A lot has changed since my post “The True Cost” A Look Into The Reality of The Fashion Industry.” Now that we are at the beginning of 2021, it’s time to reflect on not only the past year that has been certainly a topic all its own, but it’s also a time to reflect on what humans have done sustainably to improve this world we live in regards to the world of fashion.
A rather significant starting point was when one of the largest retailers for fast fashion, Forever 21, filed for bankruptcy in the fall of 2019. This was a massive shift for businesses in the fast fashion game because at its peak Forever 21 was making $4 billion in sales annually to suddenly shutting down 111 stores of the 800 stores they had owned previously worldwide. In a CNBC article written by Lauren Thomas in December 2019, “It’s the last Christmas for some Forever 21 stores. Here is why the retailer went bankrupt.” She writes that it was pitted against stores like H&M and Zara and that as a brand they are looking to improve the lifetime of their products, “Forever 21 has said it wants to focus on the U.S. and making sure the quality of its clothes is up to par, which could win back shoppers.” H&M and Zara both have evolved and created sustainably conscious clothing within their brand, H&M with the “Conscious” campaign and Zara with the “Join Life” campaign. Both stores originally were marketed using the fast fashion model, but it is clear that they have both reevaluated the current state of the market and are now offering sustainable clothing campaigns for their conscious customers which is certainly a step in the right direction for these big brands.
Then 2020 hit and threw us all for a loop when a worldwide pandemic affected nearly every business one way or another and the fashion industry was certainly no exception. Department stores, malls, and outlets were closing everywhere inevitably leaving people to turn to online shopping to fulfill their retail needs. This allowed fast fashion businesses such as SHEIN to boost their sales and in comparison to Forever 21, SHEIN is popular because it produces mass quantities of the latest fashion for a low-price. Unfortunately, just when we thought we had gotten rid of Forever 21, SHEIN became the next big thing which at its core, is the same business model as Forever 21. This means if we continue to support these brands more toxic waste will be entering into landfills and, more inexpensive clothing for even lesser wages will be produced to fulfill our irrational need to keep up with the latest trends.
However, because of the pandemic, most of us didn’t feel the need to spend so much money on clothing and instead found ourselves inside, in our cozy cotton pajamas without a need to go out and buy that dress we needed for that wedding that was canceled or those expensive leather shoes that we would wear once and then push to the back of the closet. Instead, we kept our money close to us in fear of potentially losing our jobs. So, brands had to adjust, and they started making more loungewear and catering to a world staying inside. Due to this, the environment was positively affected. Though our lives were and still are completely different socio-economically, the world knows how to heal itself when we as a human race take a step back. There was a significant improvement in air and water quality. The ecosystem was able to recover when we weren’t forcing our lifestyle on nature’s agenda.
As big businesses slowly start to open up and malls start letting in the masses this year, I hope we can remember how we lived without them for a while. I hope that we don’t feel the need to constantly be in style when we know we can look just as good in sustainably sourced cotton and other natural fibers as we search for comfort in uncertain times. I wonder what the future of fast fashion will look like in a post-pandemic world. I know we will probably shift to an even more vast online shopping experience as the gross reality of department store dressing rooms came to all of our attention in 2020, more online stores will probably try to find innovative ways to make the online shopping platform more personalized. Hopefully, stores abandon dressing rooms forever and start to replace them with technologically advanced interactive mirrors as digital retail experiences to see how clothes will fit on you without putting the clothes on yourself.
Regardless, the world will be different as it will always be changing and evolving. I know personally, I will miss the charm of going to my favorite thrift stores and finding something rare. Perhaps I won’t stop going altogether, but instead, limit my time there and be a bit more aware and safer when thrifting. In place of going out and shopping, I have recently been putting much more of my energies into apps offering the thrift store experience such as Poshmark and DePop. In doing so, I was able to support people from all over the country in 2020. By purchasing their used goods, they helped me by buying mine. It is such a beneficial way to shop and you never know what you will find. I encourage anyone who loves thrift shopping as much as me to look towards joining these apps because it’s good for the environment and, there is such a community aspect to it. It’s so exciting to find someone selling clothing with the same style as you and you can support each other by sharing their items and often they will return the favor, further promoting your garments. It really is such a positive experience and so much fun.
So, in 2021 I hope, as a society, we can all focus on shopping more sustainably and being kinder to one another. No matter what this year brings us, I wish everyone a happy new year and I hope everyone and their families stay safe and healthy.