By Just Style
This article was published in Just Style July 23, 2021.
A new research paper has revealed what the future of the post-Covid-19 apparel industry could look like and its impact for workers, employers and governments in the Asia and Pacific region.
Cornell University researchers worked with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to produce the research paper called ‘Repeat, Repair or Renegotiate? The Post-Covid Future of the Apparel Industry’ which explores the industry changes and new directions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jason Judd, who co-wrote the report with J Lowell Jackson, explained: “After lots of reporting on Covid-19’s short-term impacts, we were determined to take a longer view.”
He added: “Using two decades of data, we found few changes in direction in apparel supply chain labour practices but big accelerations along the curves the industry has been following for years – supplier consolidation, market concentration, a mania for ever-lower wages, and so on.”
The report explores the apparel industry changes that appear to be new directions brought on by the pandemic versus those that are on a long-term trajectory such as industry concentration and consolidation, automation and digitalisation as well as e-commerce for brands, retailers, suppliers and workers.
The authors of the research explored four key areas that will be important in a post-Covid-19 world:
Industry acceleration along familiar trajectories, which point toward large, well-capitalised suppliers in Asia receiving ever-larger orders from ever-larger buyers, allowing market concentration and consolidation, automation and digitalisation to move together.
Long-term changes in sourcing patterns and practices such as climate change impacts on the geography of apparel production in Asia and the distribution of risk and cost along global supply chains.
The impacts of these long-term changes on working conditions, wages and industry employment levels with important implications for policymakers at both the producing and consuming ends of fashion’s supply chains.
The status and future of labour governance, both public and private, and their impacts for suppliers and workers, in particular.
The three scenarios in the post-pandemic industry landscape which the authors believe are fixed and will almost certainly take place are as follows:
Industry concentration continuing and e-commerce leaders featuring prominently in this future.
Online sales growing, albeit more slowly, and accelerating their disruption of traditional retail models.
Climate impacts changing the geography and modes of apparel production in Asia.
A key concern for many is the climate impact on apparel production in Asia. The authors of the research paper stated their research shows that major apparel-producing areas will be under-water by 2030.
Dr. Sheng Lu, associate professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware told Just Style exclusively: “The study’s findings remind us that climate change is a critical issue facing the global apparel industry that requires all stakeholders to get involved in finding a solution. For example, in the latest 2021 US fashion industry benchmarking study I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), respondents suggest that textile and apparel trade policy can positively address climate change. Some proposed measures include cutting the tariff rates for imports using sustainable materials, incentivising sourcing from countries with strong environmental regulations, and enhancing regulatory coherence across countries on ecological and sustainable product requirements.”
The report authors agree that the future of the apparel industry in a post-Covid-19 world depends on whether the sector decides to ‘repeat’, ‘repair’ or ‘renegotiate’ the status quo.