With the coronavirus pandemic devastating virtually all industries, the Council of Fashion Designers of America is at the epicenter of American fashion’s response. Over the past several days the organization has been lobbying heavily for the industry’s inclusion in the massive federal stimulus package still being hashed out in Washington, D.C., even as businesses sit idle, more and more workers apply for unemployment and fear soars.
The organization has never been more inundated with traumas and uncertainties, big and small, from how it will survive and who will be left standing to whether the resort season should be axed outright. A couple of months ago, canceling the CFDA Awards, originally slated for June 8, would have seemed unthinkable. Now the awards, pushed back to fall at the earliest, seem like the least of anyone’s concerns. In a statement to WWD, CFDA chairman Tom Ford discussed the most daunting elements of the pandemic’s impact on the industry.
On Tuesday, the CFDA is expected to unveil a significant internally driven virus-related initiative. An even larger endeavor: securing a substantial chunk of the federal stimulus pie. “I would suspect and hope that this is the chief focus of any fashion organization now: taking care of their [people],” Ford said. “Inclusion of the fashion industry in the $1.6 trillion stimulus package expected to be released imminently is critical and of the utmost importance for us all.”
Many expected the package to be approved on Sunday night, but a procedural vote in the Senate sent it back for negotiations.
Fashion desperately needs specific inclusion in the bill. Without substantial federal assistance, the industry will not recover, Ford noted. “The CFDA understands that the industry needs immediate critical support and is working to access relief at the federal and local levels,” he said. He pointed to the letter sent to President Trump on Saturday of which the CFDA was one of 90 industry associations requesting aid. He credited Tory Burch with actively driving the essential effort for the industry’s inclusion in the package.
Ford said he and the CFDA have been inundated with calls about how the industry is responding to the scourge of COVID-19. “Like most industries, the fashion business has been hit very hard and from every angle. Our suppliers are suffering, and our supply chain interrupted as literally the entire world has been all but shut down. And retail in most regions, and certainly in the U.S., has ground to a halt.”
Ford added that the hyper-fluid nature of the pandemic, and responses to it, make assessing the total damage a frightening guessing game. “Every day the landscape changes, so it’s almost impossible to predict with any certainty the ultimate damage that this will have on the economy and on the fashion business specifically,” he said.
That said, most agree that the landscape will get far bleaker before we see signs of sunshine. What’s very clear: the importance on the fashion industry to the overall economy, and the devastation that will result, throughout its ranks and to the economy as a whole without massive federal relief.
Ford ran through the imposing statistics: American fashion is a $400 billion behemoth that employs 4 million people, exclusive of retail jobs. He cited National Retail Federation statistics that put retail as the largest private-sector employer in the U.S., supplying one in four jobs, to the tune of 53 million in total. The vast majority of those jobs are at risk, which would have cataclysmic consequences in an industry that contributes $4 trillion to GDP.
In his statement, Ford gave a shoutout to New York City, saying, that it “remains the epicenter of the American fashion economy, and it’s an area that has already been, and will continue to be severely impacted by this global crisis.” Its fashion industry generates more than $11.3 billion in wages, and employs 4.6 percent of the total private-sector workforce.
Ford also addressed a smaller-picture problem brought on by COVID-19: what to do with the resort/pre-spring and men’s markets. Conversations are under way with retailers, both large and independent boutiques, to gauge their plans, and with local manufacturers to access their capacities.
He didn’t put forth false hope, even as designers across the industry are seeing many wholesale accounts cut back on or cancel fall orders in their entirety. “I would very much doubt that the pre-collection showings can go on as scheduled,” Ford said. “Samples will not be ready in time, and it is naïve to think that stores will come into showrooms — if that is even possible by May — with reasonable open-to-buys due to the fact that they will still have so much carry-over merchandise from the previous season.
“We are even looking forward to [assessing] the spring shows in September,” Ford continued. “Clearly. this virus is going to be with us for some time.”
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