To say that the COVID-19 crisis shook the fashion industry is an understatement. The emergency paralysed the industry, sending shocks through the supply chains, and has resulted in job losses, reduced sales and investments, and cancelled orders. The last component in particular has fundamentally impacted the supply chain and those who make our clothes.
Fashion industry cracking
In many ways, the latest crisis amplified the already existing weaknesses of the industry. It made clear the dependence on global exchange, unfair policies, and exploitation. When the first lock-down measures took place, big fashion brands realised that they would have to close their physical shops for an unknown period of time. This meant that they would not be able to make enough sales and their profits would stagnate. In March 2020, they responded to this by cancelling the orders from the manufacturers, leaving them with finished garments and no pay. In Bangladesh alone, the cancelled orders are estimated to be worth about £2.4bn. This is devastating for the manufacturers and their workers. The workers did not receive the payment for the work they already did, leaving them financially paralysed and with no access to any social security, in the middle of the global pandemic.
This financial instability and leverage imbalance occurred at a time where the fashion industry is seeing a growing backlash. The movements that have been promoting and making fashion more sustainable and ethical are culminating in the past years. Now, when the crisis of a global scale cracked the industry, many people from these activism movements stood up and demanded that the brands take responsibility for their actions. And the changes are happening.
What is #PayUp
Perhaps one of the strongest movements is the one launched on March 30th, by the advocacy non-profit organization Remake. Their #PayUp campaign exposes the brands that cancelled their orders and never paid for them and called for them to give what they owed. They initiated a campaign and collected over 250 000 signatures (to date). But what makes this movement so strong and effective is their social media campaign. Many supporters, activists, bloggers, influencers, celebrities, and models have embraced their hashtag, #PayUp and it quickly went global with over 74K posts (and trending) on Instagram.
The campaign lists out the brands that have not paid, along with those who have, so that everybody can see clearly who took the responsibility and who refuses to do so. For many consumers, this alone has been a major eye-opener. At the moment, 17 brands have not yet paid for their orders, including giants like C&A, Primark, Fashion Nova, Forever 21, JCPenney, and Urban.
On the Remake.org website, they explain that to be removed from the list, brands need to promise to pay the suppliers for all the cancelled and in-production orders in full (not asking for discounts) and in a timely manner.
While the full effect of the pandemic on the lives of the garment workers is still unfolding, important and long due steps are made. The pressure of the campaign as well as the garment workers organising protests resulted in 19 big brands pledging to pay for the cancelled orders. Some of them include H&M, Inditex (Zara), Levi’s, Marks & Spencer, and Nike. You can follow the brand tracker here. This is incredibly important and proves that the combined efforts of activists, workers, and consumers do make a difference.
The true power of this hashtag is that the brands are being held accountable for their business decisions no longer only by the justice-fighters, but by their customers. The workers are being paid, which is absolutely crucial. But beyond that, people saw how the large corporations responded to the crisis and this alone will have a lasting impact.
Continuing the industry as usual is not likely or even possible. The pre-COVID way of working lied on a dysfunctional model that was financially, ecologically, and socially failing everyone. More than ever, thanks to campaigns like #PayUp the consumers are seeing this. Even the high-level policy-makers, academia and experts are reacting to this. The key now is to navigate this change in the direction we want.
Finally, we invite you to sign the #PayUp petition and follow JIF as we join forces to create a positive change in the fashion industry.