Blog: Beth WrightCovid-19 is fashion's sustainability catalyst

Beth Wright | 14 September 2020

Though sustainability and ethics fell under the radar at the start of the Covid-19 crisis as many retailers struggled to survive, more enlightened players realised it was an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in an area that would soon return to the top of consumers' agendas. Those leading the way will be able to reach a new, more sustainability-conscious audience, as well as helping to set standards for the sector.

Researchers say they have developed a simple model for buyers to predict with more than 80% accuracy when an order is likely to be sent to an unapproved factory.

A first-of-its-kind consortium project has launched to explore disruptive solutions in chemical recycling, with the goal of creating new fibres and garments from used clothing and ultimately drive industry-wide adoption.

A new report has argued there is a "huge untapped potential of manufacturers' innovative capacity" that retailers need to realise in order to accelerate the sector's circular transformation.

The risk of microparticles shedding from synthetically produced fibres has been well-documented – but new research has now detected indigo denim microfibres polluting the Arctic wilderness.

Elsewhere, the Trump Administration is mulling a ban on all cotton from Xinjiang.

US apparel imports rose month-on-month in July as retailers continued to reopen stores and resume business following closures imposed to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Yet year-on-year the data paints a very different picture, with shipment volumes overall down by more than one-fifth – including a 35% drop for largest supplier China – while Bangladesh and Vietnam stand their ground. 

Trading internationally can play a core role for textiles and clothing businesses as they plan for the months ahead and develop or refine Covid recovery strategies.

In retail, JCPenney has struck a deal with Brookfield Property Group and Simon Property Group to buy the US retail giant out of bankruptcy, acquiring substantially all of its retail and operating assets for US$1.75bn.

Sportswear retailer Under Armour is to cut around 600 corporate jobs as it extends a restructuring plan it laid out in April.

And J.Crew Group has emerged from Chapter 11 with private equity firm Anchorage Capital as its new majority owner.

In the UK, fashion retailer New Look is calling on its landlords to back its restructuring plans after failing to attract a buyer.

While Primark is headed for full year sales of GBP2bn (US$2.63bn) and says it expects to write down less inventory thanks to strong summer trading.

Meanwhile, with less than four months until the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, fashion businesses need to prepare. Here are some of the key points businesses should be thinking about as the deadline looms.

Indian apparel exporters continue to face severe labour shortages, limiting the orders they can accept and undermining the quality of their work – even though the country's five months-long Covid-19 related lockdown has largely been lifted.

In neighbouring Pakistan, the clothing and textile sector is seeking government support to help the industry emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, which it says has inflicted punishing harm on manufacturers.

The South African clothing and textile sector is also looking for government action under a clothing, textiles, footwear and leather industry master plan unveiled in July.

In other news, Gap Inc is to release a new resource to help sourcing and design teams meet their sustainability goals; UK online clothing sales growth was positive for a second consecutive month in August; and SupplyCompass has launched a new library of deadstock fabric options.

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