How Fashion Revolution Week Is Responding To The Impact Of Covid-19

By Dan Ahwa
Fashion Revolution New Zealand country coordinator Amy Conlon. Photo / Fashion Revolution Week.

Improved air quality and reduced carbon emissions are some of the glimmers of hope we’re seeing from reports in recent weeks since the world has been in lockdown.

Himalayan mountains can be viewed from the Northern Indian state of Punjab for the first time in 30 years. In Italy, a country hard hit by Covid-19, the canals in Venice indicate clearer waters as a result of the stoppage of motorboat traffic.

As governments around the world prepare major financial packages to stimulate economies following the pandemic, New Zealand's Climate Change Commission, along with a range of NGOs, have been urging Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Climate Change Minister James Shaw and the Government not to lock New Zealand into a high-emissions future and compound the crisis with its Covid-19 economic recovery.

It’s a topic many of us might be concerned with right now  how to ensure our commitment to the planet doesn’t fall by the wayside, as our attentions focus on more immediate health and business challenges.

For the fashion industry, one of many industries contributing to the world’s environmental problems, efforts have been made in recent years to address overconsumption and mass produced clothes, factors that affect both the environment and people’s lives.

But are those efforts being compromised with this global pandemic? Gosia Piatek, creative director and founder of Wellington-based ethical label Kowtow, which also has offices in Melbourne and London, doesn't think so.

New Zealand Advocate: Kowtow founder Gosia Piatek (right). Photos / Kowtow, Yoan Jolly
New Zealand Advocate: Kowtow founder Gosia Piatek (right). Photos / Kowtow, Yoan Jolly

“The world will come out of this period looking different and the Covid-19 conversation won’t be around forever. Sustainability, surely, will be the thing on the top of everyone’s minds; do we really want to go back to how it was in 2019?

“The world was a disaster in my view. Sustainability and ethics is really linked to basic human emotions such as kindness and respect, which is also something we are all discussing in New Zealand under Jacinda’s leadership. Maybe this will open up the door for more people to be inquisitive with sustainability issues now that we have all felt vulnerability and uncertainty?”

In light of Covid-19, the fashion industry has responded in different ways too. Allbirds provided free shoes to health care workers in the USA and closer to home it's been encouraging to see younger local labels such as Rachel Mills and Loclaire use their time in lockdown to create face masks. All three brands are advocates for sustainable design, proving that it is possible for fashion to help where it can, whether its a global pandemic or raising awarness around sustainability.

For designer Kate Sylvester, who in 2019 teamed up with Emily Miller-Sharma of fashion label Liam to start Mindful Fashion  an initiative to help consumers make informed choices about buying local designs, she believes the focus going forward is investing in local.

"Over the past four weeks our work with Mindful Fashion has shifted its focus to the sustainability and survival of our industry, not just as brands, but the future of our fabric suppliers, local cutters, button hollers, block fusers and machinists and how we can best support the industry through this time.

“Sustainability and survival are intertwined, and post Covid-19 it is boutique brands without the capital and resource of fast fashion and luxury that will suffer most. To ensure the sustainability of the local industry that we love, it’s so incredibly important to support your favourite local brands wherever possible.”

Designer Collab: Emily Miller-Sharma and Kate Sylvester of Mindful Fashion. Photo / Babiche Martens
Designer Collab: Emily Miller-Sharma and Kate Sylvester of Mindful Fashion. Photo / Babiche Martens

A recent report in Bloomberg revealed as many as 1089 Bangladesh garment factories have seen orders scrapped from major U.S. and European retailers, with some workers given less than a month's salary as severance, others have received nothing at all.

“Our two factories and mills are currently closed in India and the owners have committed to paying employee wages during this time” says Gosia. “Our factory in Mumbai also confirmed they have started to sew face masks. They are managing with what they can, and we are in touch with them daily. It will definitely mean we will have some hurdles to cross, but there’s always hurdles in fashion. As we work with our wholesale partners and figure this out all together  we can get through it.”

“At Kate Sylvester we will be paying homage to the incredible New Zealand makers who bring our clothing to life,” says Kate.

"Each day throughout Fashion Revolution Week on our social channels we'll be talking about all the incredible and extensive team of local legends that play a role in manufacturing our favourite garments from the Love Letters collection. For example our beautiful lilac 'Bobby Coat' took over six weeks to complete and touched the hands of six local makers; a cutter, a block fuser, a machinist, a button maker, a button holer and a presser."

As we mark Fashion Revolution Week this week, a week prompted by the tragic Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh in 2013 which resulted in the deaths of 1138 garment workers, the message remains the same; but one with an even stronger, localised point of view.

While New Zealand's regional Fashion Revolution groups have been operating for a number of years, Fashion Revolution New Zealand became an official member of the global Fashion Revolution committee at the end of last year after being collectively represented with Australia by Country co-ordinator Melinda Tually since 2014. Supporting the New Zealand arm is a dedicated national team of fashion activists from various sectors of the industry.

Cotton farmers in India. Use your voice to ensure workers in the supply chain are paid and supported during this crisis. Photo / Fashion Revolution Week
Cotton farmers in India. Use your voice to ensure workers in the supply chain are paid and supported during this crisis. Photo / Fashion Revolution Week

Amy Conlon, the country co-ordinator, believes New Zealand fashion continues to pave the way internationally for sustainable and ethically made clothes.

"We are extremely passionate about the need for system change in the fashion industry and seeing a growing collective of ethical designers and creators here in New Zealand, as key influencers in the ethical and sustainable global fashion industry. Local trail blazers such as Kowtow, Allbirds and Maggie Marilyn are having significant success that is capturing the world's attention and prompting conversation around sustainable fashion."

"Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Fashion Revolution global agenda has had to adapt and pivot, and this year we will have a more digital presence. A positive local outcome of this year’s Fashion Revolution Week would be a significant increase in online engagement, participation and ongoing fashion activism through digital channels.”

This year also marks a special moment with Kowtow’s inclusion in Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Open Studio. It is one of only 22 designers and brands selected from a long list of international finalists, who have been chosen from emerging and established designers that can help promote industry transparency and longevity through their own storytelling. Having a New Zealand representative will further help the industry’s objectives both locally and internationally.

As part of the week's digital activities, Gosia also took part in a virtual conversation this week on Instagram Live with Fairtrade CEO, Molly Harriss Olson, to further engage and share problem-solving skills relevant for today's current climate. "Molly has an incredible global background she was involved with the Rainbow Warrior, was named one of the Australian Financial Review's '100 Women of Influence', and served as the executive director on President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development at the White House. To have had that conversation with such a knowledgable person with such a warm open heart and incredible problem-solving skills, I found it incredibly uplifting."

The overall ambition for the week according to Amy, is to ensure those sustainable conversations remain central to helping everyone in fashion’s supply chain survive.

“Sustainability is the key word for the fashion industry coming out of this global crisis. The clothing industry, which has evolved into an industry of fast and disposable fashion in the last 20 years, cannot carry on at the same growth trajectory. We are witnessing the impact on the industry from thousands of cancelled orders as a result of the pandemic of Covid-19 and how this is displacing garment workers around the world. The industry has broken systems that does not support the people who make our clothes, and this must change."


SOCIAL MEDIA: Take a photo of a garment inside out and share it on your social media using the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes? Use this to share the conversation and demand that fashion brands protect the workers in their supply chain just as they would their own employees, especially during this global health and economic crisis. Tag @FashRevNewZealand (Facebook) @fash_rev_newzealand (Instagram).

PARTICIPATE: Fashion Revolution Week in New Zealand will feature a range of digital activities that people can get involved in, including "What's in Your Wardrobe?" digital storytelling opportunities, online craft activism workshops, articles with the best ethical fashion books, podcasts and documentaries to check out and more. For the full list of what's happening around the country, or to get involved. Visit Fashion Revolution New Zealand's page at

WRITE: Send a letter to your favourite fashion brands and demand that they honour the orders they have already placed with their suppliers and ensure that the workers making their products are protected, supported and paid properly during this crisis. Fashion Revolution have created a pre-populated letter template that you can quickly and easily use to contact brands by email or via social media.

DONATE: Donate to non-profit organisations that are providing support to the millions of garment makers that have lost their jobs. Fashion Revolution suggests the AWAJ FoundationThe Garment Worker CentreGoodWeave International, the World Fair Trade Organisation or CARE. For a full list of useful resources and information visit

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