SYDNEY — The Australian entertainment and fashion industries are rallying behind relief efforts for the Australian bushfire crisis, which has garnered global attention in recent weeks.
Since August, bushfires have burned through more than six million hectares [14.8 million acres] across Australia, claiming the lives of at least 24 people. More than 1,500 houses have been lost and, according to ecologists at the University of Sydney, nearly half a billion animals have perished in the state of NSW alone.
Since Saturday, amidst escalating criticism of not only its policy inaction on climate change, but its response to the immediate crisis, the Australian federal government announced, among other relief efforts, a 2 billion Australian dollar, or $1.4 billion, bushfire recovery fund and the immediate deployment of 3,000 Australian Defence Force reservists and Australia’s largest naval frigate, the HMAS Adelaide, as well as 20 million Australian dollars or $14 million in additional funding for water-bombing aircraft.
The weekend also saw a slew of celebrities and Australian fashion identities and companies get on board with fund-raising activities, mustering financial support for Australia’s mostly volunteer-run rural firefighting services and organizations such as Australia’s Red Cross and WIRES wildlife rescue.
Since Friday, Australian comedian Celeste Barber has raised almost 40 million Australian dollars or $28 million via a Facebook fund-raiser in aid of the NSW Rural Fire Service, the world’s largest volunteer fire service, with 72,491 members.
More than 50 Australian fashion and beauty businesses, including David Jones, Country Road Group, Alex Perry, Dion Lee, Toni Maticevski and Elle Macpherson’s WelleCo have now pledged cash payments or a portion or 100 percent of their profits over the course of the coming week for relief efforts.
Singer Pink and Nicole Kidman have each pledged 500,000 Australian dollars or $347,000, with Selena Gomez and tennis players Nick Kyrgios and Ash Barty among many other high-profiler names to offer financial assistance.
Russell Crowe used his acceptance speech for best actor in a limited series or TV movie at Sunday’s Golden Globes to draw attention to the bushfires and the issue of climate change.
“Make no mistake. The tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate-change-based,” said Crowe in a message relayed by presenter Jennifer Aniston.
Other celebrities to flag the crisis during the Globes broadcast included Cate Blanchett, Ellen DeGeneres, Pierce Brosnan and Patricia Arquette.
Since November, InStyle’s editor in chief Laura Brown, a Sydney native, has been asking her 330,000 Instagram audience to donate to the Port Macquarie, NSW-based Koala Hospital. It is estimated that thousands of koalas have died during the fires.
A number of other Australian fashion figures, however, who have appeared oblivious to the crisis by continuing to post holiday photos on Instagram until as recently as Saturday morning, have attracted criticism.
“The @redcrossau need money more than we need to see the next post of you holding a poolside drink” slammed Sydney-based eveningwear designer Alex Perry on his Instagram feed on Saturday morning. “Any Australian ‘Influencer’ that hasn’t posted to help raise money for any fire relief, shame. Put down your products and use your platform!!!”
Some Australian retailers will likely be among the indirect victims of the disaster.
With retailers already impacted by low consumer sentiment, some have predicted that the never-ending fires and associated smoke haze could contribute to the worst Christmas trading figures since the global financial crisis.
Smoke haze has choked Sydney, Australia’s largest city, on and off since November, since the fires hit Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-North Coast, 241 miles away. They then moved to the NSW South Coast and later inland to the Blue Mountains, with more smoke blowing in over the harbor city. This has prompted a run on “P2”-certified, particle-filtering face masks, as recommended by health authorities. The inadvertent Australian fashion accessory of the summer, hardware and office supply stores up and down the country have been unable to keep the masks in stock.
In recent days the national capital of Canberra has registered the worst air quality in the world. Although located more than 37 miles from the nearest active fire, smoke haze has choked the city, prompting some government departments and universities to shutter for 48 hours from Monday.
While official Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for December are not due until Feb. 6, Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman expects the numbers will miss the association’s forecasts of 71.4 billion Australian dollars or $50 billion for total retail sales for the combined pre- and post-Christmas periods. Clothing, footwear and personal accessories were originally forecast to account for 5.5 billion or $3.8 billion of that total, for pre- and post-Christmas sales, up 3 percent and 3.4 percent respectively on 2018.
“But I don’t think those numbers are going to be right, I expect it’s going to be a much softer Christmas and post-Christmas than we forecast,” said Zimmerman.
“This is unprecedented” Zimmerman added. “I went out to a major metropolitan Sydney shopping center on the 19th, six days out from Christmas. When I drove in there I could have picked any parking spot and I drove up and down multiple levels. I was so shocked by it, I took photos. That particular day the smoke was absolutely filthy and people were advised to keep inside.”
Surf retailers are expected to be among the hardest hit.
According to Anthony Wilson, president of the Australian Surf & Boardsports Industry Association, at least 50 percent of Australia’s 900 surf shops are located down the east coast in NSW and Victoria, the two states that have been worst affected by the fires.
“I’m not sure about people going to the wall and closures, but it’s definitely going to be a write-off of a summer for most retailers,” said Wilson, who owns 17 of his own surf stores under the Saltwater Wine, Stormriders and Red Herring Surf Co brands, 10 of which were directly impacted by the bushfires, with trading down 7 to 10 percent, he said.
“I’ve spoken to some of our south coast retailers” he added. “They’ve had no power for a number of days, stores closed and they’re still sitting on stock. There’s no one around and they can’t open. Forty percent of our [surf retailers’] business is done over the peak summer period”.
The association is looking into how best to support affected retailers, by working with brands to explore options such as extended payment terms, lines of credit and swapping out some stock.
“I’ve lived on the mid-North Coast pretty much my whole life, I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude,” said Wilson.
“After the bushfires in Port Macquarie everyone stopped visiting. Our council and chamber of commerce did an initiative to say ‘Hey we’re still open for business, please come!’ Our visitation numbers up here have been well off from previous years. Normally places like Port Macquarie and Forster are booked out solid, you can’t get a bed in the place. But not this year.”