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Fashion’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Florine Lips explores the responses that key players in the fashion industry have had towards the COVID-19 pandemic.

In times of crisis, fashion is rarely at the forefront of people’s minds. As the world attempts to navigate daily life in the midst of a global pandemic, and we adjust to the new normal of minimal socializing and a stronger-than-ever reliance on the internet, the plight of the fashion industry takes a backseat to more immediate fears for public health and the economy. It makes sense – who, right now, whether stuck at home in isolation, on the frontline of the fight against the virus, or worrying about how they’re going to pay the bills, is thinking about re-vamping their wardrobe for spring? Fashion isn’t critical to the functioning of society in the way that medical workers, firefighters, and those working the supply chain are. But it’s a vast industry consisting of brands that have a huge presence in the public consciousness, and so have a unique ability to influence people. Not only this, but resources such as textiles and factories can be hugely beneficial if redirected towards the fight against the virus.

LVMH paved the way for Fashion’s response to the crisis by announcing last Sunday that they would use their perfume production facilities (Parfums Christian Dior, Guerlain and Parfums Givenchy) to manufacture free hand sanitizer to distribute French hospitals, who desperately need it. Their press release stated that “through this initiative, LVMH intends to help address the risk of a lack of product in France and enable a greater number of people to continue to take the right action to protect themselves from the spread of the virus”, and that they would “honour this commitment for as long as necessary” This came 72 hours after a call from the French government for businesses to do what they could to help; by Monday, production was in motion. The brand was set to have produced twelve tonnes of hand sanitiser for Paris hospitals by the end of that same week. Soon after, brands L’Oréal and La Roche-Posay announced that they would follow suit.

On Wednesday, following a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the company’s homeland of Spain, the Inditex fashion group, owners of Zara, announced that they would repurpose their factories to donate masks and other medical equipment to the hospitals who need them. In a statement to Vogue, they said they had already distributed 10,000 protective masks to hospitals and expected to be able to donate another 300,000 surgical masks by the end of the week. The company have had to close half their stores around the world, and although executive chairman Pablo Isla confidently asserted that it was the company’s “strong financial position” that meant they were ready to respond to the crisis, they’ve seen their sales fall by 24.1% as of early March. With Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez warning that “the worst is yet to come”, and makeshift hospitals emerging in the capital to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients, the company’s efforts will surely be appreciated greatly.

Magazines and individuals within the fashion community are playing their part, too. Vogue in particular is channelling its content towards the priorities of its readers in these unsettling times, publishing articles such as ’12 Ways To Turn Your Home Office Into A Productive Sanctuary’, and ‘Jewellery’s New Surreal Appeal Echoes The Strangeness Of Our Times’. Anna Wintour has pledged to stay at home, encouraging readers to do the same, as “there is no more important rule for us to follow.” As we begin to see high-profile fashion events such as the Met Gala being cancelled or postponed, it seems that many designers and models will be following suit. Influencers, the subsection of the fashion and social media community with arguably the most sway over public opinion, are also pledging financial support for the crisis – in Italy, Chiara Ferragni raised €3 million in a single day via a GoFundMe campaign and has made a personal donation of €100,000 to fund new hospital beds in one of Milan’s most over-run hospitals. Donatella Versace and her daughter have since made a €200,000 donation to the same hospital. Influential model-of-the-moment Bella Hadid issued a plea to her 29.2 million followers to take the virus seriously, and to not be “selfish”.

It may seem strange to consider fashion at such a time of global uncertainty, when hundreds of lives are being lost every day, but it’s also important to remember that any semblance of normality is something we should protect at all costs as the situation escalates. The fashion industry is playing a big part in providing relief for the crisis, and we need to follow their example: we might not have the resources to donate money or equipment to fight the pandemic, but we can listen to those whose work we admire when they tell us what we can do to help. Fashion is playing its part, and so can we– by wearing the clothes, jewellery, or makeup that help us feel normal, whatever that may be, but staying inside, keeping ourselves and others out of danger, and supporting the brands that are actively helping.

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