Positive impacts of the Pandemic: how COVID-19 helped boost sustainable fashion

March 8, 2021

2020 was a tough year for all with the virus causing the closure of hundreds of businesses and thousands of individuals losing their jobs. The fashion industry was no exception - clothing sales plummeted when the world went into lockdown in March as Simon Wolfson (chief executive of Next) remarked, “No one wants to buy clothes to sit at home in”.

With sales decreasing, thousands of clothing items and materials were left for waste as brands could not shift stock. Retailers were forced to cancel orders resulting in huge financial crises in countries such as Bangladesh who rely heavily on the western fashion industry in garment-making, and lost $2.81 billion worth of work orders due to cancellation. 

However, it was not all doom and gloom for the fashion industry. With everyone’s time on social media and the internet vastly increasing, the word was spreading about the consequences of fast fashion. Sustainability was at the forefront of people’s minds, with recent reports from Forbes reporting that 62% of Generation Z prefer to buy from sustainable brands. Sustainability has become an increasingly attractive trait for companies to uphold as Gen Z primarily falls into the modern target market. This has led to the emergence and success of hundreds of small businesses built on sustainable values.

Inspired by psychological articles demonstrating the importance of getting dressed, University students Mia and Ella created the instagram account ‘Frockdown’ (IG: @frockdown), posting pictures of both their friends’ and their own lockdown outfits. What initially started as a bit of fun to encourage friends to dress up and boost morale over lockdown now boasts a following of 1,500, and the girls use the page as a platform to promote sustainable fashion brands. Speaking to the duo, they explained: “Although both shopaholics, even we were questioning a bulk order from the big retail chains, as their problematic approaches were frequently being exposed. So, we began to search for and discover small, emerging brands – many of which had been created during lockdown. Through features and giveaways we supported their distinct ethical and sustainable values”

SULKE Clothing (IG: @sulkeclothing) initially began with little intention of becoming a business. Founder Ella explained that she “was unable to find an affordable, sustainable, unique leather jacket, so I decided to create one using paints I already had and a leather jacket bought from a charity shop”. Now, as a business, SULKE upcycles high quality vintage clothing through unique hand painted designs, built on core values of “Unisex, Vintage, Ethical, Sustainable”. The brand has since gained significant traction, featuring in multiple University fashion shows including Durham’s ‘Walk On’ show last year. Ella explains that SULKE has benefited from the national lockdown as she has had time to further improve and develop the brand whilst potential customers spent more time on their phones, allowing SULKE to “garner more attention and gain momentum”.

Lockdown seemed to be the perfect opportunity to develop a start-up business. ZO Jewellery (IG: zo_jewellery) took advantage of this increase in both spare and screen time and began upcycling old cutlery into jewellery in March 2020. For Zoe, ensuring the brand was sustainable was of the utmost importance, “Sterling silver jewellery is durable and long lasting, an important factor in reducing wasteful consumer and producer behaviours. Having a sustainable brand, I believe, is the new future of business and is something that I can do to prevent damage to our environment whilst still being creative and entrepreneurial”. ZO jewellery has since earned nearly 5000 Instagram followers in 9 months and the signature spoon rings have been worn by the likes of TikTok star and model Daisy Jelley and Durham’s alumna Eliza Batten. 

Similarly, Dappled Shade (IG: @dappledshadeuk) founder Gemma explains the marketing benefits of sustainability. “Being a sustainable brand is not only what I wanted to do for myself but it also attracts customers, as the topic is on people’s minds more than ever, especially since lockdown. People are much more aware of how important sustainability is and with the increase in sustainable small businesses, it is much easier to shop responsibly.” Dappled Shade sells hand-made accessories from upcycled fabric and has grown hugely since its creation just over a year ago, winning a London Runway Magazine 2021 sustainability award for the best sustainable accessories brand last month.

With so many incredible small, sustainable businesses out there since the pandemic, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to shop sustainably. The quality of product is far better than what you would find in your high street stores whilst you are reassured that you are doing as little harm as possible to the planet in your shopping. As the Frockdown girls put it, “Aside from being more environmentally friendly, there’s a far greater pleasure in finding a rare statement piece that you’ll cherish. Whether that’s second hand and vintage or supporting small, emerging brands, a smaller, more individual wardrobe that represents you as an individual holds more character and will stand the test of time.