While it may seem like all people could talk about was the pandemic, in the past month, however, focus has expanded to issues that the health crisis put a spotlight on. For the luxury industry, there are three points that have seen a spike in attention
By: Jiya Sharma
Posted on: August 4, 2020
In our everyday lives, it is quite natural for us to get stuck in a loop. Between professional work, necessary at-home activities, social lives and healthcare, the bigger picture is often lost. As you zoom into something particular, the background fades away. The suddenness with which the COVID crisis and eventual lockdowns hit economies, nobody had an option but to stop and zoom out. The bigger picture is now clearer. As times get harder and aid is needed more than ever, Luxury finds itself in the middle of some very important conversations. We encapsulate some of the biggest conversations.
Artisan Rights: #PayUp
As events unfolded in 2020, for most enterprises, focus first shifted inward. Unlike other segments of Fashion, Arts and Crafts, where mass production is the norm, not a lot of machine work goes into the production of luxury pieces. ‘Handmade’, ‘bespoke’ and ‘haute couture’ all contribute to the grand role that individual artisans and crafts(wo)men play in the industry. Despite their role, these workers are often not given the compensation they deserve for their hard work which has led to what the Business of Fashion called a ‘Respect Deficit’, especially with regard to those employees that work in foreign countries, such as India, where labour laws differ and are usually not as comprehensive.
Often belonging to economically weak backgrounds, these workers and artisans find themselves most vulnerable during the COVID-19 Crisis. In June, luxury heritage brand Sangeeta Boochra and Silver Centre declared permission to their network of crafts(wo)men across India to work from home in midst of the crisis. “We are providing daily wage, work from home, medical help and aid, food and all other necessary requirements that are useful for their livelihood. The brand’s ethics are so deep-rooted that we value the life of each and every employee and artisan of the company,” informed Abhineet Boochra. Anita Dongre also created a Rs 1.5 crore ($203,000) fund to cover medical fees for small vendors and self-employed artisans.
A social media movement under the hashtag #payup also brought to light the empty promises companies make to their employees overseas, as well as interns and employees that work in their very offices. While the majority of names called out have been in the field of Fast Fashion, changes are being made in Luxury segments as well.
Diversity & Equality in Representation: #PullUpForChange
As a part of its CSR, LVMH announced that it would work to push higher representation and gender equality in the workplace through its social responsibility program. On June 4, Gucci paused all U.S. operations in honour of George Floyd and numerous others that lost their lives as a result of police brutality. Many more Luxury enterprises took grand steps in light of the outrage following the death of George Floyd, but not all were received quite so positively. While Salvatore Ferragamo was called out for a “homophobic and racist work environment”, the #VogueChallenge was social media users’ way of exhibiting how a fair, diversely represented collection of Vogue Magazine covers would look like.
While the conversation has been going on since long before the COVID crisis, what truly differentiates these protests is the intensity of unity and togetherness despite the need of the hour, health-wise, being to socially distance. If the consumer believes so strongly in a cause, companies inevitably react. The depth of the actions is what matter. As influencer Tamu McPherson stated, “Their stories are strong and their voices are being heard. If the industry ignores them, they can be kept accountable. Everyone is sharing, and corroborating, their stories.''
#PullUpForChange is a social media movement addressing workplace representation, bringing attention to managements that have failed to offer proportional representation in the workplace and senior leadership. The movement has been successful in bringing about change with important players such as Estée Lauder, Revlon and L’Oréal, who rose to the challenge and made amends. Revlon, for example, declared employee distribution, stating that 27% of Revlon Inc. USA’s employees and 5% of Director Level and above individuals were black. They promised to work on higher representation in the near future.
Animal Welfare & Sourcing: #crueltyfree
The very origins of the COVID crisis are reason enough for major changes to be made in how animals are treated. According to PETA, “The fur and exotic skins industries create breeding grounds for pathogens like the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.” PETA claims that the exotic-skins industry increases the risk of future epidemics due to the filthy environments in which these animals are kept and treated for further utilisation.
Since before the COVID crisis, animal skin and fur had been gradually evading top trends. This declaration by PETA, however, is furthermore raising ears. Many major designers and retailers—including Chanel and Victoria Beckham—have banned exotic skins from their designs. In an attempt to concretize the move toward a more animal friendly fashion industry, PETA bought shares in around 20 businesses including luxury giants such as Kering, Burberry and Ralph Lauren. These shares supposedly constitute the minimum number needed to have influence on company decisions. The rise in overall proactivity and awareness has also motivated organizations such as Four Paws, which has developed the world’s first ‘Animal Welfare in Fashion Report’. The report’s first issue analyzed some of the top names in the global fashion sphere and found that only a very small minority are transparent about the sourcing of their animal derived materials.
In the current market, as profits take a dip, for businesses numbers would seem to be more important than ever. However, with time to pause, think and revise, so is purpose. The Luxury Industry in particular is poised perfectly to make a change. With the sheer amount of resources that are at its disposal along with the strong community that is at each segment’s foundation, enterprises can’t help but create a trickle-down effect and make an impact from the grassroot level. Each employee wants to be able to go into work today and know that their work makes a difference and impacts the lives of those they touch in the best way possible. As a result, brands are working harder now to fulfill their purpose, and these conversations contribute much into the hard work.