Innovation and adaptation in the shadow of COVID-19

, | Nov 2, 2020 | BY Seth Lennon

During the last several weeks, I have enjoyed talking to several important figures for various episodes of WRAP’s podcast, the WRAPCast. I had excellent discussions with thought leaders such as Godecke Wessel from Foursource, Daniel Sepulveda from the Mexican Footwear Chamber, and Dr. Rubana Huq from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), I gained an additional appreciation level for how interconnected the apparel supply chain is.

I know that this is a theme that I have discussed before, but it needs to be reinforced. Especially in the light of challenges resulting from COVID-19.

During my discussion with Dr. Huq, she talked about how her industry struggled under the weight of order cancellations from foreign brands during the spring. Brands and retailers across the world were forced to shutter physical locations to keep consumers and workers safe. However, many orders were canceled during these lockdowns, even when they were complete and ready for shipment. Many brands and retailers have paid for and taken delivery of orders, but the impact does remain. Dr. Huq outlined how facilities were forced to furlough workers as revenue fell during this time.  This is not the venue to discuss whether such decisions were right or wrong, but the impact is undeniable.

Throughout my discussion with Goedecke, we talked about how Europe is working to address the impact of their own COVID related lockdowns and how we should be using technology to better ascertain the challenges within the supply chain through improving visibility and giving consumers a better road map of where their apparel is coming from.

Last, but not least- my discussion with Daniel educated me about how his country is digitizing their supply chain in response to supply chain disruptions due to COVID to reduce costs and better cater to consumers. He also talked about the industry in Mexico is using the current climate as a means to innovate, focusing on making their shoes out of used materials in a effort to not only cater to consumers who are looking at more casual items, but also take advantage of the opportunity to promote circularity.

In fact, that has been a theme with several of the people I have spoken to. While several of the challenges before us are great, there is a great deal of opportunity for the entire sewn goods space. Even though consumers are changing their habits, especially in the United States, where athleisure is taking the place of traditional office formalwear. This brings back memories of when I was 12 and attended a practice of the now- Washington Football Team. John Clayton, a reporter for ESPN, was doing a story on the organization, and the first thing that struck me was his attire. From the waist up, it was a perfectly put together coat and time combination. Meanwhile, from the waist down, it was a pair of gym shorts.  Clayton was ahead of his time as this combo might be the dominant look in home offices throughout the United States.

This story’s point is that we have long been able to adapt to our circumstances and evolve to address them best. As people are changing their buying habits, we see industry actors take advantage of this seismic shift. Brands are making visibility even more of a priority, with several of them using technology to allow consumers to look at their garments’ life cycle. Several are also making sustainability an even bigger priority, with several using new processes to minimize apparel production’s adverse environmental impact. There is one instance of a brand using revolutionary technology to reuse old fabrics to produce new apparel.

Who knows if this innovation would have happened without COVID-19 fundamentally changing our world. However, if a heightened commitment to sustainability is one of this calamity’s outcomes, then the situation is not as hopeless as it may seem at moments.


Seth Lennon