How Prepared was the Fashion Industry for COVID-19?

Short answer: blindsided.

Fashion has one of the most fragmented and geographically separated supply chains. Cotton fibers for a T-shirt could be grown in the United States, processed in Bangladesh, treated and dyed in India and then shipped to market in the U.K. We owe this supply chain thanks for our affordable and seemingly endless apparel choices. However as recent research2 has investigated, this model comes with looming environmental and human health consequences.

How prepared was the industry for a global catastrophe? A survey conducted by Ernst & Young in 2019 found just 20%1 of executives held confidence in their company’s ability to respond to a ‘large adverse risk’. Particularly for the fashion industry’s supply chain, this failure in foresight has hit companies hard. Due to COVID-19, 94% of companies1 in the Fortune 1000 experienced supply chain disruptions. 

These facts harp to a lack of planning for the future. Risk management, resiliency and flexibility are aspects of a successful business that will only become more important. To this end, digitization, dematerialization and big data analytics are tools that fashion companies can employ to be more resource efficient, communicate with suppliers and consumers, as well as maintain flexible operations.

Innovative tools that are available today could change the nature of consumption of resources within the fashion industry. With more adverse events on the horizon, the industry (and planet) needs all the solutions and help it can muster. Murphy’s law advises us on this resiliency. The atmosphere around the industry can seem hopeless at times, but innovation and brilliance are staples of human progress. 

“The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, Thus far and no farther.” – Beethoven

How would you build a more resilient, sustainable industry?


1 McMaster, May et al. “Risk Management: Rethinking Fashion Supply Chain Management For Multinational Corporations In Light Of The COVID-19 Outbreak”. Journal Of Risk And Financial Management, vol 13, no. 8, 2020, p. 173. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/jrfm13080173.

2 Niinimäki, Kirsi et al. “The Environmental Price Of Fast Fashion”. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, vol 1, no. 4, 2020, pp. 189-200. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1038/s43017-020-0039-9.

Further reading:

Antomarioni S., Bevilacqua M., Ciarapica F.E., Marcucci G. (2019) Resilience in the Fashion Industry Supply Chain: State of the Art Literature Review. In: Rinaldi R., Bandinelli R. (eds) Business Models and ICT Technologies for the Fashion Supply Chain. IT4Fashion 2017. Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering, vol 525. Springer, Cham.

Cleff T., van Driel G., Mildner LM., Walter N. (2018) Corporate Social Responsibility in the Fashion Industry: How Eco-Innovations Can Lead to a (More) Sustainable Business Model in the Fashion Industry. In: Horbach J., Reif C. (eds) New Developments in Eco-Innovation Research. Sustainability and Innovation. Springer, Cham.

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