Empty US Capitol during Coronavirus Outbreak

As the world reels from the catastrophic fallout of the coronavirus with no end in sight, the global fashion industry has all but shut down. Now, it is mobilizing to seek relief. Today, representatives of the major industry organizations — CFDA, Chambre Syndicale, Camera Della Moda and British Fashion Council — are expected to discuss the global situation in a conference call. Individually, those organizations are appealing to their national governments for relief. Perhaps an indication of the global scope, Carlo Capasa, president of Italy’s Camera della Moda, invoked a bit of American history to describe what’s needed in Italy. He called it Italian fashion’s Marshall Plan.

In the United States on  Saturday, the industry appealed directly to President Donald Trump in a letter that stressed the importance of its inclusion in the $1.6 trillion stimulus package currently before Congress. On Sunday night, the bill was stalled on a procedural vote in the Senate, but negotiations continued. In addition, the CFDA is working on a separate initiative, the details of which should be revealed in a day or two. 

The CFDA and National Retail Federation were among 90 industry organizations that cosigned the letter to the White House. In it, they lauded the administration and Congress for their swift bipartisan efforts on the health front and overall economy. At the same time, the letter stated the urgent need for the stimulus package expected today to include the fashion industry, across which businesses of all sizes are devastated. “Federal stimulus efforts must be swift and flexible enough to address the urgent need for access to credit to keep these businesses afloat,” it read.

“It’s urgent,” said Tory Burch, who with Pierre-Yves Roussel, her firm’s chief executive officer (and her husband) is spearheading the effort. The relief sought is reportedly comprehensive while focusing on a handful of major points including coverage of 80 to 100 percent of salaries for those employees who cannot work from home, a huge percentage of whom are retail workers, and rent relief.

“We need help as an industry,” Burch said on Sunday. After being contacted by the CFDA less than a week ago to lead this campaign, she and Roussel enlisted a group of industry leaders “in a matter of two hours.” Since then she has been in frequent direct contact with Washington powerbrokers including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Burch noted across its multiple layers, the industry employs one in four working Americans, and major federal help is needed to secure their futures. “We need to start hearing about relief for our industry,” she said. “People have to understand how vitally important our retail and fashion are to America’s economy, and we need relief now. We need it for our employees, and for all the stake holders, the employees, the tenants, the landlords. I also put in media groups. It’s an ecosystem and we all depend on each other. We need the government, the Federal Reserve and other regulators to hear our voice and our need. It’s millions and millions of people that will be affected. Now, everyone is just trying to stay afloat.”

In separate conversations, Anna Wintour and CFDA president and ceo Steven Kolb echoed Burch’s sentiments. “[We’re all] aware of what the very real asks are, and the need for our industry to be included in the bailout that’s going on right now,” Wintour said. “There’s the whole question of the enormous amount of employees in our industry, and the problem of what [businesses] are going to do with their rent and their leases with no revenue coming in, and the need for tax relief.

Wintour noted the necessity for the industry to present a united front. “The CFDA, the NRF, everybody else, the retail industry associations, that they’re all banding together is incredibly necessary.”

Wintour acknowledged focusing her efforts on lobbying members of Congress, specifically, the senators from New York Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. But she rejected the notion that she’s leading the charge.

“Tory and Pierre-Yves have been very instrumental and also John Idol and Richard Baker — there’s a whole list of people involved. It’s about everybody coming together and doing everything they can to help. It would be wrong to think that this is anything but a real collaborative effort. We can all do very small things, and we can all try and do larger things, but we’re all in this together. That’s the most important message to get at. It’s not about one or the other.

It’s easy to forget when talking about a major stimulus package for the industry that, like all of us, all of the people to whom Wintour referred are also very invested in the health aspect of this devastating pandemic, herself included. While lobbying the Washington set, it’s likely seldom far from her mind that a “close relative” of hers works at Cornell Hospital, his psychiatry residency interrupted by relocation to the emergency room where’s he treating COVID-19 patients.

Kolb said that and the entire CFDA staff have been working non-stop on COVID-19 response. “It’s horrific,” he said of the impact, calling it greater than that of 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis. “Here, it’s across the board, he said. “You can be a small designer or a huge company and people are scrambling. It’s hard, and there’s a lot of people that don’t know what to do. They’re looking for answers, and this is so unprecedented that we don’t really know what the answers are. It changes, and hour to hour, we’re dealing with something new.”

Kolb would not reveal details of the CFDA initiative soon to be announced, but he said it’s one of many programs either upcoming or already underway. He noted the deepening sense of community the crisis has forged. “I love the unity that’s out there,” he said. “We’re getting a call an hour on face masks or gowns, from members, non-members, anybody. General people just reaching out to me on Instagram.”

In addition, CFDA members are making good use of a new member-to-member platform that was in the works before the crisis hit.

And also just, like, member to member. “We fast-forwarded it and launched it the other day because everyone just wants to talk to each other. It’s like, “How are you handling this? What are you doing here? What are you doing? What stores returned your merchandise?” Fashion has always been a community, and there’s strength in community.”

Asked whether the resort season would be canceled, Kolb said that he and Tom Ford have discussed the matter, but it’s too early to make the call. “Some people tell me that are optimistic that we’re going to be out of this by end of April, and stores will be back open,” he said. “Other people say August at the earliest. We don’t know yet.”

Certainly, April seems like a pipe dream, and the primary focus right now is getting help from Washington, and fashion’s image issue — the incorrect perception that it’s niche and frivolous — must be shattered. Those who think that way are patently wrong. They’re not thinking about all the different layers that are involved in fashion, whether it’s the factories or the supply chain or those who supply raw materials, the truck drivers who deliver the goods,” Wintour said. “It stretches out so many different ways. It’s [one of the biggest employers in the country. People are not thinking about it in that way. They’re thinking about it in a very niche business and that is a mistake. So yes, we’re concerned about the airlines, of course we’re concerned about the airlines. We’re concerned about everybody.

In his press conference last night, Trump mentioned the funds being targeted for stimulus. “We have a lot of money set aside for small businesses, and we have a lot of money set aside for big businesses,“ he said. Big and small, fashion businesses need for a healthy allotment of the trillion-plus to come their way.

As the CFDA prepares its proposals to the Trump administration, its counterparts in Italy and the U.K. have already submitted their requests to their respective governments.

In Italy, the Camera della Moda last week presented to the prime minister Giuseppe Conte and the appropriate ministries a detailed list of proposals in support of the 90-billion euro industry that employs 600,000 people.

Among it’s detailed list of proposals, the CNMI suggested:

• Cuts in fiscal and Social Security charges to contain labor costs.

• Measures to allow companies to more easily reduce employee hours up to 35 or 40 percent, with the goal of insuring employment for all, although at a reduced level.

• Funding for a special layoff fund for the most severe cases of corporate crisis.

• A provision for temporary reduction of up to 50 percent of rental contract amounts, with suspension of the civil law consequences that this would entail. This would be balanced with tax cuts for owners of commercial properties (IMU).

• More aid for economic growth.

• Establishment of a guarantee fund to help banks defer mortgage deadlines, freeze interest rates and grant or increase credit lines needed to ward off the otherwise probable financial crisis.

In the U.K., the British Fashion Council has taken action. Last week it informed members that it is working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Health and Social Care to connect fashion brands and factories to government departments for the purpose of assisting in the manufacture of masks and other non-ventilator medical products.

The BFC also outlined the government’s 330 billion pounds emergency aid package for businesses and individuals. In Paris, the Chambre Syndicale has yet to put forth stimulus proposals.

 

 

 

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