November 10, 2020 - Ethical & Sustainable

How Fashion Habits Have Changed Due to COVID-19

Shopping online for african print clothing and made to measure garments

COVID-19 has certainly affected our fashion habits. Less people are shopping in physical stores due to lockdown measures and fewer businesses are open. More people are choosing to shop online, as it is easier, safer, and more convenient.

Unfortunately, not all fashion retail businesses (both large and small) have survived the pandemic. According to The Guardian, about 11,000 shops shut in the first half of 2020 in the UK, which is twice as many as in the same period last year. Research carried out by PwC shows that around 60 stores in the UK are closing each day! 

Clothing stores closed due to Covid-19

COVID-19 may have had a huge negative impact globally however, the impact on our fashion habits has resulted in good news for the sustainable fashion industry. This blog explores how fashion habits have changed due to events that have occurred as a result of COVID-19 including changes that have been arguably better for the environment.

COVID’s Impact on the Fashion Industry 

Before COVID-19, high street retailers were already struggling due to the popularity of online shopping and high overheads, which included shop leases and staff wages. Many large chains already had plans to close a number of underperforming stores to reduce overheads, which have been accelerated due to the pandemic.

In several countries, retailers have furloughed staff in shops and headquarters rather than making redundancies. The mandatory closure of stores due to lockdowns and reduced traffic and sales means that shops are overstocked. This caused some retailers to cancel or refuse to pay for new stock regardless of whether it was already in production. This resulted in many garment workers around the world losing their jobs.

Garment workers worldwide lose jobs clothing retailers cancelled orders COVID-19 pandemic

It is believed that in the UK, apparel retailers have about 15 billion overhang of stock according to Marie Claire! To get around this issue, retailers have heavily discounted their Spring/Summer 2020 inventory. Heavy discounting in stores and online can devalue the quality of a retailer’s product offering and affect the perception of a brand.

How Have Our Fashion Habits Changed 

The speed of fashion has slowed down, consumers are shopping more sustainably supporting smaller independent retailers and businesses that treat people well, and as a result, our shopping habits are likely to have changed for the good. COVID-19 may have been a horrific experience but at least some good has come out of quarantine and lockdown measures across the world.

More Online Shopping

There has been an increase in online shopping due to it being safer, easier and quicker to shop from home, where many people are spending their time. However, online sales for many retailers have not been as good as expected with high traffic not converting into sales.

We as consumers are being more careful with what we buy and are opting to purchase essential items such as food and cleaning products as opposed to luxury items to wear out. Some retailers have seen an increase in comfortable loungewear sales including pajamas and activewear, as people are spending more time at home and exercising outdoors.

Exercising and keeping healthy during the Coronavirus lockdown

Retailers that would usually have more in-store sales are encouraging customers to shop online instead. In some cases, this has put pressure on their warehouses fulfilling orders in the usual time frame due to social distancing measures, reduced staff levels and daily time-consuming deep cleans to protect staff.

Retailers who already had an online presence before the pandemic hit will fair a lot better than those who didn’t. E-commerce sites are likely to see an increase in revenue leading up to the Christmas period, particularly in European countries that are experiencing more lockdowns.

Big Chains Have Closed and Lost Business

Retail stores have experienced a massive decline in traffic and sales during the pandemic. National and regional lockdowns have contributed to a significant amount of lost income. Shops that are able to open have to abide by strict safety measures such as hand washing, using hand sanitizer, and social distancing. Some stores are limiting the number of customers who can enter at one time and have created one-way systems.

Consumer spending will continue to decline; it’s likely to take a long time for it to recover while countries wait for a COVID-19 vaccine to be widely available. Large retailers will close their shops at a faster rate than they previously planned before the pandemic. Small independent retailers will also suffer.

Greater Support for Local Independent Businesses

On a positive note, there’s been much greater support for small independent businesses, from grocery stores to clothing and coffee shops. We are being encouraged to ‘shop local’ to save jobs and people’s livelihoods, which is likely to continue in the future. Smaller shops are likely to pop up on high streets, as they take advantage of initiatives and new opportunities.

Support small independent retailers during Covid-19

Larger retailers are more likely to survive the pandemic than small independent businesses due to the large profits they make and the financial support on offer by governments. This is why many people prefer to support independent retailers rather than big companies such as Amazon, who have not treated their warehouse staff well during the pandemic.

COVID-19 Has Resulted in More Ethical Fashion Habits

COVID-19 has encouraged greater sustainability in terms of fashion habits. We are more likely to purchase more essential items, putting quality first over quantity. Many people used their sewing machines at home to make PPE including face masks so perhaps we are now more likely to mend and upcycle the existing clothes in our wardrobes.


Tailors in Tanzania making African wax print fabric face masks

Kitenge Store’s tailor, Denis, making face masks in Tanzania, East Africa

The speed of fashion is likely to slow down with fewer collections being released and fashion shows switching to virtual experiences. We are also more likely to purchase clothing items that are made locally to support businesses and the economy. These changes will help to reduce the large carbon footprint caused by the global fashion industry and help to protect the planet.

Brands that have a social purpose have increased their popularity. We are more inclined to shop from brands who care, look after their employees/customers, pay their suppliers on time for orders that were finished or still in production, and source their materials sustainably. Supply chains will also be shortened so that more products are made locally. 

Get Involved in a Future of Sustainable Fashion

It’s up to all of us to help to protect the future of our great planet and people’s livelihoods. There are so many small things that we can easily do in order to achieve this. We can become sustainable fashion activists with better habits, discouraging fast fashion and voting with our wallets for the change we want to see! 

To learn more, read our blog about how COVID-19 may have a positive impact on a sustainable future for the fashion industry.

Kitenge Supports Sustainable Fashion Habits

Start to change your fashion habits today by diving into Kitenge’s world of sustainable African print clothing and made to measure garments!

How to wash African print shirt care label

All our African wax print fabric is locally sourced from a small, family-run business in Tanzania, East Africa. Our African menswear and modern African clothing for women are lovingly handmade by our talented team of tailors from scratch in their own independent workshops.

Our social mission is to empower our tailors to improve their livelihoods with each colorful and unique garment that they make! Your purchase will help our tailors to grow their businesses organically. So far they have been able to invest in new sewing machines, hire and train new staff and move to larger premises.


Kitenge master clothing tailor Abdallah at his new workshop in Tanzania

Kitenge Store’s master tailor, Abdallah, working at his workshop that he opened in 2016 using the profits made from our orders

Kitenge’s made to measure clothing is always cut to order, which reduces fabric waste and surplus stock at the end of each season. After our bold and vibrant garments are handcrafted, we recycle all the fabric offcuts by making smaller items such as men’s bow ties.

Explore our African boutique online today and get in touch if you have any questions!


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