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An ongoing conversation

Fashion in times of the coronacrisis, and post-crisis

By Daniëlle Bruggeman

Daniëlle Bruggeman and Hanka van der Voet started an ongoing conversation about fashion in times of the coronacrisis (and post-crisis). What is the impact of the coronacrisis on the fashion system? What is the relevance of fashion today? What is at stake? How could - or should - fashion play a role in re-imagining our post-crisis society? And how does this all relate to Dissolving the Ego of Fashion


Den Haag,  May 10, 2020

Dear Hanka,

How are you doing in these strange times? I hope that you and your loved ones stay healthy.

Since the outbreak of covid-19, I’ve been wondering about the relevance of fashion in times of the coronacrisis. Many facets of fashion feel futile today, don’t you think? Sometimes it almost feels immoral to continue my ‘business as usual’ against the backdrop of a worldwide pandemic, with so many people fighting for their lives on the intensive care, so many people in healthcare who are exhausted yet still working day and night to help others, and so many people facing the fear and reality of losing their jobs – often in countries with no social safety net.

I am aware that I am in the privileged position of being able to work from home, and I also enjoy spending additional time with my 7-month old baby daughter, Jasmine. But as many working parents with young children experience, it is also a challenge to combine work with taking care of a baby, in my case. This leaves me with less time to write and less headspace to reflect on the current developments in the fashion system related to the coronacrisis. Nevertheless, I have been reading and wondering a lot about what the coronacrisis means for fashion, and vice versa: which aspects of fashion are relevant today, and which are not? What does this mean for the development of alternative, critical fashion practices? What could be the role of fashion in re-imagining post-crisis societies? And I also wonder: how does this relate to what I’ve advocated in Dissolving the Ego of Fashion?

Since we’ve recently been writing essays and articles together, and I appreciate you as a critical fashion practitioner and as a core contributor to the Fashion Professorship, I wanted to share thoughts with you about this.

I’ve heard and read a lot about how we went from overproduction and overconsumption to retailers and designers struggling to keep their heads above water and to the cancellation of large orders due to a lack of demand. This is catastrophic for countries that manufacture clothes, such as Bangladesh, India and Vietnam. Apparently, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) reported that ‘buyers have thus far cancelled orders worth $3.15 billion in the wake of the coronavirus crisis’, which will ‘impact approximately 2.25 million Bangladeshi RMG [ready-made garments] workers’.[1] While some aspects of fashion may feel futile, this is what is at stake. The race to the bottom – buying for the lowest possible price – has now hit rock bottom. This puts all workers, who were already in a precarious position, in an even more precarious position. Once more, we see the harsh and painful realities and inequalities of western brands having power over the fate of workers in garment factories.

This is also why, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve increasingly felt uncomfortable when encountering some of the statements put forward by people in fashion (research) who have been advocating that the fashion system needs to change (as have I). What strikes me, are the statements claiming that now, finally, the opportunity has arrived to create another system. Most notably, trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort has stated that we have massively entered a ‘quarantine of consumption’, disrupting our obsessive consumer behaviour, which offers ‘a blank page for a new beginning’. What’s more, she argued that ‘the virus will show how slowing and shutting down can produce a better environment’. [2] Yes, of course we need to consume and produce differently, to sustain our earth, having more awareness of where our materials come from and how – and by whom – our clothes are made. Of course, we need to develop new and other systems that help to create more social and economic wellbeing for all people in the system, as I had also argued in Dissolving the Ego of Fashion. Of course, we need to develop alternative approaches, experimenting with different types of value chains – different kinds of practices of making and using – instead of trying to optimize the current system. Yet, at the same time, and this is what troubles me: is the disruption caused by the virus really the kind of disruption and opportunity that we’ve been advocating? With so many people on the intensive care, with so many people not being in the privileged position to work from home but being jobless? Don’t get me wrong: like I said, of course I agree that we cannot continue doing business as usual and have to create alternative systems (this was the case before the coronacrisis as well). And yes, perhaps this could be the time to leapfrog to another system that practices care for all human beings, living beings, involved. But at the same time, I am concerned that some of the utopian ideals with regard to a new fashion system – or in a broader sense, the post-covid19 society – being presented to us now ignore, again, what’s behind the scenes, reducing that to collateral damage of a transition needed. How do you feel about this?

There’s much more to say about this, so these are just some initial thoughts. I would love to hear your response. Looking forward to developing our thoughts about this together. Shall we make this an ongoing conversation?

Take care,