Since the COVID-19 wreaked havoc globally – and especially in the western countries – the worldwide fashion industry has been in a paralyzed state. With extended lockdowns, brick and mortar shops are closed, fashion and retail have been performing fairly poorly throughout the world, in the US, Europe and elsewhere.
Many of the apparel brands have already gone out of commission. Needless to say, down the very bottom of the supply chain, the manufacturing workers lost their jobs and factory owners shut factories. Almost all the stakeholders in the apparel supply chain are trying to stay afloat through loans and govt. financial boost package or by reducing their operations.
But the way the shop closing was dealt with raises some serious questions. As the western media was full people crowding together, while brands and retail shops were closed. Even right before Christmas.
No one is speaking out to defend the sector which is providing food and shelter for millions of people.
There are enormous consequences to these lockdowns. Have they been put into consideration? Everywhere jobs being vanished and businesses shut. It’s bloodshed for apparel suppliers as well as for brand/retailer customers.
A few have done well in the pandemic – online-only retailers. There is a thriving leisure-wear market and, unquestionably, the protective facemasks market is growing. For everybody else, it’s a survival battle when fashion shops globally are shut. It simply cannot last like this, and years of hard work building up a business have evaporated.
Recently, Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) has written to the governments of Germany and Holland imploring them to reopen fashion shops in their respective countries.
His message to them is simple: “these lockdowns are killing the textile and apparel industry. It cannot keep treading water indefinitely. I am unsure at times whether public officials understand what it is like to run a business. When they implement these lockdowns, we can’t just switch off operations. We still have bills to pay, workers who need wages.
Those of us reading this may think I am being selfish and reckless with these requests. They will point to the millions of people who have died of coronavirus or who are ill with “Long Covid”. Let me be clear here: I am fully aware of the risks and I also understand totally why lockdowns have been introduced (and the huge pressure governments have been on to implement them).
Every day, people crowded around cities, socializing on public transport or in supermarkets (many of which are selling clothing!). The public is mixing in parks and other public places. Schools are open in numerous countries. And yet, through all this, governments continue to squash the life out of fashion retail.
“What on earth is going? Where is the consistency? The industry feels like it has been completely forgotten,” he asks.
“But I also talk to a lot of brands and retailers and many other people in the industry. The messages I get back are of confusion.”
He added that “What is worse is the lack of communication from governments. People are trying to run businesses but how can they do that when they don’t know if their retail outlets will be allowed to open from one week to the next? Nobody I talk to has a clue about what is happening or when normal business might resume. Many retailers only dare place tiny orders with their suppliers as they fear having another canceled order crisis on their hands.”
“All of us in the industry have been living in limbo for 12 months now. At some stage, surely life has to return to some kind of normalcy, doesn’t it? Or is this it now, for good?”
COVID-19 is a destroyer, but so is poverty. Some statistics show that for every percentage increase in unemployment, there is a corresponding increase in national deaths. These statistics are borne out on a country-wide basis. I dread to think about what kind of impact the “response to the” coronavirus will have on South Asian garment production hubs in terms of indirect deaths caused. We are looking at a serious humanitarian crisis.
In these past 12 months. People can’t hide away forever. As an industry, it needs to find its own voice and tell the governments it’s time to get on with business.