How the luxury and fashion industries are helping to fight Covid-19

The luxury and fashion industry, like many others that rely on a supply chain, and workforce, and customers, is reeling from the impact of the global pandemic of COVID-19. Fashion weeks all around the world have been cancelled, including the luxury fashion house' big ticket cruise shows usually held in far flung corners of the globe. Boutiques have closed their doors, some indefinitely, marquee events on the fashion calendar such as the Met Gala have been postponed and sales and stocks are down.

The MSCI Europe Textiles, Apparel & Luxury Goods Index reports a 23 per cent  drop and USD 152 billion wiped off the market value of the industry from January 17 to March 11. 

It's too early to say where the industry will be when this is over, or who will survive.

Some analysts predict profound changes in the way the fashion machine works - this may include a pivot toward focusing on the digital channels and hosting virtual showrooms and fashion weeks. As well as potentially changed attitudes around consumption and the kinds of styles people will want to wear when we come out of this.

Some retail strategists see a silver lining.

Doug Stephens, a retail futurist, told fashion trade publication Business of Fashion's (BoF) founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed that brands should try to use these unprecedented times to reconfigure how they work.

"Use this time to reinvent how you do what you do, bring consumers new alternatives, new value, and in the process even reinvent your own brand. Don't let innovation stop, because this could be the window of opportunity," he said on the BoF podcast. 

While some, in the midst of lay-offs and uncertainty, might find this sentiment galling there has been another positive from the fashion and luxury industry in the way many brands have pitched in to help with the crisis.

This includes luxury conglomerate LVMH producing free hand sanitiser for French hospitals from three of its perfume and cosmetics factories (it also donated USD $2.2 million to the Red Cross in China last month). Kering (which includes the likes of Saint Laurent and Balenciaga under its umbrella) have also donated face masks to France and donated funds to foundations that provide medical suppliers. Beauty giants L'Oreal, COTY and Estée Lauder, as well as Italian haircare brand Davines have also used their factories to create and distribute hand sanitiser gel.

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Italian brands have particularly stepped up to support their country, which has now become the epicentre of the pandemic as its death toll surpasses that of China.

Moncler has donated USD $10.9 million toward the construction of a new hospital in Milan as the country's healthcare system buckles under the stress of the pandemic. Giorgio Armani donated USD $1.4 million to Italian hospitals and medical institutions, Donatella Versace and her family donated $200,000 euros to the ICU of Milan's San Raffaele hospital, Prada has donated two resuscitation and intensive care units to each hospital in Milan and Bulgari and Dolce & Gabbana have also donated to medical research and supplies. 

This week Prada also announced it would turn its production lines toward making masks, promising 110,000 masks by April 6. 

In the US last week fashion designer Christian Siriano offered the services of his sewing team (who are all currently working from home) to produce face masks. It was an offer New York governor Andrew Cuomo accepted.  Fellow American designer Brandon Maxwell is creating hospital gowns, as is fast fashion giant Zara (as well as masks). More continue to step up and offer their help. San Francisco-based sneaker start-up AllBirds are offering a pair of shoes to healthcare workers on the frontline.

Ralph Lauren announced today he would donate USD$10 million to COVID-19 relief efforts via his Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation.

Meanwhile in Australia (and abroad too) many craft spirit and beer distillers such as Tasmania's Southern Wild and Melbourne's Gypsy Hub have also pitched in to create hand sanitiser for use in schools and other community hubs. 

It's not only the immediate relief that these acts of generosity offer. Already there's been much written about the movement toward customers aligning their values to the brands they buy into. As well as the expectation of brands doing good or at least, doing better by the environment and its people.

In a post-pandemic world this is likely to be emphasised, and valued.