Op-ed on COVID & fashion by Jasmien: That one push. That one glimmer of hope.

Opinion piece on COVID, fashion & sustainability for Sarah Vandoorne, Ontketing.

June 12, 2020

Words. They are quickly written and even more quickly said. Sometimes we attach too little importance to them; or in my case too much. If you ask me about the current crisis, what I think about it and what I think the future will look like, I am afraid to speak my mind. Quite frankly: putting them on paper in black and white terrifies me.

When you asked me to “briefly answer these three questions for your series”-which to me is a best case, worst case and most realistic scenario for the fashion industry after corona-you no doubt had no idea what war you were unleashing in my head. Of course, like everyone else, I pause to reflect on this alienating situation and reflect on the future. But writing down my ideas in a simple ‘question and answer formula’ is not the same as musing about them with my husband during the daily aperitif. Because let’s be honest: nobody knows what the future will bring.

Words. They play an important role in this crisis. We use them to comfort each other from a distance or to congratulate on paper. I listened in amazement to the new words that emerged; each one hauntingly beautiful and just hauntingly at the same time in their layering. ‘Huidhonger’, ‘whatsapperitief’, ‘balconversatie’, ‘toogviroloog’. They illustrate what we want to and can’t do, what we creatively bridge and how we yearn for the truths and certainties we thought we had before.

Words. The ones you use the most or that are most important to you depend on where you were born, how (and if) you make money, who your parents are, whether you are a parent yourself, and whether your health allows you to lie awake over anything else.

I haven’t done much complaining in the past few weeks. There’s a simple reason for that. The words ‘poverty’, ‘illness’, ‘fear’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘cold’, ‘hunger’ or ‘survival’ do not dominate my daily life.

The words that do dominate here are ‘slowing down’ and ‘reflection’. These words often surface in my ‘bubble’ – in conversations with colleagues, friends and family, or in the articles, webinars and podcasts that come to me daily. And if I do try to formulate an answer to your question “How I hope the fashion industry can change after Corona?”, I hope these 3 words are the base for it.

We have known for some time that the fashion system faces great challenges. That was true even before Corona. The pace at which the industry must run is unsustainable; not ‘sustainable’ in the long run. We saw much earlier that there are ever greater and pernicious challenges surfacing throughout the chain. More and more designers are undergoing creative crises due to the constant pressure of the ever-shortening seasons. The system of mass production (and consumption) is depleting our resources and mercilessly testing the limits of our planet. We also have known for a long time that this same system takes its toll on the producing countries, where textile workers are underpaid and produce under inhumane conditions clothes that we (often without thinking about it) degrade to rags when a new color or print is ‘in fashion’.

It is very painful to see that a lot of fashion companies are now in an extremely difficult position and there are a lot of bankruptcies looming. I don’t want to make light of that: my heart bleeds when I think of the people behind the brands who have put heart and soul into their own business. But I cherish hope that the ‘shit’ that is now heading our way, can be the manure to finally grow towards a better fashion system. Designers and companies called earlier to seize this moment to review the fashion calendar and reboot the system in a different way. With more de-stressing. With perhaps a little less, and somewhat slower, but a little better and with the space to breathe. With the space to market creations that respect boundaries of the planet and the people on it.

‘I cherish the hope that the “shit” that is coming at us now can be the manure to finally grow towards a better fashion system.’

So best case scenario, Corona is now the catalyst that was needed to redefine the industry. Worst case scenario, we miss that opportunity and choose to remain stagnant and literally go further backwards. If we do not succeed in making a real effort now.