MILAN — Solidarity is the new black.
As Italy continues to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, its regions marked by different colors and restrictions depending on the number of infections and intensive care patients, and a slow rollout of vaccines — dented by recent question marks over potential side effects of AstraZeneca and, most recently, Johnson & Johnson — several established fashion houses have been helping out by providing spaces to vaccinate employees and citizens, as well as funding research.
On Wednesday, Arianna Alessi, vice president of OTB Foundation, said the foundation is set to begin restoration works on a disused space in Bassano Del Grappa, near Vicenza and the OTB headquarters, that will allow to vaccinate around 120,000 people in 27 towns in the area. “OTB employees will also donate their time to this project, which is expected to be completed in three weeks, and be trained to help throughout the vaccinations,” said Alessi. The project has already “stimulated 100 OTB employees to help out.”
Her husband Renzo Rosso, founder of OTB, which comprises brands ranging from Diesel and Maison Margiela to Marni and Viktor&Rolf and the recently acquired Jil Sander, expressed his pride in the work of the foundation, as well as in the group’s employees.
OTB is offering its headquarters and sites of all its brands to help vaccinate its more than 2,000 employees in Italy, just as other fashion companies have done, as reported, from the Giorgio Armani Group and Brunello Cucinelli to Gucci and Prada.
“The pandemic has left a mark on all of us, but it has also made us more united and supportive, we take more care of our families and of people who need our help,” said Rosso. “Of course you also see a lot of angry people protesting for the restrictions, having to keep their stores closed, losing their jobs, but an additional one million people now live in poverty. We cannot just stand by and watch — my education was simple, but I was taught to respect others and to help out.”
Asked whether this newfound unity is also palpable in the fashion industry, Rosso said “never as now has the Camera della Moda been so united.” An example discussed during the interview was Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli offering one of his factories located a few kilometers away from the Valentino shoe production site that burned down earlier this month, making it available to a number of Valentino employees, as reported.
Elected by the fashion body as representative of the sector, Rosso takes this matter very seriously, “eagerly contributing,” and has been speaking to Italian State representatives. “Finally it appears that Rome [where the government is based] is taking notice and considering this industry, which is the second most important in the country in terms of contributing to gross domestic product and number of employees,” said Rosso. “The pipeline must be protected at all costs and we need financing to support it, and we must also help to digitalize the industry.”
Rosso is a member of the Camera della Moda’s strategic committee and, as reported, last month the association met with the Italian Senate, estimating that 3 billion euros is needed to restart the country’s fashion industry, impacted by the pandemic.
Based on their work with the foundation, Alessi and Rosso painted a dreary picture of a fourfold increase in the use of psychiatric drugs; an increase in the number of women asking for help, trapped in domestic abuse — and younger, now aged 35 to 45 compared to over 50 in the past; more adolescents bullied, dealing with drugs and eating disorders. “So many teens have lost hope, their points of reference and perspective, even brainwashed into Satanism,” said Alessi.
Volunteers at OTB and the OTB Foundation are also donating secondhand clothes and helping with food and medicine packages. In particular Alessi said the foundation is working to create a “multifunctional pole” similar to a solidarity emporium to help those in need. “Requests have tripled through the pandemic,” said Alessi, revealing she brought these initiatives to the attention of the Senate a month and a half ago.
The foundation has already donated almost a million protective masks, special machines to more than 100 hospitals, homes for the elderly and associations, financing the conversion of spaces into COVID-19 areas in hospitals, and supporting the expenses of several who tested positive for the virus and needed to be isolated in hotels.
The foundation has also donated hundreds of tablets to students around the country to help support digital lessons.
In addition, Alessi spoke of the “Job Clinic Online,” a digital tool that helps refugees in Italy find a job.
She declined to provide a total amount invested in these projects, touting the foundation’s transparency and credibility. “We work depending on the emergency and Renzo just says to me, ‘go ahead, go for it.’”