The Textile Industry, Post-Pandemic

Maor Yur
May 4, 2020

With coronavirus shutting down both stores and factories due to fears of the virus spreading out of control, retail has been hit hard, and its supply chain—especially factories in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and many other places—has been hit even harder.

In Bangladesh, for example, the garment and textile business accounts for 80% of the country’s exports and employs millions of workers, who manufacture clothing for brands like H&M and Target. Instead, according to an article in Forbes, these workers have been sent home—often to slums, where poor sanitation puts them at high risk of a COVID-19 outbreak—while factory owners and government officials try to tackle the problem of orders that were canceled or put on hold, destroying the industry and the local economy. Only some brands have stepped up, promising to pay for canceled orders and/or compensate workers.

But a larger question looms: What will the garment industry look like after the pandemic?

Only time will truly tell, of course, but it’s likely that things won’t be the same once the dust settles. According to Ecotextile News, this crisis challenges us to rethink how we normally do business. Once the major storm has passed, it seems like sustainable and ethical practices may have a chance of thriving.

More ethical manufacturing
The pandemic is bringing to light the flaws in fashion’s supply chain—particularly the dependency on low-cost manufacturing in faraway countries (in most cases). As with most other industries, the people who are paying the highest price are the low-wage garment workers who have lost their source of income and their ability to feed their families. This may be a wake-up call for many people about their consumption habits.

Longer-lasting, evergreen products
Fashion typically works on a seasonal basis, with new styles coming out for each season. With the pandemic hitting Chinese factories first, many products didn’t meet their production deadlines, reaching stores late, if at all. At the same time, with so many consumers staying home and not being exposed to many of the new fashions (not to mention, in many cases, trying to save money due to layoffs or reduced salaries and income), a whole season of purchases may have been “skipped,” and unlike necessary purchases (such as a new refrigerator or car), which are simply being delayed until conditions get better, consumers will just jump to the next season, rather than trying to “recoup” this one. Retailers are already anticipating a 40% drop in end-of-year holiday shopping. Many shoppers may see this as an opportunity to start investing in fewer, longer-lasting products, rather than chasing after seasonal trends.

More control over production
This crisis, like most others, shows how interconnected the world is. In particular, as a New York Times article explains, it’s revealing how fragile our economic systems are when we are dependent on other countries. Many countries (and companies) are looking to bring certain technologies, resources, and manufacturing capabilities back home to avoid seeing everything collapse in the future. Textile companies, for example, may start turning to on-demand domestic production, which gives them more control over their production lines and inventory and can help avoid waste and/or having to pay for products that will never be delivered or will have to be sold after their season at a loss. Solutions like Kornit Digital’s can play a part in this, giving brands more control of their production lines.

The coming months and years will reveal the true impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but one thing’s for sure: Things will never be the same again.