did its share price, with the cost of selling clothing rising and the customer’s economic outlook uncertain. Nick Beighton, the company’s CEO, warns on the company’s first line annual review that “the lives of our customers in their 20s are unlikely to return to normal for some time”.
Boohoo – who owns Pretty Little Thing, Nasty Gal, Misspap, Karen Millen and Coast – continued to expand when it bought the remains of Oasis and Warehouse for just £ 5.25 million in June. But it’s a hit Sunday Times report about conditions and wages at a factory that produces clothing for his brand in Leicester, which leads to investigations by the National Crime Agency. The following month, that company reported to the Health and Safety Executive when it is suspected that factories were illegally kept open during the lockdown. This week, PwC announced that it does not plan to continue as a group auditor, while other companies do reportedly decreased to take over the company because of reputation issues.
Retail in general appears to be experiencing a “V-shaped” recovery, but the fashion industry is taking longer to bounce back. Is it an economic issue, or has the loose fast fashion ethic finally caught on in the sector?
Clothing continues to lag behind the retail recovery
Sales volumes, seasonally adjusted, United Kingdom, February to August 2020
Kate Nightingale, a consumer psychologist, said the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly increased the “salience of death” – the awareness that we are dying – of consumers. When this happens, he explained, we tend to behave in one of two ways. Either we become more moral and pro-social, help others and increase our sense of integrity, or we become more impulsive.
These two effects are not always exclusive. During pandemics, they seem to come in waves: once we feel like we’ve been acting morally for a while, we may experience a period of impulsiveness. Impulsive buying is rewarded in the brain with dopamine attacks, and is often associated with dealing with extreme emotions. This is what we mean by “retail therapy,” says Nightingale.
The economic impact of Covid-19 will also have an impact on consumer behavior. “In an economic crisis, people behave a little more rationally: they focus on quality, price, availability, security and safety,” said Nightingale. “We see these conflicting motivations: on the one hand, I really want to think long term, but I can’t, because I don’t know if I will stay. We are constantly experiencing this cognitive dissonance. ”
Impulsivity is often driven by our sense of control, explains Nightingale. Not everyone can be an impulsive waster – you need a “perfect storm” of psychological and environmental factors – but if you are prone to these behaviors, a loss of fundamental control during a pandemic (both from “death salience” and practical restrictions) may lead to more impulsivity. It is these emotions that make people make reckless purchases, as in fast fashion, and it’s an impetus that isn’t necessarily quenched by the fact that, without purpose, there is little practical need for new clothes.
The drive to buy anything – anything – is reflected both in the significant spike in online shopping and in the fast fashion industry itself. The ASOS annual report observes that while in April “demand for certain types of products, especially events and formal wear, remained limited, we saw strong growth in casual wear and other lockdown-related products”. The report also demonstrates a dedication to marketing products that consumers know they don’t need: one of the factors that increased company costs this year was “the additional investment that customers face to stimulate demand for ‘out’ products”.
The demand for casual wear and accessories pandemic, from “-Name stays inside“T-shirts for Hand sanitizer for £ 28, will never be enough to return the fashion industry to its pre-pandemic values. This may be positive for the environment, but the economic uncertainty for fast fashion brands is impacting humans too. The sharp decline in EU clothing imports from January to June 2020 (a 25 percent drop from the previous year, a more significant drop in imports than in other industries) hit suppliers in the Asia Pacific region. In the fashion industry, payments to suppliers – factories, and the people who work in them – are often done well after orders are placed and filled. In late March, Bloomberg reported that Western buyers – including Primark, a fast fashion shop that didn’t translate to the online marketplace – had canceled an estimated $ 1.5 billion worth of garment orders from Bangladesh, impacting more than 1,000 Bangladeshi factories and 1.2 million workers. .
A report published in September by the International Labor Organization stated that about one in two garment workers in the Asia Pacific region live in countries that have closed all but “essential” workplaces. There is no company safety blanket for those unable to work because of Covid-19’s actions, and many are already working in exploitative conditions. This is also the case in Britain, where more than 10,000 textile workers are estimated to work at less than half the national minimum wage.
Fast fashion is a complex industry with wide ripple effects. After a sharp decline, the latest data shows that online clothing sales have increased once again: in August they were up 97 percent in 2016 (although this still lags behind other retail sectors). While this suggests greater economic certainty and job stability for suppliers, it also suggests a consumer mindset turning to unsustainable habits.
The question may not be, then, whether fast fashion will survive but whether, if our knowledge of its economic and ethical failures, major changes to our lifestyles and even our own sense of death doesn’t stop us from buying more things, anything it will.