What Role do the Fashion Industry & Media play in the Covid-19 crisis?

in Brussels, Belgium
Copyright: Vogue Portugal, April 2020

I don’t know if this is your case but I have become hungry for many podcasts lately, and even more during this self-isolation time. But some have started to discuss the global pandemic we are in, and I tend not to listen to them as I’m trying to limit the amount of negative information I come across. However, I made an exception for the one by the Business of Fashion (BoF), which is always a pleasure to listen to – and for the first time a special Covid-19 podcast edition was incredibly compelling to me. It discussed the impact and responsibilities of fashion media companies during the crisis we are going through. So, as you can see, it inspired a blog post on the matter.

An unexpected response

I’ve spent quite some time getting extra insight on what the crisis meant for the fashion and luxury industries lately. Because contrary to one might think, they have been exemplary in their reaction as to the pandemic by getting involved. Who would honestly have thought that, among others, names such as Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy would step up and produce hydroalcoholic gel to be distributed to hospitals, Burberry would produce chirurgical masks and Gucci would donate over 2 million euros to fundraising campaigns to slow down the spread of the virus?

Whether it regards medical equipment production (e.g. masks and medical suits), substantial donations or promises to maintain 100% of their employees’ salaries, so many brands are participating (to have a view at the full picture, this article by Vogue Paris is a great directory of what fashion labels are doing). For a sector that is sometimes perceived as frivolous, which products are deemed unnecessary and general attitude way too pompous, I guess we’re all happy labels are stepping in. On the economic side, the impact of the industry is not to be underestimated – for example, the Italian fashion industry weighs 90 billion euros and employ over 600,000 people across the country (if you’re interested in the topic, you can read more here) – so shutting down manufactures is to have heavy consequences.

Displaying your value

Nonetheless, the reason I particularly admire how the industry deals with the crisis is the approach with which everything kicked off. Of course, at some point getting involved became necessary for some as so many were doing so already. But I don’t recall anybody incentivising LVMH to start donating or making hydroalcoholic gel to help hospital staff stay healthy, or maisons such as Chanel to embrace the social perspective by avoiding layoffs and maintaining salaries. For all that, did the industry have a role to play, in essence? The question is open. In my opinion, they didn’t have to. Such a response was issued early in the crisis and reflects a genuine human standpoint. Closing down manufactures and cutting off your perfume production to help is not just a marketing technique aiming to improve your reputation, but a genuine decision to help.

If the fashion and luxury industries took action, it is only normal that it would reflect in the media disseminating their news. According to Dazed Media founder Jefferson Hack, the pandemic is also an ‘infodemic’: it is easy to get sucked in by fear. As we know, the media influence people’s mood. This is why so many, including me, stay away from any sort of non-necessary information. It can also change the way people feel through the tone of a story, in a positive or negative way.

Copyright: Vogue Italia, April 2020
A striking blank page as no words are sufficient to describe the drama.

In sync with the audience

The Milan fashion week (18-24 February 2020) is where the acknowledgment of the issue among fashion circles started to rise. At the heart of Lombardy, Italian fashion people started to inform one another and foreigners of what was happening in the region and rumours spread until it all became real. That’s why fashion media companies actually reacted before governments. I recall Condé Nast sent their employees based in Milan at home to work from there before it became mandatory by governmental decree.

Traditional fashion media should always bring value for their audiences, otherwise they grow out of sync. They used real time feedback in terms of understanding where their audience was at and kept the world of fashion informed of what was happening (e.g. Vogue Business, which I peruse 24/7). Speed of adaptation is indeed key for media, and outlets have taken up the challenge. They also highlighted cultural programming, as an effect as culture being cancelled IRL.

When social media ramp up positivity

When it comes to social media, the clarity of purpose had to be redefined in times of crisis – one of them being to adapt the content and disseminate content accordingly to the mood of the audience. The Covid-19 crisis seems to have triggered a reset that allows a new set of values to come forth. Times are evolving quickly on social media platforms since it started. Twitter, which is known to be quite a place for haters, is bringing a large amount of positivity and support forward. The initiative and hashtag #AloneTogether is an example.

All in all, most say that they don’t expect business to be back to normal as usual – whether it is in terms of business, advertising or media. Or even fashion trends, as some expect a return to a more minimalistic fashion for the following seasons going along the humility brought by a crisis. Most importantly, I hope that the change brought by the crisis will directly target sustainability and bring it closer to the centre of fashion creation.

Art as a necessity

Although people might reckon art and fashion unnecessary, I think we need them more than ever every time such a challenge emerges. Fortunately, if you didn’t think that culture thrived in time of crisis, I would suggest downloading Tik Tok and scrolling up and down for a few minutes to realise how creative people can be. (Yes, I’m using Tik Tok as a reference for culture because it is!)

Do you think the fashion world reacted accordingly and in a timely manner, according to you?

Listen to the BoF podcast here.

Copyright: Vanity Fair Italia, 11-18 March 2020

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