A rack of clothes

The Divided Wardrobe

As retail shops in the UK open from Monday, we’re wondering if how and why we shop will be changed for good…

Richard Lim, from Retail Economics, told the BBC in May that ‘the retail experience is going to be turned on its head when clothes stores reopen’.

We may have to shop solo, we won’t be able to use the fitting rooms and we’ll be discouraged from touching the merchandise. ‘Staff will potentially have to walk around spraying shelves,’ he said.

Not sure that sounds like a lot of fun, but needs must…Or must they?

Etienne Girardet, Unsplash

Our shopping habits during the pandemic have certainly changed. Those of us who are shopping are doing so online, and what we’re buying has been very specific to the moment rather than seasonally driven.

‘Online demand for loungewear,’ noted the BBC in late April, ‘defined as a hybrid between pyjamas and tracksuits – has soared 322% in the UK, according to LoveTheSales.com, a shopping website that aggregates sale items from 850 retailers’.

This desire to remain comfortable while getting the job done led to some ‘hilariously mortifying’ mishaps, as Will Reeve, an ABC reporter showed us.

But the more serious question – especially for those who were working toward a more sustainable fashion model before the COVID crisis struck – is whether the fast fashion industry is on the verge of real change. And if it can be changed for the better.

The problems within the fast fashion industry are well documented (although as Alden Wicker pointed out, the actual statistics need a bit more work).

  • The fashion industry does contribute to greenhouse gas emissions
  • Garment workers are often paid very little and made to work in unsafe environments
  • There is a huge amount of water waste at every step of the production process – whether that’s in growing fibres like cotton or in the dyeing or treating of fabric
  • Natural environments are damaged by the synthetic chemicals that are used to grow, treat, dye and process the textiles
  • Animals are harmed when you use leather, fur, wool and cashmere in your clothes

There has been momentum building for a more sustainable fashion industry. So could the recent COVID-enforced break from fashion – as we normally interact with it – lead to a ‘new normal’ in how and why we shop as the doors reopen?

The Guardian recently published an article on the shopping habits of Generation Z (aged 18-24). ‘Buy less, buy better’ seems to be their mantra – and they’re much more likely than older generations to have a blend of brand new, second hand and rented clothes in their wardrobe.

A rack of clothes

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA) carried out polling during the pandemic and found:
28% of people are recycling or reusing more clothes than normal
35% of women intend to buy fewer clothes in the future

The RSA are petitioning the government for ‘a push towards a more circular localised economy within fashion’.

‘This emphasis on sustainability, non mass-produced goods and uniqueness,’ writes journalist Priya Elan, ‘mirrors the consumer values of the younger generation whose attitude towards fashion has been shaped by the ‘Blue Planet effect’.’

Ceanne Fernandes-Wong, CEO of COCOON a luxury handbag rental service said:

‘Young, values-oriented [shoppers] are looking for more responsible ways to consume. The pandemic has amplified this. More and more consumers will be comfortable with variety in their consumption choices – from buying new to circular options including rental and resale. A ‘divided wardrobe’ is inevitable.’

Ceanne Fernandes-Wong, CEO of COCOON

While retail sales fell by 18.1% in April, Depop – an app that lets users buy and sell secondhand clothes – had a 90% increase in traffic. A spokesperson told Priya, ‘Our community has access to a vast inventory of pre-loved streetwear, vintage designer, one-of-a-kind creations and more that allows them to build their own identity and create their own story all as a sustainable choice. They have the financial incentive to buy and sell garments, rather than leaving them unused in a wardrobe or sending them to a landfill.’

It will be interesting to see how the retail experience and high-street fashion brands emerge from this crisis. But if we all adopted the shopping habits of Generation Z and embraced the divided wardrobe, we would be playing a small part in ensuring that the new normal is better for the planet.

And that’s a shopping trip I can get on board with.

Similar stories