Luxury fashion: Ethics in time of COVID-19

The health crisis has severely dampened the luxury fashion sector, and the prospects for its future are not necessarily reassuring. However, by investing in certain segments of production in order to meet medical and health requirements, fashion is perhaps starting an ethical turning point: will the fashion of tomorrow be more involved in society, more united and more responsible? Fashion, and especially luxury, can certainly appear to be the height of futility in times of health and financial crises, and the fashion industry has come under increasing criticism in recent years for the enormous pollution it generates.

Immediate retraining

The fashion system, in order to survive, was able to convert very quickly. Europe, which is dependent on China for part of the production of medical and sanitary equipment, had to adapt. LVMH and Kering detail on their websites a generous commitment alongside other players in the fight against the pandemic, sometimes by unlocking significant sums for hospitals or for research centers, sometimes by temporarily converting the activity of certain companies to the manufacture of essential equipment for hospitals.

A generosity which is obviously not disinterested: the sector acquires thanks to these investments a virtuous image and demonstrates a form of social utility and the brands are been talking about.

If Kering already announced in March that it was subsidizing research by the Institut Pasteur in the context of the pandemic, the firm also ensured the supply of surgical masks sent from China.

The manufacture of masks and hydroalcoholic gel has become a fundamental issue for the Kering group as for LVMH.

Gucci, brand of Kering, is reconverted, in Italy, in the production of medical masks and gowns while, still in Italy, Bulgari, brand of LVMH, starts to produce hydro-alcoholic gel in order to fight against virus, as explained by the CEO of the house, Jean‑Christophe Babin, who explains that the brand remains present although discreet on the packaging of the products.

The operation is therefore also advertising and also serves the image of luxury brands that want to be more virtuous. In addition, this support brings together in an unprecedented way the private world (the fashion sector) and the public world (the health sector), usually at opposite ends in terms of values and image.

The "symbolic" alliance between the world of luxury, on the one hand, and that of the medical world, through an apparently innocuous garment - the medical gown - crystallizes this desire to change its image.

Still LVMH, Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy transformed part of their production into the manufacture of hydroalcoholic gel which they offer to French hospitals. Louis Vuitton also produces masks and gowns in his French workshops for the APHP.

Note, however, that part of this production of medical and sanitary equipment was set up on a voluntary basis (as at the Dior workshop in Redon): it is therefore the most precarious workers - the little hands - who manufactured the equipment supplied to employees most exposed to the virus. If the war against the virus has generated surges of solidarity, it has also shown the very great limits of an economic system which produces and reproduces strong social inequalities.

It remains to be seen whether the "reconversion" of this sector of the French economy will prove to be sustainable and promising. In the other European fashion country, Italy, companies have also mobilized: we have read on social networks “Only in Italy do doctors dress in Armani and disinfect themselves with Bulgari ".

A Renewed Narrative

Fashion, in this time of global health crisis, and consequently of reduction of the commercial strike force of the whole segment, tries to present itself under a new face. The first avenue opened to it, as we have just said, consists in contributing to the fight against the virus. This is not enough, because the sector is criticized on all sides - and rightly so - for being one of the most polluting industries on the planet.

It is time for the entire sector to reshape its discourse - hoping that actions will follow - to adapt it both to the health crisis and to respect for a more eco-sustainable collective existence. In these times of crisis, it was Giorgio Armani who spoke to raise the alarm about a system that no longer makes sense, especially if it cannot be respectful of the planet, a system that has overturned the "normal" sense of time and the seasons. It is in a letter to a fashion magazine, WWD Women’s Wear Daily, that Giorgio Armani announces his desire to moderate the incessant rhythm of the seasons, the fashion weeks.

Nothing new in his analysis - except that it is a designer in person who wants to act -, because the manifesto against fashion (Anti-fashion: A manifesto for the next decade) by Lidewij Edelkoort, published in 2015 , whose author is one of the most eminent analyst of trends in the world, denounced a system in total disconnection with the young generation and its requirements in terms of respect for the environment and people.

Covid-19 will only speed up this process of slowing down an entire system. The discourse is changing, and practice should logically follow. Fashion, and therefore its economy, can only care about eco-sustainability, if only to survive economically to changes in global trends. Ethical fashion will become an imperative from now on, and if they want to continue making turnover, luxury houses will have to reinvent themselves.

A System to Reform

The fashion system, at the time of Covid-19, cannot remain only skin deep: pure appearance. Reworking your image can only go hand in hand with a real transformation towards eco-sustainability. The pandemic will have the indirect consequence, of pushing fashion to reform. The ethics of fashion's social engagement is now suspended between the continuity of old practices and the establishment of a "virtuous" device.


For Elemntz