Fashion is doing what little it can to combat the coronavirus — closing stores in China where business is at a standstill anyway, advising employees on how to protect themselves and donating funds to medical groups.
But mostly, the industry is maintaining a kind of watchful readiness, monitoring advisories from government and health officials, who are still working to craft and implement an effective response to the deadly virus.
As the virus jumped from a live animal market in Wuhan to the surrounding city and eventually spread as far as the U.S. and Italy — which declared a public health emergency on Friday — the accompanying disruption expanded rapidly from a drag on the Chinese New Year celebration to the closure of many borders and major freezes in the global transportation system.
The first concern of executives and brands reached by WWD was for their employees.
“We’re prepared to take any measures necessary to safeguard all our employees in China,” said Deirdre Quinn, chief executive officer and cofounder of Lafayette 148, which owns its own factory in Shantou, China. “Currently, we have extended the Lunar New Year holiday for our Chinese employees based on the recent announcement by the government. Like many, we are waiting for further direction and information. At this time, we’re taking all recommended steps.”
Quinn said her employees have stopped traveling both ways, even for fall market. Her factory and office in Shantou are closed and there is mandatory closure until Feb. 10.
“Thank God the fall collection got here before Chinese New Year,” she said. “At least the full fall collection is in the showroom. I think that would have been very difficult otherwise.”
Quinn shipped 30,000 surgical masks from Thailand to her Chinese factory. The school that the company funds next to the factory is closed as well. She noted that there have been 12 patients reported in Shantou, where the factory is, and no deaths.
“We’re OK, as long as it doesn’t last too long,” Quinn said of the business, adding the company was using Skype and WeChat to communicate. “Maybe we’ll realize we don’t have to travel so much.”
Quinn’s estimate of the impact of the virus on business — things should be all right as long as the global health crisis does not last too long — has been echoed by many, including Bernard Arnault and his top executives at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Arnault said last week during a press conference discussing LVMH’s year-end results that it was impossible to predict the virus’ impact on sales, indicating that his teams in China have suggested the epidemic will peak in the next few weeks. “If it’s resolved within the next two, two-and-a-half months, it won’t be terrible. If it lasts for two years, that’s another story,” he said.
Most firms have curtailed travel, although in some cases it would not be possible anyway given the barring of all flights to China by airlines including Delta, British Airways, United and American.
Within the fashion sector, PVH Corp. has banned trips to mainland China and has restricted visits to Hong Kong. The company has implemented extended work-from-home protocols in mainland China and Hong Kong until Feb. 10, based on CDC recommendations.
PVH has also provided its offices globally with “Travel Safety Kits” for anyone who must travel and would like one and has donated to the Chinese Red Cross to support medical relief efforts.
And some people returning from business trips in China are being asked to keep their distance — for a while, at least.
A representative for Unilever said, “As a precaution, employees returning from China have been asked to work from home and monitor their health for the following two weeks. In line with guidance from the Chinese government, our sites remain temporarily closed (note that also many factories would be closed anyway because of Chinese New Year).
“This is with the exception of our facility in Hefei — where we manufacture Lifebuoy soap and other products — so we can continue to respond to the critical need for sanitation,” Unilever said. “Lifebuoy has donated 10,000 products to the Wuhan authorities to help tackle the virus.”
Chip Bergh, ceo and president of Levi Strauss & Co., told WWD on Thursday that, “The virus is probably the [challenge] that is consuming most of our time right now. We’re taking this very, very seriously.”
About half of the company’s stores in China were closed.
“That number keeps growing every day and I expect it’s going to continue to grow over the next couple of days and maybe weeks,” Bergh said. “This is going to impact our first quarter, for sure. We have a fairly balanced plan for the year, based on all the risks that we are aware of right now, except for the virus. When we developed our guidance and plans for this year, we didn’t know about the virus.
“This is one time where China being only 3 percent of our business helps,” the ceo said.
Here, what representatives for other key companies in fashion said they were doing in response to the health threat.
• Ralph Lauren Corp.: “We are taking steps aligned to what other companies are taking and in line with the guidance from WHO [World Health Organization] and international health organizations. The safety of our employees and customers is our number-one priority.”
• Giorgio Armani Group: “The Armani Group has put on hold all non-essential travel for staff to and from China. The decision to reopen the stores and offices in China after Chinese New Year will be taken on a case-by-case basis in coordination with landlords and local authorities, with utmost care and concern for the safety and well-being of employees and customers.”
• Tapestry Inc.: “Given the dynamic nature of the situation, and out of an abundance of caution, we’ve implemented a companywide travel ban into and out of China until March 15, 2020. In addition, Coach China has committed to donate 1 million renminbi to the China Youth Development Foundation’s frontline medical efforts in Wuhan, China.”
• L’Oréal: “Presently all L’Oréal offices in China including factories are closed under national CNY holiday until Feb 2. None of our employees in China, or anywhere in the world, has reported to be affected by the new coronavirus so far. L’Oréal is following and monitoring tightly the situation and will strictly abide by all local governmental measures to assure our employees’ health and safety, which is of utmost importance for L’Oréal.”
• Lululemon Athletica Inc.: “The safety of our people is our top priority. We have temporarily closed a few stores in and around Wuhan, and are continuing to monitor the situation and work closely with public authorities.”
• Burberry: “We are monitoring the situation closely and following the guidance of local authorities. At the foremost are the health and well-being of our employees.”
• Tiffany & Co.: “We are making every effort to help ensure our Chinese Mainland and AsiaPac management teams are getting updates on the spread of the coronavirus and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements, where established, and being cognizant of local health and travel advisories. To date, we have complied with all such requirements and temporarily closed several store locations in the affected areas.”
• Pandora: “Our primary concern is to take care of our employees and ensure safe environments for our customers. We support the Chinese authorities’ efforts to contain the virus and have so far closed 71 stores across China. We have also suspended all business travel to and from China and limited business travel to and from other parts of Asia.”
Much of the concern still focuses on China and while people elsewhere are rattled — investors, for instance, are feeling skittish and drove the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 603.41 points, or 2.1 percent, to 28,256.03 on Friday — many areas are continuing more or less as usual.
In its semiannual letter about health, diversity and inclusion prior to New York Fashion Week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America included information on the coronavirus from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
It underscored that the risk to New Yorkers is low –— even as the first suspected case was discovered in the city over the weekend. A total of eight cases have been confirmed in the U.S. People are being told to go about their daily lives, but practice the same precautions they would during cold and flu season, such as covering one’s mouth/nose with a tissue/sleeve when coughing or sneezing, and washing one’s hands with soap and warm water, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
New Yorkers don’t need to limit travel within the city or wear a face mask if healthy, nor do they need to avoid public gatherings and public transportation. Business and leisure travel in the U.S. and to New York City can and should continue as normal, according to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Given the scope of the outbreak and its potential danger, companies, consumers, health officials and government leaders will no doubt continue to reevaluate just what is safe on a day-to-day basis.
The World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” said in a report Friday that there were nearly 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, mostly in China, where it said there have been 213 related deaths. Those numbers are likely changing since the report.
On Friday, the U.S. State Department also issued a travel advisory cautioning against traveling to China while health officials work to address the outbreak. Meanwhile, China has halted travel around Wuhan, in the Hubei province, where the virus was first detected, the department said.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a press conference that in light of WHO’s stance, he was declaring that the outbreak poses a public health emergency in the U.S. The pronouncement comes with significant travel restrictions expected to take effect from 5 p.m. EST on Sunday.
Azar said that President Donald Trump has signed a proclamation that temporarily bars foreigners “who pose a risk of transmitting the [coronavirus],” which means that most foreigners who have traveled in China within the last 14 days won’t be able to enter the U.S. during the outbreak, unless they are immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
In addition, U.S. citizens returning to the States from the Hubei province will be quarantined for 14 days to receive screening and care, said Azar. U.S. citizens returning from other parts of mainland China would also go through a health screening upon arrival and “up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine,” he said.