The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the cracks in our pre-pandemic normal from supply chains dependent on widespread exploitation like fast fashion, to soaring gold prices globally while artisanal miners are forced to accept a fraction of what's due from black market buyers. There's no hiding the power imbalance, nor the consequences this comes with, between large brands, corporations, and developing economies. This crisis has shown a spotlight on how broken the status quo was and still is.
As Cardi B and Fashion Nova team up for a $1 million marketing promotion, giving out $1000 every hour to fans of the brand on Instagram to incentivize them to shop more, their[who] garment workers who are still working in Los Angeles make as little as $300 per month, while the rest of them aren't getting paid at all. While this giveaway is great PR for Fashion Nova who gets to play to the “do-gooder”, it’s really doing more harm than good.
This contractual abandonment and whitewashing has to stop. The heart of business ethics is[should be] putting people before profits. Is there still room for brands we don't trust? The pandemic is already bringing values around sustainability into sharp focus, intensifying discussions around materialism, over-consumption, and irresponsible business practices. Amidst all the tragedy, this global pause has also given us an incredible opportunity. We have the opportunity to define what we want normal to look like when this is all over.
"The virus, I think, can be seen as a representation of our conscience... it brings to light what is so terribly wrong with society and every day that becomes more clear," said Trend Forecaster Li Edelkoort in McKinsey's State of Fashion report. "It teaches us to slow down and to change our ways."
According to the Business of Fashion and McKinsey, the global fashion industry is projected to contract by up to 30 percent, and the personal luxury goods industry is set to contract by up to 40 percent this year. H&M, a single fashion brand, burned $4.3 billion in unsold merchandise in 2017. Wasteful practices like these aren't reserved for the low end of fashion either, Burberry, LVMH, and other luxury brands also destroy or incinerate their unsold inventory in order to maintain brand exclusivity. Shrinking a market that is wasteful at every level might not be such a bad thing though. Some designers like Giorgio Armani have seen this change as an opportunity to break the cycle of fast fashion, even stating that it's immoral to even continue working like this. He hopes that learning from this experience will bring us back towards authenticity, human connection, and give the fashion industry a chance to fix what's wrong.
Groups like PETA have been quick to jump at this chance. Recently the animal rights group took advantage of the stock market decline, purchasing stock in nearly a dozen fashion companies. Included among their new holdings: Ralph Lauren, Urban Outfitters (which also owns Anthropologie and Free People), Tapestry (the parent company of Coach, Kate Spade, and Stuart Weitzman), Capri Holdings (parent company of Michael Kors and Versace), Target, Kering SA, and more. As PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said, "PETA is heading to the boardroom to pressure retailers from Ralph Lauren to Urban Outfitters not to sell items that animals suffered and died for."
Like PETA, we have the ability to vote with our dollar and cast a vote for what we want our new normal to be. With consumer mindsets already shifting toward more environmentally and socially sustainable options. According to McKinsey’s State of Fashion and Business of Fashion, sustainability is already an important new driver of purchasing behavior. Approximately 32% of consumers in developed countries and 65% in developing countries actively seek out sustainable options. This shift towards transparency is predicted to increase even more now as more people are opting to buy less, but buy better.
Let's cast our vote for a world where we define what's beautiful, where transparency in what we buy is the norm, and where the Earth and the people who make our clothes and mine our gems are treated with respect and paid fairly. If there's something that the last year of accomplishments in the jewelry supply chain has shown me, it's that by working together, we can make it happen.