What if we made less and shared more?
Retail footfall has dropped 83.2% during the first 100 days of lockdown – the sharpest ever decline in recorded history. Fashion and footwear are due to be hit worst, with a forecast decline of £14 billion in the UK*. Online retailers are faring better. But with manufacturing suppliers equally affected, exports restricted and fashion week travel paused, the industry is facing change like never before.
The big question is, which way will the change go? We see two possible routes: burn deadstock, or make less and share more
Fashion’s dirty secret
In 2018, the British fashion brand Burberry burnt £28.6million of unsold luxury items to prevent counterfeiters obtaining the goods*. H&M, Nike and Urban Outfitters were also reported to be burning ‘deadstock’ – a measure employed by many brands to prevent counterfeiters copying their designs and ultimately damaging the brand’s reputation. Those headlines exposed a dirty secret in fashion that until that point, had been kept under wraps*.
The Patagonia outdoor clothing company embodies the opposite approach. Environmental activism has been part of its DNA since the big wall climber Yvon Chouinard founded the company in 1973. Since day one, it’s given away 1% of all profits to saving the planet. And in 2016, it upped its own game by giving away all of black Friday’s profits to environmental causes. That’s over $10 million a year (approximately 5% of annual profits).
‘Patagonia is in business to save our home planet’ is the company’s brand purpose, and it’s constantly reflected in its quest for design and materials of the utmost provenance and sustainability*. Patagonia rejects fast fashion, takes responsibility for its entire supply chain and has pioneered recovering, remaking and recycling materials. And in 2017, it sued both the United States Government and President Donald Trump for breaking environmental constitutions.
Making clothes requires huge amounts of water
Another inspiring example is By Rotation. Founded in 2019 by Eshita Kabra, it’s the UK’s first peer-to-peer fashion rental app, offering mid- to high-end luxury clothes and accessories for rent. The brand’s incentive is simple. Every year, 150 billion garments are produced globally – the equivalent of about 20 items per person on the planet*. Surprisingly, it takes approximately 2,700 litre of water to produce one cotton T-shirt. That’s 2.5 years of drinking water for one person. Imagine how saving that water could transform the growing global population*?
By Rotation’s model follows Zipcar’s game-changing approach to vehicle sharing – hiring cars only when you need them. Or the peer-to-peer SME lending business Funding Circle, which has more than 100k everyday investors in 81k small businesses.
Could we choose to rent not buy?
Things are going to have to change. The Bank of England predicts that consumer spending and economic output for 2020 could suffer its biggest hit in over 300 years, And until we have a suitable pandemic vaccine or suppressant, the population will be travelling less. So we’ll be bound to our local environments and seasons.
Then add into the mix that manufacturers might not be able to fulfill orders, leaving retailers with mountains of deadstock. Will brands return to the burn? Or is there a possibility that we could all stop buying things new, forcing the fashion brands to adapt? Could we follow By Rotation’s example, and scale up fashion rental so users can borrow items they need to suit the season and environment? And manufacturers no longer produce new garments, but profit from sharing them?
This could be our chance to redesign how humans clothe themselves. It might sound utopian, and beyond the realms of possibility. But so did so many other things before the pandemic.