The Virus, The Student, and The Wardrobe


Maya Barber asks if the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating sustainability in student fashion.

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Image by Piqsels

By Maya Barber

Right now we all wish we could walk into our wardrobes and be transported to another world. Unfortunately for us, the most variation we are currently experiencing is changing our joggers from grey to black. There has possibly never been a time where our daily clothing choices are so redundant.

Unexpectedly, the coronavirus pandemic is promoting sustainability in the fashion industry, as well as in the fashion habits of broke students. Bereft of places to go and people to see, our wardrobes are feeling the benefits of not being stuffed full of £5 polyester crop tops from Pretty Little Thing in preparation for the next night out.

We are perhaps blissfully unaware of how much fast-fashion we are exposed to, and how often we succumb to its incessant marketing and low prices. In just four weeks, an invisible enemy has dramatically changed all this, with repercussions for the High Street that could last way beyond our time as students. The Office for National Statistics has recently declared that clothing sales are down by 35%. Who would have predicted that the clothing giant Primark, which has received hundreds from us all, would go from making £650 million in sales a month, to an ice-cold zero. Clearly, with fast-fashion less readily available and fewer reasons to buy clothes, we are consuming less and reducing the number of unnecessary items in our wardrobe.

Of course, online clothing stores offer an alternative to the High Street and remain up-and-running. However, online shops have not escaped the destructive impact of the virus, with sales falling significantly as more money is being directed to daily essentials. Online retailer ShipBob has over 3,000 merchants selling through their site, including companies such as eBay and Etsy. They have found a 20% decrease in sales each month. Ultimately, this is because the context in which we buy clothes has drastically changed. The pervasive effect of the pandemic impacts our motivation as shoppers. Though online stores remain open, why would we really buy clothing in the current situation? Especially when the only people to impress is the audience in our living rooms? So, what can we do to fill the void of in-store and online retail therapy? The answer is DIY.
With boredom kicking in and savings dwindling, more and more students have turned to upcycling the clothes they already own. University of York student Lucy McCormack is no exception to this.

“I started with a plain t-shirt that I never wear anymore and turned it into a ruched cropped T-shirt using my Mum’s old sewing machine. I’ve been able to save all my old t-shirts this way so I don’t have to throw them away and as a bonus it helps me to save money!”

Image: Lucy McCormack

University of York student Victoria Black has also tried her hand at revamping her current wardrobe:

“With all the free time lockdown has created, I thought what better way to spend an afternoon than going through my wardrobe and doing a bit of simple DIY. With this particular piece I simply cropped an old cami and created the text using rhinestones and fabric glue. It was a relatively easy process, very cost efficient and is definitely an item I will wear out once lockdown is over!”

Image: Victoria Black

With more time on our hands, we have been presented with the perfect opportunity to get creative, subjecting our old clothing items to vagaries of cutting, bleaching and sewing. Who would have thought our 2015 selves would find expression again? This reincarnation of fabrics can breathe new life into our wardrobes, while benefiting the environment and our bank accounts.

In a wider sense, the virus is accelerating the sustainability movement in fashion. More than ever we are thinking about why we wear clothes, and what we truly need. Allowing us to wonder, will the virus change our behaviour as shoppers or will we revert back to our destructive fashion culture?