Everyone’s looking for the silver linings of our year in lockdown. Early on, we thought one might be a healthier planet, with grounded planes and stay-at-home orders cutting carbon emissions by 6.4% and clearing the smog in Delhi and Los Angeles. That turned out to be a short-lived pause; emissions were almost back to “normal” in the second half of the year as commuting, air travel, and manufacturing resumed.
While I continue to work from my Lower East Side apartment, I’m wondering if the rise in online shopping has something to do with that short-lived pause, too: E-commerce sales rose a record 32.4% in 2020, overwhelming an already-strained logistics and shipping workforce and inevitably amounting to a surge in shipping emissions and packaging waste. (Not to mention the electricity we use to power our browsing habits; add the nightmare that is bitcoin, and you might feel the urge to ditch your phone and move off the grid.)
Digital sales saved our favorite brands and kept people safe, so I’m certainly not here to vilify your e-comm activity. Plus, after a year on our phones, I have a feeling we’ll be ready for some local, IRL shopping again in the second half of 2021. The more pressing question is if our consumption habits as a whole—online, brick-and-mortar, new, secondhand—will change after this is all over. In the beginning of the pandemic, designers spoke of our industry’s opportunity for a “second chance,” to “rethink, recreate, and do it better”; they pushed to “change the whole way the system is working,” to reach “a new sense of mindfulness” and to “be connected to what’s real.” Fashion can become more sustainable, more compassionate, more equal. It will take time and commitment from brands, but in the meantime, the best thing we can do is shop in alignment with our values.
There’s evidence that Gen Z shoppers are interested in sustainability and ethical practices, and for this millennial’s part, I felt even more committed in 2020. In some ways, I found it easier to shop (and live) sustainably, but other times, it was difficult. At first, like many of us, I didn’t feel the urge to buy anything, which was freeing. I had nowhere to go, no one to see, and found it liberating to no longer worry about what I should wear every morning. (That wore off pretty quick—now I’m desperate for a reason to get dressed.)