Could This Pandemic Be Sustainability’s Big Break?

A month ago we were living in a different world, so beautifully and rightfully called the ‘beforetime’. A time where one could walk down the street multiple times a day without it feeling like you were breaking federal law. Where every Friday night pubs around the country were filled with hardworking citizens blowing off steam from the workweek (in an actual office, dare we say). Where going to the gym was still as normal as ever. And where there was plenty of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and bananas to go around (we see you banana bread chefs). Three weeks later and, boom, we have a full-fledged pandemic on our hands.  And here we are, optimistic, yet frustrated by the uncertainty of it all. We're all at home, anxious and looking forward to waking up from this nightmare. We don't, however, want to wake up to normal, because the old normal was broken.

In unprecedented times like these, it is expected that the economy will take a big hit. All bars and restaurants are shut, cinemas have closed their doors, people are getting laid off (unemployment is now rising at the fastest rate in living memory, and the UK could soon have more than 6 million people unemployed, and absolutely nobody is considering buying a house.

Unsurprisingly, the fashion industry has also taken a massive hit. According to MSCI Europe Textiles, the Apparel & Luxury Goods Index has fallen by 23%, which is equivalent to about 152 billion dollars (!) in market value. Additionally, the Boston Consulting Group predicted there will be a 20-25% decrease in sales of luxury fashion items in 2020.

A silver lining, for anyone with eco-anxiety like us, is that lockdown is having a profoundly positive impact on the environment. Carbon monoxide levels in New York from cars has been reduced by nearly 50% with last year. China has experienced a 25% drop in CO2 emissions. And in even more shocking statistics from Marshall Burke, a scientist from Stanford University, the reduction in pollution levels in China ‘likely has saved the lives of 4.000 kids under the age of five and 73.000 adults over 70’, though he also admits: ‘It seems clearly incorrect and foolhardy to conclude that pandemics are good for health’. But there is one thing we can all agree on: the very obvious and real effects of being on lock-down, consuming less and slowing down as a society has had on the environment. This should serve as a motivator for change as we begin to see the potential of an alternative future, but coronavirus is also delaying progressive attitudes towards sustainability.

On one hand, sustainability does not seem like a personal priority right now. Research shows it is temporarily declining in importance as people prioritise their health. Trying their hardest not to catch the virus and not infect any of their loved ones. The perfect example of sustainability taking a step back is the fact that Starbucks has forbidden anyone to come in with a reusable cup to try and stop transmissions. So even though we are seeing the benefits of lockdown on the environment, it seems that in the consumption scope, the short-term effects will actually be counter-effective. 

On the other (more encouraging) hand, we are all starting to understand more about living locally. Currently, I am riding out the Covid-Storm at my parents’ house in the countryside. We are making a real effort to not only buy our groceries at the local supermarket but to also support farmers around our area. At one farm we buy eggs, the other is where we purchase fresh veggies, and another to get our strawberries. We feel a true responsibility to help small and local businesses. And it’s not just us. We hear it from many people around us that they are starting to realise that that little coffee shop around the corner will not survive the pandemic if not for people helping them out.

Simultaneously, this lockdown has radically altered and slowed down our spending behaviour. We are finding this time to be a fantastic moment of self-reflection, to clarify our personal values and especially reconsider our relationship with fashion and excess "stuff". We're realising how many of our purchases were cheap thrills, and an unnecessary fast fix of endorphins.

And that brings me to my last point. Should we even still be shopping right now? According to Vanessa Friedmand from the New York Times ‘shopping during a pandemic seems wrong. It’s so self-indulgent. So unnecessary’ but she also argues that it will help us save the economy. If we all stop spending right now, we are helping our ourselves into a full-fledged recession. Which, obviously is counterproductive. And then that brings me to my next question, if we do keep shopping, do we really want to spend money on more clothes? After so many of us will have already gone through our closet at least four times, Marie Kondo style, out of pure boredom. I’m not so sure. But as Friedman put so beautifully, ’Sometimes a fleece is only a fleece. And sometimes it can be a creative rescue line, and a bet on the future’. So my answer to the question of whether we should be shopping right now or not? Bet on the future of small, local and sustainable brands.

A multi-faceted answer for complex times. One thing is for sure, we're hoping for a new normal, a more mindful fashion landscape and one that is more carefully considered. A new normal where the slowdown of consumption allows the planet to breathe and heal. Therefore, we're proposing a new wardrobe of the future: buying good, long-lasting basics or secondhand and renting new trends and styles if and when you need. Join us, jump in! Come along for the ride to a greener future.


Written by: Danique van Leeuwenstijn and Georgie Hyatt