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The tangible impact of COVID-19

By: Seth Lennon
Jul 5

Every level of the apparel supply chain has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail outlets are slowly reopening after months of closure. Production facilities around the world are weathering the storm after brands and retailers canceled orders during the pandemic. Even the buying habits of consumers have changed as businesses are moving away from the traditional office setting and towards more of a work-from-home environment.

In my role as Communications Manager, I have been doing my best to keep my thumb on the pulse of events, considering their impact on the core mission of this organization. While the deluge of news coverage does paint a dire picture, it is hard to truly grasp the impact of these events until you personally witness their impact.

 Recently, I had such a moment.

Our area is home to Tyson’s Corner Center, one of the premier shopping centers on the east coast of the United States. Several major brands and retailers have some form of presence at the mall. Not too long ago, I had to pick up a purchase I made at one of the retail locations within Tyson’s Corner. After picking up my item, I walked around the mall (socially distanced and with a mask, of course) to get a better idea of the current shopping environment. What I saw was startling.

I had not visited this shopping mall since the end of December 2019. If you have ever been to a shopping mall in the United States during a holiday season, you know that it includes encountering lots of harried people, to say the least. Compared to the crowds that had been within the mall  that past December, my late-June 2020 visit was quite different.

It wasn’t hard to maintain the necessary six-feet of physical distance between myself and other mall patrons. Instead of the bustling retail metropolis to which I am more familiar, it felt more like a ghost town.

 Lines were forming outside of individual retail outlets as individual store staff worked diligently to keep crowds under the maximum allowed number of shoppers to mitigate the spread of the virus.

 

The New Reality

 

However, several store locations were either closed because of shortened hours or simply elected to leave their mall location as their parent companies sought to keep financial losses in check. Back in November2019, one of my favorite brands launched a new retail location at Tyson’s Corner. I recall the excitement I felt as I visited the local physical outlet for this beloved brand. Now, it was shuttered, with all signs and posters removed. Seven months after arriving, it was like this spot had not been occupied in the first place.

 

 

The sad sight that greeted me.

 

This is our 2020 shopping reality - while I am personally disappointed to lose a favorite brand outlet, the implications for the global supply chain go beyond my shopping experience. First, you have retail workers seeking a transfers within a company or looking for new employment altogether. Next there is the economic impact upon the brand/retailer as a whole. Their financial condition has been so drastically impacted by the pandemic that they must take a loss on a capital investment to remain financially viable.

Looking deeper into the supplier level; with fewer locations, there is diminished demand for these goods. This is the reality facing several sourcing destinations, such as Bangladesh, India, and Vietnam, which are struggling under the weight of canceled or deferred orders from around the world. So far, these lost orders add up to a staggering figure of U.S. $20 billion.

In the “great recession” that hit the United States and Western Europe in 2008, the retail landscape changed dramatically during that period. It would not be a stretch to say that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis could be as adverse or even worse than the challenges we faced over a decade ago.

However, we must maintain our commitment to transparency and visibility throughout the supply chain. We may not be able to do things exactly the same, all actors in the space are going to have to pivot in some way. While how we get from point a to point b may be different than it was six months ago. Yet, the destination remains the same, ensuring the public that the goods they buy are sourced ethically and responsibly. 

Luckily, several brands are taking this commitment seriously. New data from Fashion Revolution illustrated how more brands than ever are disclosing their policies on environmental and social issues. This is key, especially considering the various social justice related conversations that are happening at the moment.

 I hope that we remain committed to social responsibility and doing things the right way. Because, no matter the challenges we may face, there are some values that we can never waver on.

 

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