FASHION IN THE TIME OF THE CORONAVIRUS

CHRISTIAN SIRIANO MASK

The pandemic has put a serious brake on our lives. It has greatly affected our families, school, life, businesses, state of our health care system and our political and social climate in general. Many people have lost loved ones and have been affected by this virus physically, emotionally and economically. The effects will be felt for many years to come. Mask wearing, handwashing and social/physical distancing has become the ‘new normal’.

This virus has exposed many failures in our communities.

It has been especially hard on our local communities to protect our elderly, our families and children living in poverty and our health care workers and essential workers who have not received adequate PPE during this global health crisis.

The fashion industry has been hit hard. The industry, one of the biggest in the world with approximately 60 million people working along the global supply chain, is predicted to contract by 30-40% with many of these fashion companies going bankrupt in the coming years.

Right at the start of the stay-at-home orders back in March 2020, Human Rights Watch had condemned the actions of some of the U.S. and European clothing brands. It accused many retailers of cancelling orders without taking any financial or moral responsibility, even though workers had finished making many of the products. This forced many factories to shut their doors due to the cancelled orders leaving many factory workers without jobs. They were at risk of losing their homes and not able to feed themselves or their families. This was especially hard on the workers in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is the top garment exporter in the world after China and is heavily reliant on European and American orders. Some 83% of the revenue that Bangladesh makes through exports are linked to the garment industry, a total of more than $32 billion every year.

The sector employs more than four million workers, most of them women.
On March 30th, 2020, REMAKE launched a petition demanding brands #PayUp as a response to reports coming in from suppliers that brands had cancelled in-production orders as a result of retail constriction following the outbreak of coronavirus. As a result, the petition accrued over 270,000+ signatures resulting in a worldwide movement.

On REMAKE’s website they state that, “We encourage the public to show their support by immediately signing the new petition and sharing their support on social media. Over the course of the next year, we will be pressuring 40 major brands and retailers, including the 20 most profitable apparel companies (as just 20 control 97% of industry profits), and others deemed culturally important. These companies hold the power to shape the future of labor rights and environmental standards for the entire industry — it’s time to hold them accountable.”

According to the L.A. based Garment Worker Center, Los Angeles has “the largest cut and sew apparel base in the U.S.”  There are over 45,000 garment makers working in the city’s garment-manufacturing sector. 

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor found that 85% of Los Angeles garment factories violated federal wage and hour laws.

Since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, many apparel manufacturers have been busy making masks in their factories. One of those companies was Los Angeles Apparel (owned by Dov Charney, former owner of American Apparel). In June 2020, a health care provider notified the L.A. County Department of Public Health (DPH) of a potential COVID-19 outbreak in the company’s factories. When DPH inspectors visited, they found cardboard barriers between workers, workstations less than six feet apart, and other violations of infection prevention protocols. The DPH also demanded a full list of Los Angeles Apparel employees in order to compare the list with virus testing results. Charney never complied. On June 27th, the Department ordered the factories to stop operations. So far, four virus-related deaths and over 300 infections have been reported among the company’s workers – making it the worst coronavirus outbreak of any business in this country.

Unfortunately, health and income security have been a rarity in the Los Angeles garment sector long before Covid-19 made matters worse. According to The New York Times, The Federal Department of Labor investigated Fashion Nova from 2016-2019 and found that the brand could sell their quickly made clothes for such low prices by paying Los Angeles factories to employ sewers “by the piece” (each piece of clothing sewn), instead of by the hour. Many of these sub-contractor factories that pay ‘by the piece’, according to a survey conducted by the Garment Workers Center and UCLA Labor Center, are unclean, filled with vermin, have poor lighting, are locked and/or have blocked exit doors, and provide no workplace health and safety training. Many of the city’s garment makers work 60-70 hours per week while receiving far below federal minimum wage—with no overtime pay. Unfortunately, ‘Made in America’ doesn’t guarantee ethical practices.

The Fashion industry cannot continue on this course by exploiting nature and its workers.

Is it time to rewire a fashion system that is no longer working? Coronavirus has presented the fashion industry with a chance to reset and completely reshape the industry’s value chain. Not to mention an opportunity to reassess the values by which we measure our actions. The pandemic can bring values around sustainability into sharp focus. This focus on sustainability and the concerns for the environment will make or break brands if they do not put that same focus on this issue. Sustainability is not a constraint. It offers endless possibilities. There is a great opportunity to create value for any business.

Get ready for a post-coronavirus world.

This could be an end to ‘extreme consumerism’ and our ‘throwaway culture’. It is now clearer than ever that the entire fashion system requires radical rethinking in order to adapt to the challenges of our past, present and future.

Are you ready for this challenge? One step at a time, we can all be!

Xoxo Chara, A Sustainable Love 💚

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