Many of us in the fashion and retail industry were looking forward to celebrating Earth Day’s 50th anniversary on April 22 by marking the progress we’ve made on sustainability and continuing to raise awareness about how we can be part of the solution to global climate change. But the anniversary was greatly dampened by the coronavirus pandemic, which has left our industry fighting for survival.
In times of crisis, it is tempting to lose focus on initiatives that support longer-term business goals such as creating a more sustainable industry and contributing to the social good. And with the uncertainty COVID-19 has brought, it’s understandable that cash-strapped companies would view any programs that are not critical to their immediate survival as unnecessary right now.
But we can’t afford to lose the momentum we’ve built in terms of raising awareness and taking action to create a more circular fashion economy and a more purpose-driven industry because, if there’s one thing the pandemic has highlighted, it’s how closely we’re all connected globally on both a business and societal level.
One thing we must deal with constructively in both the near and long term is excess inventory. Another is shortening supply chains and making them more transparent, socially conscious and environmentally friendly. A third is making sustainability a core part of every company’s business model rather than simply an aspect of good marketing. COVID-19 may be the catalyst for the industry to improve its reputation for making a positive impact with regard to these issues and many others.
Here are four ways retail and fashion companies can put sustainability and social responsibility at the core of their recovery efforts:
Donate Excess Inventory Instead of Destroying It
Post-pandemic, retailers and brands will be left with unprecedented amounts of excess inventory. Store closures that stretched for weeks or months mean companies are sitting on out-of-season apparel, footwear and accessories at a time when cash-strapped consumers have tightened their wallets. Unlike the restaurant and food service industries, which were able to immediately redirect much of their excess food supply toward feeding America’s medical professionals, children and unemployed workers, the fashion and retail industry did not have a unified platform from which to address the inventory problems resulting from the pandemic. We can learn from the example of José Andrés and other extraordinary leaders in the restaurant industry who have turned the problem of excess food into an opportunity to feed those in need.
We just have to ask ourselves how the fashion and retail industry can deal with its excess inventory in a similarly constructive way that benefits the social good. Perhaps some product can be stored or sold through discounting or sale events, but for the rest, the answer must be to donate it rather than destroying it.