COVID-19 sparks concerns for fashion, but some students see chance for innovation

Illustration by Jeffrey Black

Aaron Royce, Contributing Writer

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the fashion industry is facing problems. Many wonder how the industry at large will cope, but another demographic affected is students hoping to break into it.

In particular, VCU’s shift to online for the rest of the spring semester could be problematic for students in creative fields, including fashion design and merchandising sophomore Jessica Foreman, who believes creative classes could be difficult if their physical aspects can only be seen online. 

“It’s hard when it comes to art, because we’re a hands-on program,” Foreman said in an email. 

Foreman believes fashion designers will be able to cope with the outbreak, as they are used to challenges from being in a creative industry.

“I think creatives and artists in general are always faced with something that society throws at us,” she says, citing limited advertising connections and promoting trends as potential struggles.

Despite this, Foreman is optimistic that students in fashion programs will be able to adapt.

“However, the fashion and art program in general is filled with so much creativity, so I’m sure we’ll find a way to express ourselves, even if it’s virtually,” she said.

One positive aspect of social distancing and the at-home presence is designers’ potential to utilize their time creatively.

“I think the fashion industry will adjust and grow from this — it always has.” Foreman said. “Fashion cannot simply stop, so whatever comes out of this will come out of it.”

On the business side, students in programs with fashion pursuits could be facing fewer difficulties than those in industry-specific fields.

“I think setting a schedule, staying organized and setting time aside is the best way to ensure getting work done,” said freshman public relations major Maddy Bradley in an email.

Bradley hopes to work in fashion, and believes that her major field has grown in its influence during the pandemic.

“Overall, the future of the fashion industry is unclear. With digital innovation and creativity on its side, it will hopefully become more innovative during and after the pandemic.” — Aaron Royce

“I honestly believe public relations is as important as ever because of how brands, politicians, and others need to reach out to the public to communicate what they are doing to ensure safety,” she said.

Bradley believes all parts of the fashion industry will become more conscious from the current pandemic once it subsides.

“I believe the fashion industry will change,” Bradley said. “They may become more environmentally conscious after seeing how social distancing has helped slow CO2 emissions after the past few weeks.”

Retail is evidently fashion’s most-affected sector, according to CNN and Women’s Wear Daily, due to store closures, unemployment and restricted textile trade.

I think the biggest impact the virus will have on the fashion retail industry is the reduction in import and export,” said fashion merchandising sophomore Zoe Mermagen in an email, noting the termination of exports from Asian textile production factories to reduce the virus’ spread.

Mermagen’s interest in fashion hasn’t wavered despite the difficulties COVID-19 is bringing. In fact, its effects on the industry are enhancing her knowledge.

What this pandemic has brought to my attention is the impact a global crisis can have on the economy, and especially the impact it can have on retail sectors,” she says.

Mermagen also predicts that brands and shoppers will increase their activity online.

Events like the Met Gala, international fashion weeks and resort fashion shows by Chanel, Prada and Gucci have been postponed following the COVID-19 outbreak. These are essential for brands to promote themselves this time of year. 

Their halt is disappointing, but Mermagen predicts current seclusion will lead to new endeavors for the industry.

“I believe as this virus continues to seclude people, people will continue to become more creative,” she said. “And this creativity will lead to a new community once the crisis has ended.”

Overall, the future of the fashion industry is unclear. With digital innovation and creativity on its side, it will hopefully become more innovative during and after the pandemic.

“I think the fashion industry will come out of this crisis heading in a new innovative direction,” Mermagen said. “Increasing the use of technology and adapting to ensure that what happened to their market during this crisis does not happen again.”

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