In the Eye of the Storm: The Global Fashion Industry during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Introduction

As professional image editors, many of our most important clients are fashion industry majors who design, manufacture or sell some of the world’s most recognizable apparel, accessories, cosmetics, and footwear. Unfortunately the fashion industry, so dependent on discretionary spending, retail, and an incredibly complex, global supply chain has been one of the worst-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic- the triple whammy of the global health hazard, resultant lockdowns and the ensuing economic downturn has ensured that.

The Economic Impact

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. For one, the global fashion industry (including apparel, accessory and footwear industries) is worth $3 Trillion, employing some 300 million people. The situation is even more critical for some of the world’s most populous and poor regions- for instance, fashion and apparel-related manufacturing account for as much as 40% of all employment in South Asia, a region that houses almost 2 billion people. In short, the health of the fashion and apparel industries is a bellwether to the larger economic recovery, and the fact that this industry is hurting right now does not auger well at all for millions of vulnerable, poor workers across the world and raises the spectre of grave humanitarian crises.

The Domino Effect

It isn’t just about a poor weaver in India or a seamstress in Bangladesh, however. The fashion industry has an incredibly complex, widespread supply chain. Therefore the lockdown and demand evaporation affects everyone from the independent designer in Soho to the shipper in China and the sheep farmer in Australia.

Crucial for Recovery

However, this inherently creative, agile, and prosperous industry also has the potential to help governments deal with the health and economic fallouts of the pandemic. Here are just three ways that the fashion industry has already contributed positively to combating the adverse health and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic:

  1. Money Power
    As soon as the Coronavirus pandemic spread across China and crossed over to Europe and then the US, the world’s biggest fashion houses pledged millions to local governments and international aid agencies. 9 of the most recognizable fashion brands- LVMH, Dolce & Gabbana, Georgio Armani, Moncler, Versace, Tiffany & Co., Valentino, Kering, and Prada have together contributed almost $20 million for everything from relief aid, hospital construction and R&D to find a cure.
  2. Manufacturing Power
    In addition to donating cash, fashion and fast fashion houses like Dior, Armani, H&M, Burberry, Gucci, Under Armor, Los Angeles Apparel, and others took initiative to turn their significant design and manufacturing prowess to start making hospital gowns and fabric masks in large quantities. In all, the above-mentioned fashion houses have either already produced, or have committed to produce a combined 2 million+ masks and gowns for healthcare professionals, their own employees and the larger communities in which they exist. They have also turned to new technologies like 3D printing to design and manufacture face shields, N95 and N80 masks as required.Apart from physical blockers like masks and gowns, global health organizations have also been advocating use of chemical blockers esp. high alcohol content sanitizers to clean hands as well as surfaces. The fashion industry has been instrumental in boosting the supply of sanitizers too. French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, as well as perfume makers including Dior and Givenchy, leveraged their existing dependence on industrial alcohol and bottling capabilities to start making sanitizers. Elsewhere in the world, especially India where disposable “sachet” based shampoos are all the rage, the Cavincare company has started selling sanitizer in disposable sachets priced at 1 rupee (1.3 US cents) per single-use (2 ml).
  3. Design Power
    The beauty of the fashion industry is its creativity and innovation. The industry is filled with small and independent designers whose sheer audacity of ideas have often revolutionized the entire industry. It’s been no different now. While many larger fashion houses like Armani had the capability to make professional masks and gowns, smaller designers like Coperni in Paris, Christiano Siriano in New York, Lindsay Medoff in LA and hundreds of other designers turned their attention to designing DIY masks. While these masks were mostly not rated to be as effective as professionally produced masks, the idea was wearing these DIY masks would reduce demand for the heavy-duty stuff that the real at-risk, front-line health workers, researchers and first responders actually need. With the CDC and White House now both recommending that any face covering is better than none, innovations like these DIY masks can help.Interestingly, some designers like Lindsay Medoff and her small crew at Suay Sew Shop in LA took it a step further, progressing from designing mere patterns to doing full time home-made, high protection mask design! Read her full story here. We think it is this kind of original, serious work at the grass-roots level that goes a long way in communities coming together to help themselves!

Inspiring Others

While plenty of global retailers have canceled orders and suspended payments to vulnerable suppliers, plenty of others, like Levi’s have pledged to do all they can to protect their extended supply chains. In many ways, the world is taking note of the local and global cooperation being extended by many fashion brands to each other, their employees, communities, aid agencies, and governments. From manufacturing hubs in Bangladesh and Ghana to emerging fashion hubs in Malaysia and Brazil, various fashion designers’ associations and manufacturers’ collectives are banding together to co-operate, co-create and survive the pandemic.

Doing our Part

We at Manipal Technologies Limited are doing our part- doctors from Manipal Hospitals, our sister company helped develop a unique three-in-one mask (you can read all about it here) that will help reduce the shortage of PPEs for health workers. Our parent, The Manipal Group has sworn to ensure food and salary security to its 17,000 global staff as well as to do its best to help its partners and suppliers. Our digital services division, one of the world’s largest image editing and packaging premedia companies is working long hours at compassionate pricing levels to keep critical item supply chains and economies open. We are also working with health agencies and governments in multiple countries to use our packaging and manufacturing expertise for multiple public health initiatives.

We believe these difficult times will showcase the best of humanity’s resolve to come together to solve problems with innovation and faith. Got any suggestions? Send us your comments and thoughts!

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