A Year in Review: Fashion Consumption in 2020

2020 will go down in history for many reasons, but especially for being a year of monumental changes. Over the past 12 months, living through a pandemic became a reality, staying at home became the norm, and global events transformed people’s lives the world over.

In the year that ‘WFH’ went mainstream and ‘Zoom’ took on a whole new meaning, we’re taking a closer look at how changing lifestyle habits in 2020 have shaped the way people value and consume fashion.

The second-hand clothing market skyrocketed

This year, we’ve spent more time at home than ever, which has presented people with a welcome opportunity to re-evaluate many aspects of their lives, not least their wardrobe! UK consumers have been especially transformative, with over 12 million people purchasing a pre-loved item of clothing in 2020.

That’s a 404% year-on-year increase in second-hand clothing sales since 2018, putting the UK firmly at the top of the global leaderboard; amassing 117% more second-hand sales than the US. Nice work, Brits!

The most active pre-loved purchasers are Gen Z, who bought 55% more fashion items from online marketplace eBay than in previous years; however interestingly, more than half said they’ve actually cut back on their spending due to Covid-19.

This ‘value for money’ factor, along with ethical concerns, is expected to fuel the industry even further, with digital thrift store thredUP predicting the second-hand fashion market to more than double to £48.3 billion by 2025.

The rise of rental fashion

As well as championing second-hand fashion, consumers also welcomed the idea of renting clothes. With many people having to work within stricter budgets due to Covid-19, fashion rentals became a logical choice.

Eshita Kabra-Davies, founder of fashion rental app By Rotation, revealed that app users have grown from 12,000 to 25,000 since the UK first went into lockdown. Speaking to Harper’s Bazaar UK, she explained: “The pandemic made people think more about not consuming as much… It’s great seeing our community renting for everyday occasions – we saw many users renting on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays because of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme.”

Similarly, fashion rental marketplace My Wardrobe HQ saw a 50% increase in stock listed by brands and private lenders this year, indicating a growing awareness around reducing excessive fashion consumption.

Brands are embracing sustainability

This year also saw more brands and retailers starting to take sustainability seriously, joining what we at Enviroclothes like to call: The Fashion Re-love-ution.

In November, Adidas and H&M teamed up with other big names to create The New Cotton Project, a circular economy initiative that recycles old garments into new clothes for high street brands. The project was launched in response to “major and growing environmental problems … relating to the production of raw materials such as cotton, viscose and fossil-based fibres.”

Adidas also furthered its commitment to sustainability by launching a fully recyclable running shoe as part of its ‘Made to be Remade’ project, meanwhile fellow sportswear giant Nike pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But more still needs to be done

Although 2020 has been a largely positive year for fashion, there’s still a great deal more that needs to be done.

With the industry still responsible for contributing a whopping 10% of annual global carbon emissions, we’ve only just taken the first steps in a long journey towards achieving a truly sustainable fashion industry.

Working conditions

Supply chain and human rights concerns have been long-running issues within the fashion industry, particularly when it comes to fast fashion companies. A lack of transparency and due diligence by brands can make it difficult for consumers to know how their clothes have been made.

A study conducted in 2018 suggested that 90% of all garments are produced in low and middle-income countries, and garment workers are often subject to poor working conditions and low wages. The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 is just one example; with the collapse injuring 2,500 people and killing over 1,100. The factory produced clothing for major fashion brands, such as Primark, Matalan and Mango.

Unfortunately, exploitation within the fashion industry is still ongoing, and this summer it was revealed that UK-based fast fashion giant Boohoo was failing to pay its factory workers in Leicester minimum wage. Even more recently, an investigation by the Guardian revealed the company is selling clothes made by Pakistani factory workers earning just 29p an hour.

Fast fashion still thriving

While 2020 saw many consumers adopting thriftier relationships with their wardrobes, this year was also fruitful for fast fashion brands.

Over the last 12 months, Chinese fast fashion brand Shein catapulted to prominence. It is estimated that the brand will make more than £11billion worth of sales this year, selling dresses for as little as £4.99 and tops for just £2.

And although customers are still flocking these type of fast fashion brands, they aren’t being left satisfied with their experience. Nearly half of the 2,400 Trustpilot reviews for Shein give it just one star out of five. And with common complaints claiming that items ‘fell apart after a single wear’, ‘did not match the advertised size’, and ‘didn’t look like the website photos’, it raises the question of how much longer consumers will put price over quality.

The impact of Covid-19 on the fashion industry

The impact of the pandemic has been felt throughout every aspect of society, and the fashion industry is no different. From March, retail fashion sales plummeted worldwide, including a 29% drop in the UK and 64.5% in other parts of Western Europe. For the rest of the year, these sales have yo-yoed; however the global fashion industry’s profits are set to drop by 93% for 2020.

The people who’ve been affected most by these huge losses are the most vulnerable. During 2020, many clothing brands cancelled or suspended stock orders. As well as resulting in jobs lost here in the UK, over 1 million Bangladeshi garment workers lost their jobs or were furloughed without pay.

The impact of Covid-19 on our planet

It was widely documented that initial effects of lockdowns saw many positives, including a global drop in carbon emissions and improvements in air quality. However, the European Environment Agency found that COVID-19 has had a mixed impact on our planet, and most positives are likely to be temporary. The combination of a loss of biodiversity and intensive food systems has caused a spike in zoonotic diseases.

This difficult year has also highlighted many societal inequalities. People from poorer backgrounds have been put in greater danger of the virus, due to higher air pollution, a lack of adequate PPE, and from working jobs that can’t be carried out from home.

The public support a green recovery

According to Climate Assembly UK, the British public are in favour of a green recovery that aims to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This includes adopting some of the lifestyle changes brought about by Coronavirus, such as working from home.

The public don’t want climate change to be put on the back burner due to the pandemic, but treated as equally, if not more important.

Finally, thank you for your support

In what has been an incredibly strange 12 months, it’s undeniable that changes to lifestyles brought about by the year’s events have significantly altered how many of us now consume fashion.

While this year has brought to light some negatives in the industry, overall, it’s been brilliant to see steps taken by both brands and consumers towards achieving a more sustainable future.

We’d especially like to thank you, our loyal customers, for your support throughout this turbulent year. Your commitment to keeping your pre-loved clothes out of the bin and in circulation has been heartening, and we’ve tried our best to facilitate this throughout.

We’re over the moon to announce that this year, 2,639 new faces joined our Fashion Re-love-ution, by visiting either a kiosk or booking a home collection. And with your help, we’ve saved 174,357 kilograms of clothes from landfill!

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so much. We remain as dedicated as ever to our mission of reducing clothing waste in the North East, and we can’t wait to see you again when we reopen in 2021!

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