Fashion post-COVID-19: Will the pandemic lead to sustainable fashion?

Key fashion houses predict a dominance of COVID-inspired designs at post-pandemic shows. However, they say much will depend on how much the government is willing to help production of inputs in Botswana. RORISANG MOGOJWE reports

We have yet to determine the real damage from the COVID-19 crisis to the fashion industry. But while ‘outside’ is slowly reopening and lockdown restrictions are being eased, one thing is clear: the entire supply chain has been hard hit by the pandemic, leaving the survival of many brands both here at home and abroad in question.

In the world of fashion, the question in vogue is whether the new normal will lead to sustainable solutions? The fashion industry in Botswana, booming as it was pre-Coronavirus, has received a wake-up call. However, many designers have told Time Out that this bleak moment should be taken as an opportunity. It begins, they say, with production of materials right here at home.

According to top designer Kaone Moremong of “House of Kay,” the government should consider subsidising importation levies and taxes on raw materials and machinery, especially for locally owned fashion houses and clothing businesses. “We should work together to produce everyday clothing for our small population and set up a sustainable industry,” Moremong says. “The government can also help by protecting certain products and reserving their supply only for citizen owned businesses. For example, school uniforms and protective clothing. A certain percentage of procurement should be reserved for Batswana owned manufacturers.”

Milley Morake of “Made by Millie” fashion house shares the same sentiments. “Our reliance on other countries for almost everything, including the raw materials that we use in the fashion industry, is killing the industry,” says Morake. “We should have plantations for inputs and innovate with industries for all kinds of clothing that can supply all local shops.”

A public report launched last month titled “Weaving a Better Future: Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19,” notes that the fashion and luxury are the most negatively impacted of all consumer goods and services, after travel and tourism. The key takeaway from this is that the business model has to change in accordance with demands of the new normal of the entire supply chain, from design to manufacturing and packaging to retail.

According to Blacktrash Clothing designers AKA “Fashion’s First Couple” Kutlwano and Gerty, the challenges of the local fashion industry have gone from bad to worse under the onslaught to COVID-19. “Fashion is now considered a luxury like diamonds,” says Kutlwano. “Things were only starting to pick up when the pandemic hit our borders and things went from bad to worse with the cancellation of events such as weddings and lifestyle gigs.

“Travel was also put on hold and businesses were forced to close. The industry is trying to absorb the blow it has been dealt by retail businesses being temporarily closed, declining customer spending, cancelled orders and uncertainty of the gig economy. My estimation is that the crisis will wipe out more than 30 percent of the industry’s business in 2020.

But local fashion brands have to contend with tight revenue margins even in regular times. So what of now with much of the economy under lockdown? According to Moremong, 2020 was looking good for business both at home and in international showcasing. But since the advent of COVID-19, the entire industry has been reduced to production of face masks.

Profits, planet and people. What are the solutions?
The issue of sustainable fashion brings about the question of whether local businesses would be able to exist constantly, encompassing economic, environmental and social justice factors. According to the report, one of the solutions is to take advantage of digitalisation. One way of doing this, according to Millie, is online shopping. “In the long run, as business starts to pick up, we should consider setting aside budgets for technologies that can help not only in the creative process of designing and producing but also in marketing and selling.”

Blacktrash took the opportunity of the interview with Time Out to call on government and the private sector to help with bringing the supply chain home by setting up factories or textile production centres in Botswana and for innovative ideas to be embraced. Blacktrash, House of Kay and Made by Millie are some of the many designers that have since turned their skills to designing and making patriotic masks in true haute couture fashion. And it seems after the pandemic, COVID-inspired designs will feature at fashion shows.