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TRINITY HOENIG AND SAM BROWN
It’s no question that the current state of Ukraine is absolutely devastating. Ukrainian communities have been destroyed, life as citizens once knew it has been turned upside down, and the crisis is taking a serious hit on our global economy. Just before the war, Russia had one of the largest economies in the world and was a key supplier for energy and food industries. Analysts now estimate that the conflict will result in GDP declining by 0.5 percent in 2022, and 1 percent in 2023, which totals almost $1 trillion, indicating that a recession might be just around the corner. The fashion industry is one of several industries that’s taking the brunt of catastrophe, with shares in retail companies down by double-digit percentages in the last two weeks. Most global apparel brands have shut down their Russian stores in the wake of war. For brands like Adidas and Prada, Russia accounted for 3% of sales. So, although Ukraine and Russia have a minor role in apparel production, the fashion industry is still taking a hit. For example, as oil prices jump, textile fibers derived from oil, like polyester, could potentially face huge price pressure. An oscillating financial market and slowed economy will further complicate the fashion industry’s post-covid recovery.
During times of increased financial anxiety, retail purchasing is one of the first categories people will cut back on their spending. If you walk into nearly any store right now, you’ll be welcomed in by an abundance of discounted items. This was largely a result of Covid-19, which already had a significant impact on supply chains, and the war is only amplifying these issues. Supply chains are stretched, ports are clogged, and many supply routes are entirely unavailable. When retailers are incapable of supplying demand, they often have to increase their prices. Just in February, prices rose 7.9% compared to the year prior. The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment gauge has fallen to near post-pandemic level lows, indicating that people are seriously feeling the effects of higher prices.
When asked about his decision to carry on with Balenciaga’s show, Demna, himself a refugee of the Georgian Civil War, said “to cancel the show would have meant surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years.” Following suit, many designers carried on with their shows but made changes to showcase their solidarity with Ukraine. Stella McCartney, for example, closed her show with the famous anti-war ballad “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon. Guests of Balenciaga’s show were greeted with Ukrainian flag t-shirts, and the show was said to reflect the strength of the Ukrainian people, with models walking in a backdrop of snow whilst carrying trash bags made of leather.
Times are tumultuous right now both in human rights as Russia wreaks desolation on the Ukrainian people and in the fashion sphere as profits drop. As said by Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia, “Fashion doesn’t matter now.” In fact, much of the excitement and glamour surrounding Fashion Month ceased to carry its typical grandiose the moment Russia attacked Ukraine. As protestors lined outside of the shows carrying signs like, “No War in Ukraine,” one wonders whether celebrations of couture should prevail amidst a horrific international crisis. Sadly, this is not the first time fashion and other sectors of the entertainment industry have faced uncertainty with how to proceed in the midst of war and loss. Annual events like Fashion Month, some point out, serve as reminders that time is passing and peace will prevail.
Off the runway, brands united with a message seen throughout the fashion industry: peace over profit. For one, Gucci and Valentino donated $500,000 to the UN Refugee Agency, while donations from Chanel and Louis Vuitton to relief organizations total over three million dollars. Similarly, Burberry chose to match all employee donations to charities supporting Ukraine. Several other brands, designers, and models have made donations of their own, marking the unity and underlying wish to help Ukraine.
While monetary donations are only one part of the fight against war, the importance of different industries, such as beauty and fashion, proclaiming their stance is manifold. It is a sign of the times when brands are using their Instagrams to share links to relief organizations and maps of border crossings points to aid refugees. The co-existence of fashion, war, and social media is confusing, yet powerful. If spaces reserved for satin, lace, and appliqué are suddenly transformed to bring awareness to current events, it only reinforces the notion that we are all connected to what is occurring globally.