Prada is the latest big-name fashion brand to turn its production lines, usually focused on elegant blazers and blouses, to meet needs arising from the coronavirus crisis. Yesterday it said it would produce 110,000 masks by 6 April, while Gucci has said it will make more than 1m and Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga – both of which, like Gucci, are owned by Kering – will also begin manufacturing them.
High-street brands are similarly shifting their focus. Last week, Spanish-owned Zara pledged to produce surgical masks, saying it had already donated 10,000 masks and a further 300,000 were due to be sent by the end of this week. Over the weekend, H&M Group said it would be rearranging its supply chain to produce protective equipment for hospitals and healthcare workers.
The luxury conglomerate LVMH, which owns Dior, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, announced last weekend that it would be supplying the French authorities with more than 40m face masks in the coming weeks, having agreed an order from a Chinese manufacturer. Kering has also said it will be purchasing 3m surgical masks from China to donate to the French health service, while Mango has announced it will distribute 2m donated face masks to Spanish hospitals.
In France, at least, the numbers of masks supplied are more than a drop in the ocean, with the 43m promised by LVMH and Kering sitting favourably alongside the 250m-strong order announced by the French government on Saturday.
It is hoped that brands might soon follow suit in the UK, with the British Fashion Council the not-for-profit organisation that promotes British design globally, last week asking those with “production capacity” to help with shortages. NHS workers in the UK have been speaking out against shortages of protective gear, with London paramedics being rationed to one face mask between two, despite the under-fire UK health secretary Matt Hancock saying yesterday that he had ordered “millions of masks”.
In the US, some smaller brands are popping up to help: Christian Siriano and the kooky sustainable brand Collina Strada are making masks for doctors in New York. The outdoor retailer LL Bean has responded to calls for manufacturing help of masks in Maine, while President Trump has said he’s enlisted companies such as Hanes to start making them too. But, as the New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman questioned on Twitter yesterday, unlike in France and Italy, for now: “Where are the really big brand names?”
The move to make masks follows on from LVMH’s announcement, earlier this month, that it would convert three of its factories, which usually manufacture perfumes under labels such as Givenchy and Guerlain, to the production of hand sanitiser.
Meanwhile, in Italy, other big fashion names have been donating big money. Moncler announced €10m (£9.2m) towards the construction of a 200-25-bed hospital in Milan, according to regional officials. Also in Milan, two new intensive care units have been donated by Prada co-CEOs Patrizio Bertelli and Miuccia Prada, as well as chairman Carlo Mazzi, at each of the city’s biggest three hospitals. With one unit equating to one bed, according to the Prada press office, the donation marks a 1.2% increase on Lombardy’s pre-corona total of 500 public intensive care beds – a figure that has since rocketed to over 900. With more than 3,000 deaths in the region already, however, many more may well be needed. Earlier in the crisis, in mid-February, Dolce & Gabbana announced it was funding a study into coronavirus and immunity at Humanitas University in Milan.
Donatella Versace last week pledged more than $200,000 to the intensive care unit of Milan’s San Raffaele hospital; Mayhoola, the parent company of Valentino and Balmain, yesterday pledged $2m to the coronavirus effort; Giorgio Armani donated $1.4m to four of Italy’s busiest hospitals and the chief executive of Gucci, Marco Bizzarri, gave $100,000 to hospitals in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, another of the hardest hit areas of the country. Money from a crowd-funding project promoted by the fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni brought in more than €4m for a new intensive care ward Milan’s San Raffaele hospital.
So far, in the UK, altruistic fashion initiatives have been on a much smaller scale, with social enterprises launching T-shirts emblazoned with slogans from “Isolate, Just Do It” to raise money for the food bank network Trussell Trust, to “National Hero Service” to raise money for the NHS. The London-based sustainable designer Phoebe English announced last week that she would be making face masks for medical professionals. While stores are shut, the shoe brand Kurt Geiger is asking its 2,500 staff to volunteer in local communities and has partnered with Age UK to help – all staff, apart from the company’s CEO, will continue to be paid.
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