The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are both colossal and far-reaching, emerging in almost every corner of our world and society. The dire impact that this virus has had on industries worldwide and the global economy itself certainly makes for bleak reading. One sector that has been particularly hard-hit on every conceivable level is the fashion industry. Retail outlets have been unable to operate as normal since March, and many are set to remain closed due to certain social distancing measures enforced by the government. Additionally, the increasing rate of unemployment has led to a decrease in unessential spending and consumer demand for the latest styles has starkly plummeted. With the world housebound, curating a summer wardrobe is far from a top priority.
In early March, retailers began grappling with the reality of business amidst a global pandemic and companies were left to decide what measures should be taken to lessen the shock of sudden dwindling sales in their industry. As a result, well-known clothing brands decided to cancel valuable garment orders from supplying factories, the majority of which are located in developing countries, in an effort to minimise the financial blow. It’s estimated that the total cost of cancelled orders from Bangladesh comes to almost €2bn, causing severe complications in the supply chain.
“The real victim in this scenario is the already underpaid Bangladeshi factory workers who won’t be remunerated for the work they’ve done and the clothes they’ve manufactured to fulfil these orders.”
There are two problems caused by this congestion: factory employees lose their jobs or go unpaid and over 900m pieces of neglected garments are consigned to landfills, contributing to pollution and greenhouse gas production.The real victim in this scenario is the already underpaid Bangladeshi factory workers who won’t be remunerated for the work they’ve done and the clothes they’ve manufactured to fulfil these orders. Millions of these labourers now face lockdown restrictions as well as financial ruin and the prospect of starvation. Limited social security within the country means a safety net for these furloughed workers is, in most cases, non-existent. The head of a multinational company scrambles to minimise its losses while a factory worker loses the means to live on the other side of the world.
It’s currently estimated that over two million factory workers in Bangladesh have been affected thus far due to unforeseen stock cancellations, with over one million of these workers facing unemployment. More than 75% of exports from Bangladesh are related to the garment industry and the situation in the grim wake of Covid-19 has been described as nothing less than catastrophic. The fate of these unwanted clothes also showcases the detrimental impact clothing waste has on the environment.
Fast fashion’s role in environmental devastation has become more pernicious than ever due to this tremendous increase in waste. Currently over 60% of the fibres used to make the clothes we wear are synthetic materials and are non-biodegradable. The 900m pieces of clothing rendered useless by Covid-19 order cancellations are now destined for the landfills, where their fibres will exist for centuries and contribute to methane emissions, ultimately worsening greenhouse gas effects.
Cally Russell, the Scottish entrepreneur and CEO of the fashion app Mallzee, saw the possible humanitarian and environmental repercussions of these cancelled clothing orders and was moved to action. By combining his expertise in the fashion industry and in consumer data, he conceived of a project that would aspire to help struggling factory employees while simultaneously minimizing excessive clothing waste. Thus, Lost Stock was born.
“The concept is unique, but is nothing less than a veritable lifeline for the struggling manufacturers who provide clothing to retailers like Topshop, Gap and Dorothy Perkins.”
The objective of Lost Stock is to pay in-need Bangladeshi workers by facilitating the sale of factories’ discarded clothes directly to buyers in the UK and Ireland at half of the retail price. The company essentially acts as an understudy to the high street’s role as middleman. The idea both supports factory labourers in dire straits and prevents the needless waste of new clothes. Plus, using Lost Stock is easy. Upon logging onto their website, users simply answer a few questions regarding their sizing and preferred style and, after paying a rather reasonable fee, receive a tailored delivery of would-be high street clothes for half of its normal cost. The concept is unique, but is nothing less than a veritable lifeline for the struggling manufacturers who provide clothing to retailers like Topshop, Gap and Dorothy Perkins.
Nearly 40% of the money raised by Lost Stock is given directly to the Bangladeshi non-profit organisation SAJIDA. As stated on the SAJIDA website, the foundation endeavours to “improve quality of life…through sustainable and effective interventions” throughout 26 Bangladeshi regions. The purchase of one box of clothes can support a Bangladeshi worker and their family’s food and hygiene requirements for a whole week. Cally Russell’s aim for Lost Stock was to help 10,000 of these workers by the end of May and about 50,000 by the end of 2020. The staggering response to the start-up, however, saw 62,000 boxes purchased in the first week alone.
“Lost Stock’s endeavour to lend a helping hand to those bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s hardship offers a sliver of welcome reprieve – surely entrepreneurship at its most compassionate and humane.”
Experience, it seems, was a key component in the rapid success of Lost Stock. Russell’s pre-pandemic enterprise, the fashion app Mallzee, already had many of the required systems in place to deliver such a service without much delay, streamlining its launch and allowing donations to be delivered as quickly as possible to SAJIDA. The creativeness of the company must also be applauded. Constant news of Covid-19’s global impact can make people feel helpless in the face of its devastating effects, such as those seen in Bangladesh. While this fashion box scheme may not be a long-term solution to fast fashion, Lost Stock’s endeavour to lend a helping hand to those bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s hardship offers a sliver of welcome reprieve – surely that is entrepreneurship at its most compassionate and humane.