Comfortable with uncertainty? Future Now.
Illustration by Chris De Lorenzo for Paynter Jacket
As part of a series linked to our Fostering Sustainable Practices project, we have been discussing how micro and small fashion businesses are revolutionizing what fashion is and what it can be in the future (see previous posts: January, March). As it happens, two months of deceleration in the Global North drastically exposed our interdependencies and vulnerabilities, also uprooting what normal or strong means. It is now clearer than ever that the micro and small fashion businesses that have built their work on the need to do something that matters, focusing on contributing to community alongside financial viability, can corrode many of the preconceptions about what fashion business stands for.
Since our last blog, Phoebe English, along with fellow designers Bethany Williams and Holly Fulton have joined forces to set up the voluntary Emergency Designer Network that now produces much needed scrubs to protect the NHS workers. With the initial network of 10 small scale manufacturers, the EDN collective volunteer their studio resources, energy, time, and skills, showing here and now that fashion can be a reciprocal, mutually supportive process whose core focus are people, empathy, and well-being, rather than products, insatiable growth, and profit. As another example, while many leading fashion brands have been walking out on their suppliers, putting millions of garment workers worldwide at risk of sheer survival, Becky and Huw from Paynter Jacket have recently decided to launch an unplanned batch of jackets No. 3.5 with 100% of profits to go towards the support of their factory in Portugal and the NHS.
Image: Paynter Jackets
The generosity shown over the last two months by these new kinds of fashion designers-makers-founders is absolutely astonishing. Yet, as usual, there is also a flip side to the story. As brave as they have been during the Covid-19 crisis, these micro and small businesses are especially vulnerable to the disruption of the last few months. The pressure builds from all directions. As Phoebe herself explains in the Wardrobe Crisis second special on Covid 19, like many others no doubt, she has been trying her best to use her own fear and anxiety in a productive way. But the reality for most designers-owners is that their survival is very fragile, cash flow being a major challenge even at the best of times. A number of the businesses we have been working with are now in conservation mode, many suppliers going out of business, wholesale orders being cancelled without compensation, and most 2020 plans (and beyond) are veiled in uncertainty. While they are at the forefront of fashion that stands for responsibility towards both people and the planet, the Covid-19 crisis highlighted with utmost urgency that the small businesses cannot be left in this on their own. Something much bigger must happen now.
Image via Emergency Designer Network
In early March, in her Dezeen interview, one of the world’s most influential trend forecasters Lidewij Edelkoort talked about how the ‘quarantine of consumption’ imposed by the Covid-19 crisis offers us a hope for a better system. Another highly influential fashion figure, the editor in chief of Vogue US and the Conde Nast artistic director Anna Wintour could later be heard saying that people’s values will have shifted by the Covid-19 experience, which brings an opportunity for us all to rethink waste, money, consumption, and excess, as well as to reshape what the industry stands for. The State of Fashion Covid update report launched in early April with a bold statement on ‘rewiring the fashion system’, anticipates that “The crisis is a catalyst that will shock the industry into change – now is the time to get ready for a post-coronavirus world. … The pandemic will bring values around sus