Peter C. Leferink: “What we used to call ‘fashion’ is worn out, beaten down and broken.”

7 experts share their thoughts on what steps they would like to see the fashion industry take now and post-coronavirus.

There is no denying it; the pandemic has given the fashion industry a much-needed wake-up call. One that has exposed cracks in a system that are way overdue for a complete reconstruction. COVID-19 has forced the industry to reassess how they do business. A half-assed attempt to ‘do good’ is no longer enough; instead, we need to put our good intentions into action.

For the fashion business to go forward positively, we need first to rebuild a more resilient industry. One that can protect not only the most vulnerable workers but also the planet we live on. By hitting reset, we might just be able to repair fashion’s fragile supply chain, so it benefits everyone in it. This is my take on the current situation, but I have wondered what lessons other experts could share when it comes to the changes that they would like to see the fashion industry make now and post-coronavirus. So I decided to pose the question to some of my favourite and most respected names in the fashion industry and fashion tech space, and this is what they had to say. 

Anne-Ro Klevant Groen, Fashion for Good Marketing & Communications Director

“Most important is the continuation, and acceleration, of initiatives, focused on sustainability and innovation.”

The effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the Fashion industry is apparent as production and sales have effectively ceased. There are immediate actions that brands, suppliers and manufacturers need to take to ensure the well being of workers as well as the continuation of business in the short term, but also well into the future.

What this slow-down in production and consumption really offers is an opportunity for the entire fashion industry to re-evaluate and reassess current practices and processes, better plan, streamline and coordinate efforts to ensure we as an industry will not only survive, but thrive in the post COVID world and are in a better position to face the next challenge when it arises.

Most important, is the continuation, and acceleration, of initiatives, focused on sustainability and innovation as they address many of the critical issues around climate and worker protections that have become so apparent. This is truly the only way to build a robust industry, that is also regenerative and restorative with a positive impact, and to safeguard its future.

Camille Baker, PhD Digital Media, Media Artist / Researcher/ Curator

“When people are dying what does it matter what clothes we wear?”

I think the fast fashion side of the industry needs to be rethought. And say that we need to stay home more as this virus takes a while to find a vaccine for, and the potential for new viruses (unless we change our relations to the world), then really what is the role for fashion when we’re all at home? This is something we need to think long and hard about. When people are dying what does it matter what we clothes we wear?

I’ve seen some fashion brands jumping on the “let’s make fashionable (but useless) face-masks”, my university’s fashion students are now making funky scrubs for the frontline health workers (as if they care about how they look – but funky scrubs might cheer them up – they may be happy to just have something). The other issue is that people are now back to thinking disposably due to the contagion, so we’re back to a huge amount of waste from disposable gloves and masks, so thought should be put into this issue, not so much in fashion but in general.

Of course, if we do continue to think about fashion and life after COVID-19, we need to think more about reusing all the waste clothing we’ve already generated – of course making sure its sterilised – and not continuing the wasteful practices of fast fashion, which is definitely one of the many industries involved in encroaching on the natural world that has lead to the possibility that animal diseases continue to find their way into our world. Of course, the food industry is the first that has to change, but fashion is an incredibly wasteful and consumerist industry and has had a part in using and destroying land that could be used for other purposes or just to let wildlife live and prosper.

We need to find a new way to live with nature and rewild the world and this will impact all industries, but I do think since cotton and wool and other ‘natural’ materials are quite resource-heavy and wasteful, and we need to rethink it all – and again do we need fashion if we are behind digital windows?

Maybe more investment is needed into digital avatar fashion and body scanning mobile tools to transport our bodies into online virtual social spaces. I have a friend looking at how he can host more realistic parties online beyond Zoom and Twitch – I’ve suggested VR but it needs to be cheaper and be able to show our real selves as avatars are cheesy and connecting with the actual person…lots to think about.

Ricardo O’Nascimento, Founder of POPKALAB

“Taking the social aspect of the crisis and the need for social distancing, I believe we could advance on the acceptance of technologies related to telepresence.”

When it comes to the environment and society, I believe that most of us want to see a sustainable fashion industry. Lately, there have been concrete actions from fashion brands and conglomerates, like the G7 fashion pact, that are slowly moving us towards this goal. However, this movement does not respond to the real challenges with the necessary strength. 

The Covid-19 crisis imposes on all of us a radical change that impacts every aspect of our mode of existence. I believe it brought a sense of urgency. I am not confident, but at least I hope that this sense of urgency transfers to the fashion industry. I am aware that, in the end, it is “all about money.” Yet, I hope that coronavirus has changed the way we look to the earth and the living beings that are in it. 

Taking the social aspect of the crisis and the need for social distancing, I believe we could advance on the acceptance of technologies related to telepresence. Think about Hug T-shirt or the TSST sleeve. Fashion tech should engage more senses, specially haptics and smell. Also, digital fashion should react to many needs we did not have before — for example, digital suits for video conferences or instant makeup. 

Peter C. Leferink, Head of Fashion & Design AMFI and Founder M-ODE Foundation

“There is no way around creating a different industry, different educational models and maybe even a different narrative for what we used to call ‘fashion’. It’s worn out, beaten down and broken.”

Coronavirus has for me, become a daily reality that has led to working on post-corona scenarios for the fashion industry; and adapting education. We were already constantly backcasting from possible and probable future developments and changes; now’ that way of working is shifted from interesting into necessary. There is no way around creating a different industry, different educational models and maybe even a different narrative for what we used to call ‘fashion’. It’s worn out, beaten down and broken.

Within fashion education, we (at AMFI) benefit from having explored and developed programs around 3D virtual design and technological solutions for creating and producing clothing. At the same time -now- we foresee enormous attention again for traditional crafts, embroideries, tailoring and the tactility of clothing and fabrics. Both lines need each other and need to embrace each other into a revolutionary new way of designing, creating, producing, presenting, and caring for clothes. Post Corona will also shoot us into an era of post naive behaviour in how we create and what we create; from both a sustainable point of view but also the simple fact that we will be working more from our homes, over the coming years.

 As the meaning of it loses its essence, fashion will need to find the new ground again. Although a non-vital ingredient to human life, clothing will stay a fundamental when one needs to get out of home, but also staying in and having your online ‘Zoom’, Skype’, or ‘Teams’ meetings, or meeting your friends for a virtual ‘fiesta’. Yes, there is hope.

Despina Papadopoulos, Founder of Principled Design

“One thing that has become clearer than ever is that our practices and the ways we are using resources, both environmental and labour, are unsustainable”.

Like most of us, the Corona pandemic has forced us to question virtually every aspect of our lives. One thing that has become clearer than ever is that our practices and the ways we are using resources, both environmental and labour, are unsustainable. I think most of us have welcomed the pause that the coronavirus has brought, at least those of us who are fortunate enough not to be directly affected. 

When it comes to the fashion industry, now is the time to re-evaluate both the meaning and practices of fashion: what are the values that fashion expresses? Can we all be the influencers of our own story? Do we need 6 or 9 seasons a year? Can we do more with less? Can we make sure that the delight that fashion can offer is not at the expense of the environment and those who manufacture it?

And in terms of wearables, I always advocated that there is an excellent opportunity for “social wearables.” By that, I do not mean remote sensing but ways to connect in new and serendipitous ways. Now, with social distancing becoming a way of life for the foreseeable future maybe we will see wearables that have, as I call it, social functionality. At least this is what I am working on!

Panos Sofianos, Denim Curator at Munich Fabric Start BlueZone

“It’s useless to talk about the real evolution because we have been talking about one of those for years.”

Every cloud has a silver lining. In the Covid19 case, the silver lining should be called “Last chance”. We must decide what kind of world we want for our children and choose the way to make this happen. First of all, we need a transparent industry. It’s useless to talk about the real evolution because we have been talking about one of those for years. 

We need to define what a controlled industrial production can bring to the future supply chain. We need to invest in circularity and automation to reduce our footprint drastically. The previous models have dramatically failed to reach the goals bring about real change.

Last but not least fashion trends must be replaced by real consumer needs for performance and functional wearability. We have to understand that future living will be more disrupted due to climate issues, and clothing will need to be more useful when it comes to obtaining daily comfort at higher levels. 

Lisa Lang, CEO & Founder of PowerHouse and Forbes Top 50 Women in Tech

“Purpose is the New Commodity” 

It’s not about what I want to see – I’m very sure this WILL happen as the customer behaviour has changed. This crisis has deeply traumatized us, and it will reflect our behaviour towards our clothes, shoes and handbags. I mean who needs all of this anyway? 

Our outfits now need to be more functional and more protective. We should not only make it protective but also pretty. And pretty does not mean ‘pink and glitter’. Pretty means useful, means comfortable – and sustainable. The items we now design have to be reusable, washable, high-quality – and locally made. 

Lastly, consumer behaviour has shifted dramatically – we know now how our behaviour affects our local shops. Every purchase is supporting our local economy – which means fashion will have to restructure its manufacturing workflow. The new fashion brands who are in demand will offer clothes which are human-centric: they are here to protect us and support us in our work – and support our local economy at the same time. The purpose is the new commodity.

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Founding editor-in-chief & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta has worked in the fashion industry for over 14 years. She is currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology and a regular contributor to digital news sites like Wareable.