With the global novel coronavirus pandemic tragically underway, experts have spent the last two months warning of COVID-19’s soon-to-be crippling effect on the fashion industry.
Despite this, the industry—which is widely deemed as being mere frivolity—is transforming itself into a major vehicle and support system for change.
With common medical supplies and protective equipment like medical-grade masks, hospital gowns and hand sanitizers having becoming sparse, a number of industry powerhouses and designers have stepped in to offer everything from their production chains, factories, monetary donations and seamstresses.
On March 21, Reuters reported that LVMH would order 40 million facemasks from China to help France cope with the pandemic. Last month, the conglomerate (which owns Louis Vuitton, Celine, Dior and Fenty to name a fraction) donated $2.2 million to the Red Cross in China. In a bid to continue the fight against the coronavirus, the company then instructed its Dior, Givenchy and Guerlain beauty and perfume factories to immediately start producing free hand sanitizer for health care workers in France. Within days, L’Oréal (which is one of the world’s largest beauty producers) announced it would be following suit by transforming their manufacturing facilities into a production line for hand sanitizer and hydroalcoholic gel, which will be distributed throughout Europe.
Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont, which owns Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chloé and Azzedine Alaïa, has donated £1.4 million to combat COVID-19. Meanwhile Kering, which owns companies such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, initially donated $1 million to the Red Cross Society of China, followed by a further $2 million donation to Italy. With plans to ship 3 million masks from China to France, a recent tweet from Vanessa Friedman at the New York Times claimed that the luxury giant will also be turning Balenciaga and Saint Laurent’s France-based ateliers into facemask manufacturers, with further plans to supply masks in Italy from Gucci.
In the wake of the crisis, and with the support of major conglomerates across the world, numerous individual brands—both large and small—have also turned inwards to find immediate solutions.
In a statement posted on Instagram, Moncler chairman and CEO Remo Ruffini announced that he will donate €10 million to the construction of a new hospital in Milan that has 400 intensive care units. “Milan is a city that has given us all an extraordinary time,” he stated, “We cannot and must not abandon it. It is everyone’s duty to give back to the city that has given us so much.”
Donatella Versace and her daughter Allegra Versace Beck also announced that they had donated more than $200,000 to the intensive care units of Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital.
“In times like this, it is important to be united and support however we can to help all those who are in the front lines, fighting every day to save hundreds of lives,” the fashion designer wrote on Instagram, “Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this disease and to all the doctors and medical staff who have been working heroically non-stop in the past weeks in the effort to take care of our loved ones. This is when we, as a society, need to stand together and care for one another.”
Early last month, Bvlgari made an unspecified donation to Rome’s Istituto Lazzaro Spallanzani, which is working to purchase a microscopic image acquisition system to help fight and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The luxury house also just announced that they would be using their beauty production line to produce hand sanitizer.
In a statement posted to Instagram earlier this week, Burberry announced that they would be using their global supply chain to deliver 100,000 surgical masks to the UK’s National Health Service, as well as funding a single-dose vaccine that’s currently being developed by the University of Oxford. Not forgetting people who rely on food aid, Burberry has also teamed with FareShare and The Felix Project (two charities dedicated to tackling food poverty across the UK).
Meanwhile Giorgio Armani donated nearly $1.4 million to various hospitals in Rome and Milan, and Prada co-CEOs Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli (alongside the brand’s chairman Carlo Mazzi) donated two resuscitation and complete intensive care units to each hospital in Milan.
Footwear brand Sergio Rossi has also donated more than $100,000 to local Milan hospitals Fate Bene Fratelli and Luigi Sacco, and has donated 100 per cent of its online sales profits between March 14 until March 20 to help Italy fight the virus.
As well as producing 1.1 million masks, Gucci will also be making 55,000 pairs of hospital gowns upon approval from Italian medical authorities. The brand’s CEO Marco Bizzarri, has also made a personal donation of more than $100,000 to hospitals in the Emilia-Romagna region.
In the UK, the British Fashion Council took to Instagram in a bid to call out for all “designers with production capacity” to get in contact with the British government, stating that “in times of need, the fashion industry can be of service”. London-based sustainable designer Phoebe English is currently reaching out to the government for guidance on how to make effective facemasks from her studio.
In America, a number of New York designers have stood up and made their resources known. Kerby-Jean Raymond of Pyer Moss took to Instagram to share two major actions he will be taking immediately. “My sister was exposed to COVID-19 and her elder patients’ safety has been compromised due to some professionals having to wear makeshift masks,” his post stated. “One of the more alarming messages from a friend who is a doctor in Philadelphia stated that she and her colleagues have been using bleach to re-wash their masks.”
Jean-Raymond made a commitment to converting the Pyer Moss Manhattan offices into a donation center for n95 masks, gloves, and other medical-grade supplies, as well as personally donating $5,000 to purchase additional materials. In a follow-up post, the NY designer also announced that he would be setting aside $50,000 for minority and women owned small creative businesses who are currently suffering financially.
Michelle-Obama approved designer Christian Siriano reached out to Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, via twitter and offered his full sewing team to make masks. CFDA-winner Brandon Maxwell has also shifted his creative efforts to focus on PPE (personal protective equipment), starting with gowns. “We have spent the last week researching the appropriate medical textiles to create these gowns and are proud to provide these much needed items to the doctors and nurses on the front lines of this crisis.” He wrote in a statement on Twitter, “We will transition into masks and gloves when more information becomes available. For the time being, we are producing mask covers.”
With former disgraced American Apparel CEO Dov Charney now using his 150,000-square-foot LA factory to produce upto 300,000 masks and 50,000 gowns in a week, in a conversation with The New York Times, Charney said he had already made deliveries to hospitals in Seattle, New Mexico, New York and Las Vegas.