The Pandemic Effect: How COVID-19 is Changing Consumer Attitudes Toward Second-Hand Fashion. The COVID-19 pandemic was undoubtedly a time for reflection for us all, including how we treat the environment—the first hundred days of the lockdown had seen a drop in air pollution and carbon emissions, including a 52% drop in motor vehicle usage between 23 March to 30 June 2020.
It hugely impacted our lives, and now it has altered how we shop for clothing and seek environmentally sustainable alternatives to expressing our individuality through styles and garments.
A Downward Trend
We all know about the world economy’s downward spiral during the peak stages of COVID-19.
With lockdown measures, travel restrictions and business closures, job losses and a significant decline in economic activity were inevitable.
Fast Fashion was most vulnerable due to decreased consumer demand, disrupted production lines and store closures. H&M has since closed 3,441 stores, with Zara following similarly.
Having leading brands in unsustainable production and waste contributions taking a big hit is good, right? Well, to counter a loss in demand (an apparent loss of 24.1% in sales in the first two weeks of lockdown), fast fashion brands, including Zara, were offering discounts as low as 50%. As well as this, stores that operate entirely on a digital platform thrived. Chinese fast fashion brand Shein used the pandemic in their favour, exploiting the dramatic increase in social media use to sell their products, doubling their sales to $10 billion in 2022.
A Shift In Consumer Values
Despite a lucrative market of heavily discounted and trend-setting garments, the behaviour of consumers (particularly Gen Z) has steered towards conscious consumption.
With the rapid-paced world suddenly halting before their eyes, people had an opportunity to pause and reflect on their lifestyles and consumption habits, shifting their focus towards essential items and sustainability.
The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains, particularly in fashion and electronics.
Factory closures, transportation disruptions, and shortages of essential goods highlighted the environmental and social risks associated with long and complex supply chains. Since small businesses were vulnerable due to an apparent lack of UK government support during the pandemic, we became more aware of how important it is to think about how we spend our money.
Desire For Meaningful Purchases
Whilst second-hand clothing sales initially faced challenges due to temporary closures and hygiene concerns, the pandemic ultimately accelerated the shift towards sustainable and second-hand fashion.
A spike in global unemployment and the dreaded stress of financial insecurity led to much more budget-conscious decisions, and second-hand clothing at a lower price is an attractive option.
By 2020, Britain had topped the secondhand purchase leaderboard over the US by 117,55%, and apps like Depop and Thredup are rising stars in resale platforms (a market estimated to overtake fast fashion by 150% in 2028.) However, the allure of a lower cost isn’t the only reason people were drawn to second-hand fashion. Many people had taken the pandemic as an opportunity to experiment with their style. With second-hand fashion offering vintage, retro, and niche items, fashion lovers can fulfil their desire for unique and distinctive garments that are not readily available in mainstream stores.
Without distracting us from the detrimental effect COVID-19 had on the world, it has acted as a catalyst for the shift towards sustainability and the reinforcement of responsible consumption. It was a time for us to reevaluate our priorities, become more aware of environmental and social issues and seek out sustainable alternatives in our purchasing decisions.
Wear what you love. Cherish it, and it lasts a long time.
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