Michael Kors donated a collective $2 million toward local COVID-19 relief efforts in New York City.
The American fashion industry has always rallied during difficult times, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought many to the forefront to meet the challenges facing a multitude of businesses. From huge corporations to small brands to independent designers—what started as a whisper quickly became a rally call. It seemed daily Instagram feeds were the preferred choice of communication, with many eschewing a formal press release to announce their aid. On March 23, Tom Ford, chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, along with Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour initiated A Common Thread (cfda.com/programs), which would provide COVID-19-related relief.
The battle call was sounded, and many followed suit. Steven Kolb, president and CEO of CFDA, explains the efforts: “The American fashion industry always comes together at times of crisis, and this time is no different. We did it with 7th on Sale in 1990 when the AIDS epidemic was at its height and our industry was losing so many immensely talented people to the disease. After 9/11, we saw how the economic fallout was especially impacting young designers who were struggling to stay in business, and CFDA and Vogue launched the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. And after Hurricane Sandy, we created the Fashion for Sandy Relief initiative, for example.” He continues: “The 2020 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund was then promptly repurposed into A Common Thread fundraising initiative to help all those working in fashion and in urgent need of financial help to survive these unprecedented times.”
The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation committed to producing 250,000 masks and 25,000 isolation gowns.
Many other American designers announced similar efforts. On March 26, Ralph Lauren, along with the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation, committed $10 million to help the teams, partners and communities impacted by the coronavirus. Michael Kors’ eponymous brand donated $1 million to support local relief efforts, and the designer made a personal contribution of an additional $1 million, citing a few organizations in particular—NYU Langone Health and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, God’s Love We Deliver and the aforementioned A Common Thread. The Gap released a statement on Twitter that the company would pivot resources so its factory partners can make masks, gowns and scrubs for healthcare workers on the front lines, and is connecting with some of the largest hospitals in California to deliver personal protective equipment.
Prabal Gurung collaborated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how to best use his New York factories to produce personal protective equipment for medical professionals.
Myriad talented people, whose resources may not be as vast and whose pockets may not be as deep, have stepped up to help, making each day seem more like a miracle. The fabrication of masks by teams that were still on staff and sewing rooms that could do the work were even more in demand. Everyone from Christian Siriano to Prabal Gurung, who produces 90% of his collections in New York City, was working directly with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and following evolving state FDA regulations, including Neiman Marcus, which quickly had its alterations teams sewing scrubs and masks from materials provided by Jo-Ann. Theory, Nicole Miller, Tanya Taylor, Pyer Moss, Christian Cowan and Naeem Khan also put their resources, factories and large social media followings to great use.
But it’s not only fabric that can change a person’s life. Eyewear brand Moscot, a fifth-generation optical company that began as a pushcart business on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1915, announced it would offer eyeglasses to medical professionals, which would give an additional layer of protection that can help reduce exposure to airborne particles from patients. The list of brands helping does not stop there. European houses Jimmy Choo, Prada, Gucci, LVMH, Valentino, Kering, Bvlgari and Ermenegildo Zegna, to name a few, are also stepping up in monumental ways. The expanding group of companies doing their part is a master class in what difficult times can do to bring people together.
Tom Ford, Anna Wintour and Steven Kolb launched A Common Thread to provide relief to American designers.
Offering another ray of light, Kolb gives his insight into what fashion might look like moving forward: “Right now, our focus is on helping designers, brands and retailers get through this challenging time. That said, some designers are seeing this as an opportunity to address changes needed in fashion, especially the pace, number of collections and delivery cadence.”
Christian Siriano utilized couture sewers in his atelier to produce over 5,000 masks and counting.
Sustainability is also top of mind for the CFDA. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, it had started a study with Boston Consulting Group to examine the environmental impact of New York Fashion Week. In Kolb’s mind, “sustainability and preserving the environment will be a crucial role in the future of fashion.”
On a personal note, and as someone who has had a 30-year career in and around fashion, it is my belief that the unsung faces of fashion are being seen and their real value is being discovered. It starts with the designer, but it’s the patternmaker, the seamstress, the tailor, the petites mains, the studio managers and so many others who keep America not only looking good, but feeling good. May we all know the real value fabric plays in our lives.