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The Impact of COVID-19 on Sustainable Fashion Innovation

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the fashion industry had begun to make changes, many of which have been accelerated by the crisis.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Sustainable Fashion Innovation

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the fashion industry had begun to make changes, many of which have been accelerated by the crisis. Innovation, particularly in challenging times, has proven its relevance time and again to reinvigorate business as usual to achieve organisational objectives, and brands, manufacturers and retailers that are looking to innovation at this time, are better prepared to emerge stronger from the crisis. In a newly released report ‘The State of Circular Innovation in the Indian Fashion and Textile Industries’, Fashion for Good highlights some of the challenges in the region as well as the opportunities for innovation and investment. Fashion for Good also addresses these challenges through their programmes to accelerate and scale these technologies as well as through collaborative initiatives with key players in the industry.  

Promising Areas for Innovation in COVID-19 Times

The crisis has brought the industry, and the structure of the fashion supply chain in particular, into sharp focus, highlighting three key areas of innovation opportunities in the fashion value chain: Supply Chain Transformation, Stock Management and Digital Acceleration. Though these areas have long been on the industry’s radar, given the devastating impact of the crisis and the immediate need for alternative solutions, they have received tremendous attention. 

With the significant disruption to the demand and supply chain across the fashion ecosystem, there has never been a more urgent need for transformation towards sourcing practices that are more demand-driven and more sustainable on both the social and environmental fronts. The current situation has called for on-demand and micro-factory solutions that more closely match demand and supply and can easily ramp up production as and when needed, using manufacturing processes which can help reduce waste throughout the supply chain and provide localised logistic solutions. Innovation in the field of predictive manufacturing, sorting and recycling should help to ensure resources are used more efficiently and effectively, ensuring a robust, sustainable business model for the future. Producing less with more recycled content and on a more predictive/ just-in-time manner potentially places brands in a better financial position and prepares them should they encounter another crisis in times to come.

As sales decline with many stores having to shut down, vast volumes of unsold and unshipped garments are now a costly resource. The crisis presents brands with the opportunity to re-examine the importance and utilisation of resources, to diversify their customer base and find innovative means to sell, reuse or rent excess stock. Transparency and traceability solutions also come into play to identify potential issues and solutions, to make informed, data driven decisions to reduce excess stock. Transparency solutions not only help to resolve short-term issues resulting from the crisis, such as the build-up of excess stock, but they also provide useful tools for identifying risks and mitigation strategies for the future. 

In the meantime, some of the shifts we are witnessing in the fashion industry, such as the digital step change, are mostly an acceleration of the inevitable — shifts that were likely to have happened further down the line had the pandemic not prioritised their urgency now.

As the crisis has prevented physical contact within and between every stage in the fashion supply chain — and will likely still pose limitations on manual processes, physical meetups and travelling for some time to come — the fashion industry is evaluating options to shift into the digital space along the entire value chain.

When speaking of digitisation, we are mostly referring to replacing current manual and physical practices with more efficient and sustainable digital technologies, such as innovations in digital design processes, digital means of merchandising, planning and selling garments, virtual fashion as well as innovations in consumer engagement, such as fitting solutions, online and virtual selling to name a few. 

The crisis demands an acceleration of sustainable initiatives to remain competitive. The pressing issues currently faced across the industry have prioritised, elevated and accelerated the need for innovation to meet the challenges ahead and for the industry to emerge stronger from this crisis. As an industry, we have persevered through challenging times, have shown our resilience, ingenuity and creativity to emerge all the better. We have numerous allies and champions across the industry whose steadfast commitment to sustainability and innovation is needed to ensure they remain a priority moving forward.

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