The novel coronavirus has illuminated just how vulnerable our supply chain is to a major upset of global production during a crisis. The question is, what can we do in manufacturing to circumvent a disruption in the supply chain in the future? In this new age, what can we do to secure basic needs in catastrophic times?
COVID-19 has disrupted supply chains for nearly 75% of U.S. companies, according to a 2020 report by Rabouin. We are experiencing stockpiling, closing of unnecessary businesses, social distancing and massive unemployment. At home, regulations from many states have created a “new normal.” As a consumer, watching the decline of supplies in stores, like toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and groceries, seeing Amazon delivery slow to two weeks and having my favorite pizza shop close clearly demonstrate what can happen to the supply chain in extreme conditions. Moreover, the examples mentioned highlight the poor habits of humanity. They reveal that our over-consumption and excessive consumer behaviors lead to disasters like this, massive pollution and climate change, and that now may be a good time to evaluate while we’re all stuck indoors.
The new coronavirus has raised a need for an improvement in the practices of supply chain demand. We have to ask ourselves: what has contributed to the imbalance? This intense situation and the disruption it has caused in all of our lives gives us the ability to rethink our behavior to avoid further risks by establishing a more sustainable approach to life and industry. Despite these conditions, how can we in the manufacturing world flourish?
One major issue might be due to the over-consumption of fashion. Do we need 10 pair of jeans? What if, instead, we had two pairs of fantastic, sustainable jeans? We can minimize and combat over-consumption by deconstructing the world of fast fashion with more thoughtful goods. It is possible that this virus is shedding light on the faulty ways we do business, and the Earth is tired of our mistreatment. Might we think of the grander picture? It is better if a river is not flooded with dye and toxic chemicals, if we are not breathing polluted air.
Over-consumption does not only result in a further threat to humans now but to future generations who could end up extinct or living in extreme toxic conditions. What a shame; our behavior has contributed to creating an imbalance in our environment, and if it’s not re-evaluated, our practices could contribute to global destruction. This disruption breeds technological innovation, supply chain re-invention and eco-consciousness, as business must function in a different manner to support our global economy and supply basic needs.
What about a new plan for the future that includes more robotics and technology that could diminish some of our carbon output, creating goods that are untouched by the human hand? Or, by producing on a local level, each state could eliminate pollution from the transport of goods. This pandemic is an opportunity to view how the supply chain can function more effectively and for the consumer to think about what is really necessary. It is an instrumental time to reflect on what is important, how we have been functioning as consumers and how the business of manufacturing goods is conducted.
In this time, we should remember that safety among workers is crucial. Considering proper, healthy working solutions (proper hygiene, for example) at this time is the key to success in the manufacturing process. In addition, there are other measures to consider, like utilizing more sustainable options for creating raw materials, treating them, and disposing of the final goods in a more circular, closed-loop supply chain. We also need to create additional supplies where COVID-19 hit the hardest to avoid shortages in the future. We have to take a bad situation and use it to take a look at what we’re doing wrong so that we can improve the future.
Michelle Alleyne is a fashion strategist and professor, and Sandra Roy is a graduate student studying social work. They can be reached via Instagram at @mshopnyc and @altruistic9, respectively.