Blog: Beth WrightCovid sparks calls for more responsible industry

Beth Wright | 26 May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is seen as triggering a set-back for labour rights in apparel supply chains, with workers left vulnerable as brands and retailers cancelled orders. But it could also lead to re-thinking on the sustainability front, industry executives say.

The Bangladesh government has taken the unusual step of asking the European Parliament to use its influence to try to persuade European clothing brands to be more sensitive about the impact of cancelling orders with Bangladesh-based suppliers during the pandemic.

While H&M, Inditex and Next are among the global brands that have backed an initiative to protect garment workers and factories in Myanmar from the economic impact linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

The moves come as the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) is urging brands and retailers to act responsibly during the pandemic, emphasising cooperation and dialogue are vital during this time of crisis.

In addition, fashion CEOs are being urged to place sustainability at the core of their business models to help rebuild resilient and sustainable businesses post-Covid-19.

While the British Fashion Council (BFC) and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) have joined hands in a call to the global fashion industry to "slow down" and rethink the way in which it operates amid the crisis.

And more than 150 companies including the likes of H&M, Burberry, Inditex, and zipper manufacturer YKK Corp, have backed a UN statement urging governments to align their Covid-19 economic aid and recovery efforts with the latest climate science.

Meanwhile, apparel powerhouse VF Corp believes it is well-positioned to emerge as a winner from the crisis – with an increased consumer focus on the outdoors, health and wellbeing set to boost its activity-based lifestyle brands.

US retail giant JCPenney has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that will see some of its near-850 stores close.

L Brands is to shutter about 250 Victoria's Secret across the US and Canada in 2020 as part of its go-forward plan for the business, which also includes an increased focus on inventory management and sourcing cost reductions.

And department store chain Kohl's is exiting eight "down-trending" womenswear brands as it moves to tighten up its apparel offering, following a 43.5% sales plunge and booking a loss in its most recent quarterly financial update.

In the UK, retail sales volumes fell by a record 18.1% in April – the first full month of lockdown – with the volume of clothing sales half that of the previous month.

Marks & Spencer is to accelerate a number of changes within the business after taking a 75% sales hit on clothing sales during the coronavirus lockdown – with plans to bring in third-party clothing brands, and introduce a faster, 'near-sourcing' supply chain.

And footwear firm Clarks has outlined a new strategy that will see the brand make 900 job cuts globally, and introduce digital enhancements as well as a focus on sustainability and product innovation.

Elsewhere, a sudden spike in orders last week, fuelled by the reopening of retailers in the US, will help Startex reverse plans to close its 1,400-strong apparel factory in Guatemala City, the company's owner Seung Hee Kim says.

Clothing brands that source from Turkey are being urged to pay closer attention to where the cotton used within their products has come from after research has suggested mills are heavily reliant on cotton from Turkmenistan, which is often produced using forced labour.

The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) – the regional free trade pact that replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – is due to enter into force on 1 July 2020. Mikayla DuBreuil and Dr Sheng Lu from the University of Delaware take a deep-dive analysis into the Canadian apparel market and its sourcing patterns

And many apparel brands struggle with overdevelopment, leading to wasted time and effort. For brands looking to overcome this, colour is an important consideration, explains Dustin Bowersox, market manager for textiles and apparel at Datacolor.

Meanwhile in other news, Hong Kong-based manufacturing giant Crystal International Group has collaborated on a fully traceable upcycled denim collection with The R Collective; the US has opened a centre to coordinate the implementation of the USMCA; and Aldo Group has begun proceedings to appoint a liquidator for its Ireland business.

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