Is anybody else waking up in the morning now thinking “What is it that I do and will I still be doing the same thing in the future?” Compounded by the fear of losing a job, we are questioning the value of our professional roles and wondering if we have the skills required to adapt to a new world of work in a post-Covid era. This applies equally to the next-gen tech natives as it does for veteran CEOs who now operate in a digital marketplace.
Who Am I?
As statistics build, we are faced with the reality that Covid-19 will be a dramatic game changer for the global apparel and fashion industry. So, how do we begin to turn around our fortunes and get our careers back on track with renewed focus and the right skills?
Company performance alone won’t save the fashion industry. An industry with a value of $1.7trillion that supports over 400m people globally should be able to do better.
Over the past year, describing the workforce has shifted from terms of skilled and non-skilled to essential and nonessential workers. Hence, I’ve been asking myself that very question, “Am I an essential worker?” I feel this question is worthy of discussion. It starts with an exercise describing (in no more than 30 words) who you are and what you do. Here goes:
“Hello, I’m Jackie Lewis, Course Development Director at Motif.org, with a career spanning almost 30 years in technical design and product development, I now focus on sustainability and professional development for the fashion industry.“
Most of you are probably thinking, so what? It’s a straightforward, traditional description. But how do you describe the role of a technical developer in layman’s terms to people who don’t work in our industry? The lexicon has changed, and non-tech people tend to be clueless about what a whole group of data analytics and tech experts actually do.
Trying to work through this dilemma, another question formed in my mind, “Is my experience still relevant and are my skills essential in a digital marketplace? For example, do I know how to technically manage the development and production of fashion, when orders are cancelled and stock is frozen in warehouses worldwide?”
New Skills for a New Era
Just a few months ago, at Motif we were talking about the key macro trends that are shaping the future of work and how the apparel and fashion industry has been slow to react to the need for automation, AI, digitization and personalization.
We forecasted that the top five skills to look for in product design and development teams of the future are:
- Digital process flow
- 3D CAD skills
- Analytical problem solving
- Innovative thinking
- Understanding of lean manufacturing.
These five skills are more relevant now than ever before and here’s why:
- At a business and individual level our current focus has been centred around survival tactics and navigating this pandemic crisis. The scene we face is unprecedented, unknown and uncertain, it requires us to think differently, think globally and to question the balance of power in current supply chain models and the role of retailers in the future.
- Every day we read the headlines about retailers and brands who are citing forced majeure as a lever to cancel or withhold payment on orders which had been placed and produced months before. Manufacturers experienced real hardship in regions such as Bangladesh where millions of textile workers lost their jobs or were furloughed on no pay. We start to appreciate the scale of the fashion industry and the impact any sudden change in supply and demand can have not only on the world’s economy but the livelihoods of people globally.
Haves and Have-Nots
When language such as “we are all in it together,” is expressed empathetically and authentically, we feel united in our battle with the pandemic, working to protect what we hold dear, safeguarding health, business and jobs
But in reality, the words of George Orwell “We’re all equal, but some people are more equal than others” has become the norm. We are witnessing a daily pantomime of life playing out in front of us, as the UN sustainable business goals are conveniently shelved or disregarded. An industry with a value of $1.7trillion that supports over 400m people globally, should be able to do better.
But if we choose to put a positive spin on business today, we face a moment in time when we could reshape the current image of the fashion industry from one based on capitalism rather than creativity with a legacy of poor environmental and social impact, to a sector of global importance and value.
We saw glimmers of the will to change the model play out as leading brands, apparel and textile manufacturers and supply chain partners collaborate to answer the call for PPE across the globe: Burberry, H&M, Kering Group, Barbour, Inditex, Gerber and Chargeurs to name a few played their part in the Covid-19 battle.
The cynics amongst us might say this is opportunistic but the one thing it demonstrates for sure is the ability of our industry to adapt at speed, innovative and problem solve and seize opportunities as and when they arise. These are true signs of an industry shaped by people with real entrepreneurial skills who know how to work and deliver under pressure.
What Do You Want to Change for the Future?
If nothing else our experiences during this global lockdown have already taught us, it’s that we can all adapt the way we live, work and communicate with each other. We have seen the power of the internet, elevated from standard technology to a cornerstone of our lives in facilitating community engagement, policymaking, education and remote working.
And post Covid-19, when we are finally released from house arrest and the stores are fully open again, the key question is “Who will have relevant product to sell?” The winners are likely to be the businesses that can develop new product that customers actually desire and deliver them quickly and efficiently.
Businesses with 3D technology and people with 3D CAD skills who understand digital process flow will be better equipped to respond to that call. We need to accept it’s time to embrace the fourth industrial revolution and allow technology, connectivity and analytical insights to take us forward creating a fashion industry that is more resilient and responsible.
With renewed focus, we should be able to exert our relevance by getting up each day and managing our way through this crisis by contributing and playing our part no matter how small. What’s the use in having experience and knowledge if you can’t apply it differently in challenging times?
At the same time, we need to find time to think how we want to change in our industry for tomorrow, addressing current norms such as the imbalance of power in the supply chain, over production and how capitalism has devoured our industry. Seriously, when did we make the switch from creating and innovating original product to copying and duplicating in so much quantity we could never consume?
An Industry Call to Action
In the words of economist Mariana Mazzucato, “The COVID-19 pandemic will shine light onto societal and economic systems all across the world, exposing some of the flaws of a capitalist society.”
Some businesses must restructure in order to survive. The key will be how to do this while putting skilled people back in the driver’s seat; people who understand the craft of fashion and can move with the times.
If this industry is important to you, fight for its future. Collaborate for the better good and remember why we came into this industry in the first place. Decide how you want it to change and drive it into the future.
We, the people, can make different choices. And we, experienced and industry veterans, should lean into our discomfort to be innovative. Cleaning up the fashion industry is everyone’s job.
Note: Alvanon/MOTIF is a Robin Report Collaborative Partner. Jackie Lewis is Course Development Director at Motif.org.