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The COVID-19 Aftermath: How The Fashion Industry Will Never Be the Same

We all know the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly shifted life as we knew it, affecting our daily routines, our professional and academic programs, our social lives, and even the ways we choose to dress. Sure, we might throw on a pair of our fave sweats for a virtual college class (because we all know there’s no way we’ll turn on the camera unless it’s a matter of life and death), or a fancy office blazer for those dreaded work Zoom meetings. With malls closed and social distancing being the new normal for the foreseeable future, it’s no surprise that our shopping routines have changed as well. 

While many have opted to shop for clothes online, others have decided to back out entirely until the global health crisis settles down. These decisions may seem trivial in the short run, but they’re quite impactful when we consider the fashion industry in the grand scheme of things.

By choosing to support—or abstain from doing so, thereof—any clothing line or brand, we are indirectly affecting the lives of the designers, sewists, factory workers, and retail staff whose lives depend on the sales of the garments they work so hard to create. Matters are made worse when the current global health crisis is added to the mix, making their future even more uncertain. While some thrive with their online businesses, others suffer the closing of their workspaces and postponing of major international fashion events. Be it for better or for worse, the future of fashion is in for some serious changes. Let’s check out how.


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Retail and Supply Chain

The ready-to-wear fashion industry’s primary source of income is through retail, aka the manufacturing and sale of mass-produced clothing items that are released according to seasonal spans or the (hard-to-keep-up-with and often stressful) timing of fast fashion turnover. However, the consumer demand for retail fashion has decreased significantly after the COVID-19 outbreak. Yes, e-commerce has proven to be a blessing during these troubling times, but most people have other priorities than, say, purchasing a sequined cocktail dress from Zara, or a new pair of Levi’s flared denim. The result? Less consumer demand, which inevitably entails fewer profits. Add the highly-contagious coronavirus and the uncertainty for the general industry’s future, and you got yourself a perfect storm for unemployment.

 IndustriALL, a global initiative dedicated to fighting for social justice and human rights for workers within the manufacturing industry, states that “Social distancing measures taken in countries currently most affected by COVID-19 are driving wholesale closure of thousands of garment factories with millions of workers being laid off without a social safety net.” This means that millions within the fashion industry are now jobless and left to fend for themselves without the health and financial benefits provided by their jobs. Although the effects of the pandemic have affected fashion workers all around the world, it is worth mentioning that the ones bearing the most hardships are laborers from already impoverished countries, such as China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, to name a few. 

    The fashion supply chain workers are also experiencing some drastic changes. Because brands usually pay their materials suppliers weeks after the deliveries are made, and since the coronavirus has caused major fashion industry giants to cancel orders and thus stop payments, there is a significant increase in clothing waste that’ll most likely never reach the intended customers. With little to no product demand and unpaid employees, factories are now facing one of two prospects: either they keep the clothing or destroy it, slashing the product’s life cycle and contributing to environmental waste. 

Haute Couture

    The extravagant world of high fashion has had a few interesting developments. Despite the cancelation of international fashion eventsーsuch as the Paris Fashion Week, the Haute Couture Week and the highly anticipated Met Galaーfashion designers across the world have demonstrated that “the show must go on.” Renowned labels such as Moncler and Armani have created interactive events to showcase their collections. Others, including the french multinational fashion corporation LVMH, Gucci, Prada, and Bulgari, have joined forces to develop fundraising initiatives to aid those affected by the virus.

Besides traditional money-raising activities, other designers are contributing their creativity and hard work to provide hand-crafted face masks for first responders amidst the health crisis. A noteworthy example is none other than Project Runway winner and mentor, Christian Siriano. Alongside his squad of 10 full-time seamstresses, they produce approximately 2,000 masks a dayーall of which are donated to nurses, doctors, and health technicians, among other frontline health care workers. 


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Expected Innovations

    It’s very likely that the concept of fashion as we know it will probably be a thing of the pastーmuch like The Great Depression’s impact on the economy and clothing tendencies. So far, consumer behavior while in self-isolation has proven this theory to a certain degree. First and foremost, we can observe how e-commerce is booming now more than ever. During the crisis, online retail stores such as Amazon, NastyGal, Farfetch, and ASOS are thriving. 

While, overall, this means good news for online retail and e-commerce businesses, there’s no denying that consumers are starting to shift their clothing preferences and criteria. After a little more than two months of worldwide quarantine, people are reassessing what they deem to be the “true” value of the products they purchase, including, of course, clothing. Instead of going to the mall every other weekend to spend on trendy, cheap iterations of what it girls and influencers post on social media, consumers are looking to invest in quality, long-lasting, and minimalistic garmentsーat least for the time being. 

Due to the easy-breezy task of shopping online, people are also starting to appreciate the value of made-to-order product customization: a shopping tool that, while more expensive than your typical fast fashion items, provides a direct and unique shopping experience. Another way that fashion is bound to change is in the demand for vintage and secondhand clothing. After all, we can’t forget that secondhand stores like ThredUp, Poshmark, and even Etsy are creating unforgettable shopping experiences with clients who are looking to diversify their closets with precious and high-quality gems of the past. 


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Although the pandemic has been tragic and bleak for everybody who has suffered because of it, it’s also nice to reflect on the silver linings of the situation. Sure, the fashion industry may never be the same after the health crisis, but it brings me hope to know that our shopping tendencies are shifting towards more responsible and sustainable consumption behaviors. Instead of thinking of it as the end of haute couture or fast fashion (whether you consider it to be a bad or a good thing), I like to think of it as a reinvention of our priorities; an awakening of our global consciousness to make clothing decisions based on the wellbeing of everyone who was a part of the design process, production and final sale of what we choose to wear on a daily basis. 


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Hello! My name is Andrea Capllonch and I am a Marketing Undergraduate and Fashion Design student at the University of Puerto Rico. When I'm not sewing/designing clothes, I enjoy spending time outdoors doing yoga, reading good books, writing about fashion, and spending time with my friends and family. I'm also a self-love advocate, introverted Ravenclaw, and a fan of all things lavender!
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