Minority-Owned Fashion Brands Sewing Up COVID-19 Support

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By Christian McKenzie

  • Virgil Abloh’s Off-White is shifting operations from producing fashion items to face masks
  • Pyer Moss designer Kerby-Jean Raymond created a $50K emergency relief fund for small businesses

Emerging fashion labels already operate on tight margins, but when a worldwide pandemic prevents customers from shopping at their stores or stockists, it can put them in a tighter situation financially. They have less opportunities to make a sale to customers following shelter-in-place mandates. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo empathetically asked fashion designers to “stop making dresses, to start making the masks…” Fashion brands like Virgil Abloh’s Off-White are heeding the call and shifting operations from producing fashion items to face masks. Smaller independent designers might not get to fully participate in, or financially benefit from this shift towards utility supply manufacturing.

Why This Matters: Most likely, the larger, established brands will get government contracts to produce needed supplies. This means that when smaller, Black designers like Atira Lyons or Kiya Tomlin produce face masks, their sales channels will be limited to online consumers. In response, Pyer Moss designer Kerby-Jean Raymond created the “Your Friends in New York” $50,000 emergency relief fund for minority or women-owned small business owners to offset payroll and related costs. Without immediate cash grants, small independent fashion designers might be forced to close.

Without immediate cash grants, small independent fashion designers might be forced to close

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the fashion industry was experiencing a mass contraction, also known as the “retail apocalypse.” Major retail chains like Forever21, Payless and Henri Bendel closed their stores. Others, like Macy’s (M -8.31%) are furloughing the majority of its 125,000 employees because of the ongoing pandemic, which has sunk sales and forced it to close stores. Morgan Stanley analysts found that in early March  apparel retail traffic fell 3.9% and luxury retail traffic declined by 14.7%.

Situational Awareness: Independent, minority-owned designers have needed to shift their focus from placing their lines in beleaguered retail chain stores to their own websites. Historically, these designers have struggled to launch independent labels without access to alternative capital models or retail partnerships.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Christian McKenzie

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