Coronavirus Concerns Hit Fashion’s Workplaces

'Employee safety should be the top priority for companies.'

2/28/2020

'Employee safety should be the top priority for companies.'

Brands and publications are working in real time to protect their workforce as fashion month nears its end.

Calvin Klein , has taken similar precautions. "We are monitoring the situation closely as it evolves, including assessing daily guidance from local and national authorities, and adjusting workplace [and] work from home, production and travel policies in real time," said PVH Chairman and CEO Emanuel Chirico . It’s a positive development that brands are taking steps to protect their employees’ health, though avoiding the office won’t guarantee safety, said Eric McNulty, associate director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s one thing to say work from home, but what is that person doing? Is that person going to a local coffee shop, to the grocery store, to wherever else, because social spread often happens in places beyond the office,” he said. But not all experts reckon that such measures are necessary just yet. “I think that’s going a little bit over the top, but any privately owned company can decide to do what it wants,” said Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia. According to Hunter, people should follow the updated government guidelines urging citizens to self-quarantine only if returning from , taking into account whether they experience respiratory symptoms. “The crucial thing is [personal] hygiene,” he said. It’s important that companies coordinate policy with local health officials, McNulty added. “Where things tend to break down is if you hear one thing from your employer, something else on your local media and something else from your local public health people online,” he said. “If it’s contradictory measures then people say, 'OK I’m just going to do whatever I want to do.'” Certainly, in today’s tech-driven world, implementing a flexible working contingency plan in the wake of a health crisis is relatively straightforward for many office jobs. Employees can more or less carry on as usual with email, web conferencing and instant-messaging tools. Employee safety should be the top priority for companies. But the same can’t be said for other fashion jobs. Pattern cutters and design teams, for example, need to be in the studio interacting with fabrics that will be turned into garments. Photographers can’t shoot models over a videoconference, and makeup artists and hairstylists must be on hand to prep for shoots. According to photographer Goldie Williams, who is in Paris shooting fashion month content for Vogue Hong Kong, face masks have been handed out at events. However, few people have been wearing them, including show-goers, make-up artists and hairstylists backstage. "Surprisingly, my team was the only one wearing masks, whether [on the Eurostar] or at the [shows and appointments]," said multi-brand store Machine-A 's Senior Buyer Bryant Lee. He found this odd,"as a lot of buyers and press have been coming from Milan." Gucci said its design offices and other more creatively technical departments have not been subject to any specific briefing as they are not based in Milan. However, the brand is “constantly monitoring the situation in order to quickly react and implement further measures, if needed,” the spokesperson said. As the virus continues to spread, contingency plans will be tested. “Employee safety should be the top priority for companies,” said Lydia Lee, president of public relations firm Weber Shandwick’s China arm. Lee, who runs four offices across mainland China, is currently mapping out a “recovery plan” as her staff get back into their daily grind. “Constant, regular, clear, communication is crucial. It’s already very scary having a virus be so unknown — it’s even scarier that people don’t know what the company is doing and what they need to do,” she said. Related Articles: Read more: The Business of Fashion

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