Much of the reporting on COVID-19’s effects on the fashion industry has focused on retail figures, disruption to supply chains, the cancellation of annual events such as the MET gala and international fashion weeks and so on. So far the conversation has failed to include one of the key factors largely responsible for holding the industry together – the people!
On week 3 of the lockdown, I spent hours on the phone speaking to current members of our sister brand and career club, The Junior Network. The following week we created our own safe space and gathered virtually for a catch up (and fashion quiz!). Every person present on the call spoke candidly about COVID-19’s impact on themselves, their families and careers. As the ladies shared their experiences we found that no two circumstances were the same.
As a way to extend the ‘judgement-free zone’ to our readers, friends and anyone else that needs it right now, we’re highlighting real stories from people just like you in the fashion industry.
Anon, 26, CRM Executive in luxury fashion
I have been placed on a ‘skeleton team’ at work – this essentially means the majority of teams have been scaled down to one representative per team/department. Therefore, from an operational and communication perspective, I am now juggling the workload of 3 members of my team. This is quite easily the hardest working period of my life. Expectations are still high to produce a similar level of results pre-corona but with a very limited team!
Coming in now at week 7 I would definitely say that my energy levels have fatigued significantly and I need a break from work as the work is constant. Working past normal working hours has become a norm which just isn’t OK! I would say that although work does take its toll and the pressure is overwhelming at times, I am beyond grateful that I am surrounded by family and have a garden at home!
Chloé Marlow, 27, Designer and founder of Marlow London and freelance copywriter.
I balance building my accessories brand with freelance copywriting for luxury e-commerce stores to help fund my business. I am fortunate to be able to do both remotely. I began isolating with my family two weeks prior to the lockdown due to two members of my family being high-risk and it was during this time that my father contracted COVID-19. He was lucky enough to be able to recover at home but it was an extremely scary time, we were all trying to self-isolate within the same house and emotions and anxieties were very heightened as a result.
As lockdown progressed, my freelance work began to dwindle and since then my regular income from freelancing has more than halved. Because of this, I am not able to put as much finance as I usually would into my business during this time and have had to strategically make cuts where possible. I needed the first few weeks of lockdown to get my head around the uncertainty of the future. As I began to work out my new daily structure, I started to feel more productive and started to make the most of all the extra time now available. My two main focuses have been on my brand and finding ways to create meaningful content and contribute to the fight against the virus.
Marlow London is currently donating 10% of all sales to support the elderly within the community during the pandemic, I regularly volunteer at care homes and know how much pressure the carers and the organisations are under at the moment and how vital their services are during this time. Every week I am collaborating with a female creative or entrepreneur for an IGTV self-love series to offer anxiety and nutrition advice, creative outlets and self-care rituals for Marlow London’s Instagram community. I have been able to really self-reflect during this time and have found gratitude for so much within my life and this is helping me deal with the uncertainty that lies ahead for my business, the health of my loved ones and the recovery of the world. I am taking each day at a time and am looking towards the future with an optimistic outlook – change can be hard to adjust to at first but once you’re in the rhythm you begin to adapt and this can lead to unexpected and extraordinary discoveries.
Hannah, 27, Social Media Editor in Publishing
Right now, no one on my immediate team has been furloughed, however, the commercial side of the business has been more affected and seen a natural shift in line with the changing circumstances and spending habits of consumers, and therefore advertisers. There’s a big focus on supporting partners and sponsors in any way we can from an editorial perspective right now too, especially those within fashion and travel. We haven’t cut any of our planned events but have had to push back a number to later in the year. We’ve found everyone involved to be most accommodating of this though, from venues and sponsors to consumers due to attend.
For us right now digital and social is at the forefront of our focus and output. It’s a means of engaging with our target audience in real-time, in their chosen ecosystems, which is currently more important than ever. There’s definitely been a big shift in strategy and the type of content we are producing to align with user behaviour and we’ve put more of a focus on community and bringing people together than ever before.
My role is naturally quite flexible and the transition from office working to home working was fairly straightforward for me and across the board went quite smoothly across the business. The thing I have personally struggled with most is finding the work/life balance when living and working in the same space day in, day out. I find it really hard to switch off, and it’s definitely highlighted how important it is for me to actively set aside time away from my laptop and phone for my own well-being and mental health.
Anonymous, 25, E-commerce Luxury Industry
My story started around mid-March, where I faced one of the hardest decisions of my life. In my home country, COVID-19 started spreading quickly and affected thousands of people before it started to significantly affect the UK, where some people were still considering this global pandemic as ‘a simple flu’ (management of my company included).
Suddenly coronavirus cases in the UK rose significantly and people were asked to work from home, yet my company still expected us to come into work until a total lockdown was announced. In those weeks I was feeling more and more psychologically rundown. There was pressure from my family to come back home to Italy and the idea of being stuck in my London home alone for God knows how many months, was just terrifying. I wanted to go back home more than ever. After all, I was working in e-commerce, which would comfortably allow me to work remotely from anywhere in the world. It seemed like the perfect temporary solution to the situation.
I spoke to both my managers about this. Initially, they absolutely agreed with me and encouraged me to take the first flight back home. This was such a huge relief and felt like my company ‘had my back’.
The day after that conversation something tremendous happened. My managers informed me that orders from above indicated that if I wanted to fly home I had to hand in my resignation. I was petrified. The company had fully supported my decision until that day and now made me face one of the toughest choices ever: Choosing between my family and my job. At that moment I felt deluded and almost bullied. In moments of difficulties, employees should be protected and not invited to hand in their resignation. Which is the decision I took but now regret as standing my ground would have meant the company had no legal reason to fire me.
What I don’t regret is coming back home to my family and I have never been happier. Yes, I will now need to find another job but thankfully I already have a few other things on my plate and I am trying to stay positive. It is not always easy, but the biggest opportunities come in the darkest moments and I am glad in this situation I decided to follow my heart. The rest will follow.
Emilie Hill, 24, Editorial Apprentice, The Telegraph
Since lockdown, I have continued to work from home and have surprisingly kept up a positive attitude over the period. I think COVID-19 has definitely taught me how important it is to be able to adapt to new working environments and that communication is key when working in a team; especially in circumstances like these. When you’re in an office, the ease of interaction can be taken for granted and translating that whilst working at home has had its challenges. Whether that’s learning how to use new communication-based software or implementing the normal 9-5 routine; it’s doable but I have had to be patient and continue working and checking in on my team and community as much as possible.
Once this period is over, I do think the way we communicate will be affected by COVID for the better, across the industry. For example, when speaking online to each other, it’s important to be succinct and clear in what you require. I’d like to think we will be even better communicators which is a great positive to take from this.
Honestly speaking, I’ve been going back and forth about what the most effective way to help you, our loyal and loving friends, readers, allies may be. So consider this a small start that I hope cushions the blow of COVID-19. I want to stress to you that our jobs are what we DO, not who we ARE yet through these jobs we are connected to a human community that reminds us that we’re not alone, we one voice telling many different stories.
My sincerest hope is that by reading the experiences of your fellow fashion professionals you feel seen and remembered. Here at PYT, we haven’t forgotten you.
If you would like to share your experience and feature in a future update, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Words by Dior Bediako
Founder of Pepper Your Talk