What is the future of fashion after COVID?
Sign of the times: A lab gown designed by Dennis Lustico for one of their company clients.

What is the future of fashion after COVID?

ART DE VIVRE - Ricky Toledo, Chito Vijandre (The Philippine Star) - May 6, 2020 - 12:00am

Who would think that, in less than 100 days, a virus would shut the world down and make sweeping changes in our lives, ushering in a new reality that seems to take new forms each day as the pandemic progresses?

With about half of the global population in quarantine due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has devastated the economy to its lowest levels since the Great Depression, perhaps the most affected after travel and tourism is the fashion industry, where boutiques and couturiers’ ateliers have shuttered, decreasing global sales by 60 to 70 percent. And even with the option of online shopping, a new frock seems to be the last priority during this time when sweats and shorts are the staple OOTD.

Something so unprecedented in world history brings so much uncertainty, which fashion designers are currently grappling with. “People have likened it to war,” says Dennis Lustico. “And after every calamity or devastation, the attitude and sensibilities of people change. Fashion should gauge its direction based on these sensibilities.”

Tessa Prieto Valdes of Red Charity Gala shares, “The future of everything — not just fashion — is so uncertain. Survival is the only key factor we all need to focus on and, if possible, support in any way we can, whether it is to buy products from small vendors or create a sustainable livelihood to help the community.”

RCG cofounder Kaye Tinga observes, “We have witnessed events like we have never seen, nor hoped to see in our lives. But one of the things that was clear was the capacity of people for generosity. Amid the bad news, we were all looking for bright spots such as a delivery man using his earnings to buy bread for people he sees lining up for relief goods, or a sari-sari store owner donating the entire contents of her store to her neighbors in need.”

The RGC scheduled for October with Ivar Aseron as featured designer appears to be one of COVID’s casualties. “We decided to postpone this year’s RCG to allocate some of the funds as our share in the pandemic relief,” says Valdes. “We already told Ivar that we will hold off the gala this year but will make a more impactful show next year.”

There’s definitely more time now to make plans, as designers stay home and take stock of the state of the industry. London-based Lesley Mobo shared with us his thoughts: “I think fashion has become saturated with too many seasons (main collection, pre-collection, etc.) — just too much clothing!” 

True enough, Business Insider reports that 150 billion pieces of new clothing are produced each year, with 2.5 billion pounds of used clothing ending up in landfills. Brands would rather over-manufacture by 30 to 40 percent than risk running out of stock.

“The fashion industry has been such a strong advocate of polluting not only the earth, but really the mind in general with our practices of excess and wastefulness,” says Rajo Laurel. 

Fashion, in fact, is one of the top producers of CO2 emissions, with the textile industry emitting 1.2 billion metric tons per year, close to the emission level of the automotive industry. It is also the second largest polluter of water, aside from dumping half a million tons of plastic microfibers into the ocean annually, which is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

With the decrease in consumption as well as in air and land travel, the Earth is noticeably starting to repair and recover itself, with visibly clearer skies and even the appearance of wildlife in the cities. It’s something the consumer can appreciate, leading to a new world order.

“People will have a change of lifestyle and priorities; consumerism will decline, there’s a rise in environmental consciousness, all of which are effects of the global cleansing we are currently experiencing,” says Jojie Lloren. “I can’t paint a rosy picture for the near future of fashion. But I know it will heal in time.” 

Lustico concurs: “There’ll be a heightened conscientious consumption and people will look for truly specialized and worth-every-penny merchandise. Items that are necessities and for long-term use, a.k.a. investment pieces.” Mobo envisions “a return to well-designed, well-made clothing by fewer and properly trained fashion designers.”

Lulu Tan Gan also sees fashion as becoming more “mindful, ensuring ethical fashion and sustainability of the supply chain of the industry, from material sourcing, manufacturing, merchandising to retailing — working towards a greener, cleaner world.”

“There is hope that the future of fashion might be more sophisticated,” says Mobo. “I think there will be a big slowing down and withdrawal from disposable and fast fashion, unless it is reinvented and adapts more quickly.” Mobo also hopes to see “more collaboration between designers and big fashion brands. Collaboration over competition might save the industry — the artisans and workshops that are important to fashion.”

Laurel sees a shift towards “a more thoughtful way of actually creating clothes, making us rethink and reset how we produce everything in terms of a more responsible process. It’s also a chance for us to realign and reset our values and our protocols, not only in the way we make our clothes but also the way we think about our source chains — where we get our materials, where we get our machines and how we do things. It’s a chance to really improve ourselves in the direction that is quite thoughtful and responsible and sustainable.”

As far as sustainability goes, Philippine designers are right on track, according to Tan Gan, making fashion on demand or custom-made: “It all starts with the design. One must design more on innovative, timeless fashion, requiring eco-friendly materials rather than trendy, disposable fast fashion.”  

Tan Gan has actually always been a craft-based brand, producing their knit fabrics by hand or by loom, which do not require electricity. They also use piña to create awareness and support our indigenous fibers.  “It is important to elevate craft through good design,” she says. “Good design means being able to translate craft into innovative, contemporary use. This keeps the craft alive.”

Joey Samson sees “a new way of defining and expressing, to have a more conscious way of working with available resources, like repurposing and reworking existing inventory to give unsold garments new life and making do with available fabrics in creating fresh but exceptional creations. We need to keep moving forward and evolve in order to become sustainable.” 

Another realization of Samson is the need to go digital more than ever and a non-traditional approach of conducting business, finding ways to incorporate a digital system into the creation process. 

“I think the future is virtual,” says Mobo. “It’s going to be exciting and I would like to explore more of it. Having worked in corporate fashion for some years, I like the idea of communicating directly to the consumer and I think that is applicable to almost every aspect of fashion in the future. Even when it comes to presenting new collections and sales, we are heading towards the idea of selling directly to the consumer in a more personalized approach.”

Despite all the challenges, the Filipino designer remains optimistic, as always. Lustico sees it as “the perfect time for self-development, learning new techniques, improving our craft, studying possibilities, bettering our services, continuing training our staff. It may be slow months ahead but we trust in the Filipino sensibility to always look good, to be at their beautiful best. So we look forward to creating truly specialized pieces because setbacks — be it force of nature or manmade — come and go but the human spirit lives.”  

In Cebu, Cary Santiago shares the same sentiments for a bright future: “Fashion will endure, will evolve and will adapt. Just like what happened a century ago or even decades back, when we were either distraught by some plagues or even with two world wars, fashion continued and it adjusted and conformed to the new norm. The most beautiful thing about fashion is that it will not stop. It will remain to accommodate and, more than that, it helps us go out of the box, reinvent, unlearn and learn as we continue to make beautiful pieces we never thought we could produce.”


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