Fashion in times of Coronavirus feels like scrolling through a strange and eerie #goals graveyard. The only appropriate topics for content being grief, tranquility, dark humor and pleas to support local artists and makers. Ads float through our feeds like the ghosts of good times past. While it's not wrong and even admirable for small businesses (which account for most sustainable brands) to try to keep their businesses afloat, something feels unsettling about selling non-necessities when there is a virus without a vaccine, people without food and most definitely people without toilet paper.
But alongside grief posts, there’s an uptick in self-actualized, user-generated content like cooking vlogs and home renovation projects. According to the 2011 documentary, entitled “Happy” produced by Tom Shadyac and inspired by this New York Times article, societies focused on wealth, status and image reported lower levels of happiness compared to those that focused on relationships, self-improvement and community.
Maybe quarantine is our chrysalis. We’re reaching out to our families and friends more often to check-in. Working from home has us cutting back on emissions as well as our dreaded commutes. Because of an impending recession we're realizing the importance of saving. We’re tackling our DIY projects, practicing the guitar, reading unread books, and realizing we actually know how to cook. In these scary times, we’ve become tech-enabled, depression-era grandmothers darning our socks, baking cakes and posting our resourcefulness for the ‘gram. Maybe in all this scarcity, we’re being reborn.
Millennials are scared but not just because our boomer parents are glibly going to the movies and yoga class (despite being high risk), but because with this tragic illness comes a major economic price. Many of us don’t have savings. The cost of rent in the metropolitan areas where we congregate is absurd and Instagram culture has capitalized on our “life envy” so profoundly that we chase perfection through consumption.
We’ve depended on boom times to enable our pursuit of stuff and status but maybe even in the best of times, we weren't thriving. The average American has over $38,000 of consumer debt, a possible aftereffect of aspiring to the glossy lifestyles we're being sold. But being forced into quarantine renders all of this irrelevant. In a crisis, we forgo everything else and turn to the basics, food, shelter and our relationships. For now, it seems the good times are on hold.
We can't say we were blindsided by this virus on the whole. Experts have predicted another pandemic and Bill Gates even tried to warn us of this in his aptly named 2015 Ted Talk, “The Next Outbreak, We’re Not Ready.” Bill outlines a well-laid plan to improve communications, have trained medical staff in an organized corps, ready to deploy at any moment all of which we collectively forgot to implement prior to the current crisis. As the Coronavirus makes us vulnerable, hopefully, the beauty of what we're learning in quarantine can carry us through the looming recession and help us prepare for future pandemics.
Will we be like our grandparents? Will we wash the tin foil and bury cash in the backyard with thrifty frugality? In the best-case scenario, we'll emerge from our cocoons well-rested, more skilled, more compassionate, closer to our families and friends. Maybe by 2060, if our economy runs on renewables and we've learned to use social media to connect rather than to impress, we'll look back and say this was the crisis we all needed.