If I hear one more person saying “we shouldn’t be buying fashion at a time like this”, I think I’ll scream.
Try saying that to the thousands who’ve lost their jobs at Oasis, Warehouse, Cath Kidston, Animal, Laura Ashley, Harpenne and other brands, plus the millions with no means of support in supplier factories in Bangladesh or Cambodia.
First of all – yes, every fashion brand carrying on as usual needs to ensure its workers are safe and protected. There’s no excuses for anything less than that.
But as long as that happens, we need the fashion sector to carry on as much as it can. It employs nearly a million people in the UK alone and it’s worth over £32 billion to the British economy… or it was when the economy was still functioning normally, and should be again one day.
Yet all I seem to hear at the moment is how unimportant fashion is. Admittedly, the question of whether we’ll be wearing cargo pants or flares later in the year, whether the duvet coat or the giant knit will be the big winter hit product, or whether soft neutrals rather than in-your-face brights might really matter, does all seem rather trivial now. But at some point very soon we need consumers to start caring about that stuff again.
I accept that the fashion industry doesn’t always get it right and so very often gets it wrong. Let’s see: low wages, long hours, glorification of unrealistic body types, cultural insensitivity, waste, pollution. It’s done it all. But it’s trying its hardest to do better and has been completely derailed by what’s happened in just the past few weeks and months.
So the constant carping about fashion over all other industries in particular is driving me mad. What about the car industry? Chemicals? Oil? Newspapers? Mining? Brewing? Well, you get my point.
Certainly, there are issues to be debated. Have online retailers done enough to protect staff? Are pre-pack administration deals and CVAs a good or bad thing? Should big companies withhold rents from under-pressure landlords? Should super-rich Victoria Beckham be using state aid to furlough her staff?
But on that latter issue, what she did was legal and lots of other even richer companies/individuals have used state aid in this pandemic without being called out on it. Maybe it’s just another example of the fondness for fashion-bashing that we see so often (and being called a “multi-millionaire prima donna” by multi-millionaire ex-tabloid editor Piers Morgan while shouting down his female co-host makes it feel even more like that could be it).
The current issue of fashion companies selling masks for consumer use is another one. There’s been lots of head-shaking about how outrageous it is. But most companies are selling them at cost price or with an extra amount for charity. And if they want to do them in leopard print or florals (like Christopher Kane’s mask packs pictured above using leftover seasonal fabrics), what’s the harm? Consumers seem keen — according to luxury search engine Lyst, the Off-White mask was the most-in-demand men’s product globally in Q1.
Anyway, loads of fashion companies have been doing good things during this pandemic from stepping up to make PPE, to charitable donations, entertainment, and more. Think Burberry, Barbour, Net-A-Porter, many more major names worldwide and especially a raft of small brands here in the UK. That’s despite the fact that some of them won’t survive and for most of them, this year is a write-off.
2020 may go down in history on one level as the fashion year that never was. But on another it’s one in which the industry showed what it could do and that maybe the often sexist (even misogynistic) needs to be reined-in a bit.