COVID-19 — fashion moves on, but a “wake up call” to be humane
April 16th, 2020 at 12:18 am
COVID-19 — fashion moves on, but a “wake up call” to be humane

Nadeem Qadir;

It is said that any crisis has many sides. But the ones which are more interesting are the innovative ones to suit the time even when people are praying for their lives. It might be even a “wake up” call to be “humane” to the workers in the industry.

COVID-19 is so far the scariest disease to hit the earth in 100 years, but it has made people to brainstorm and turn innovative. These are outcomes of how people act in unusual times to kill the hours and divert their minds when under difficult times.

Being locked up in homes is not a regular affair, but when venturing out means the chance of being attacked by an unseen enemy — COVID-19 — and thus difficult to fight.

From fashion industries to hair styles, the coronavirus is impacting many aspects of human lives that will remain even after the COVID-19 is sealed in a coffin and buried, with the possibility of another bigger bug attacking the human species after 100 years.

International fashion experts have forecast that the masks and gloves are here to stay for good. In some parts of the world, where human development polluted the air to such an extent, that even when coronavirus attacked those countries the people were wearing them. It was nothing new and only a compulsion now for health safety.

Likewise, wearing gloves are common for royalties, elites and sophisticated dinner parties along with the armed forces on special occasions.

The biggest shifts in fashion have historically not come from runway trends, but followed events such as wars that disrupt society on a huge scale, says fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.

Quoted in an only fashion news portal she added that “Their effects ripple through supply chains, the economy, social behaviour, and daily life, often accelerating and normalizing changes underway.” 

Ladies “hoop petticoats” dwindled to take on pants as women had to wear them pants to suit the World War II time as they were forced into the main workforce. So from necessity, it became a dress of choice till today, including in Bangladesh.

American fashion designer Jillian Ann Durgin, who is the CEO and Creative Director of RITUAL Fashion, told this correspondent “Our sales are up 200% in the last two months, because many people who were knocking us off are not able to produce right now. Our sales have been balanced of our Ballgowns, Wedding Gowns, our Jackets, our hoodies and our facemask.”

She said they have been making face masks since 2013 and “in 2016 I designed fashion with it built in for festivals, riding my motorbikes or travelling.”

“If anything, I hope this is a wake-up call to treat people as anything other than equals and not treating them as family and as part of us needs to end. We have invested everything into our collectives so that our tailors can afford medical, school, savings accounts, homes, bikes, cars and we made a choice not to lay anyone off but to trust we would be ok, because for me as the owner laying them off would mean I would send them to face sufferings,” she said, making a point for Bangladesh’s situation of garment workers.

Jillian Ann firmly added of the humanity needed at times like this for her tailors in neighbouring India, “I would rather borrow money as the CEO and owner than to cause sufferings to those who create things that allows me to make money. That choice turned out to be the correct one.”

“I am the founder and designer of the company and I hope the model we created to support sustainability and fair-labour becomes the new normal. Every tailor deserves to be treated as a human being, safe working conditions and also to look after their families,” the modern designer said, adding that “My heart goes out to everyone in India and Bangladesh who are suffering and I hope all designers and fashion labels will change how they produce clothing not only to survive but to support the people who create it for them.”

Jillian proudly told the news portal that her traffic online was up 3,000% and sales 200% without any investment … all of our profit goes back to everyone involved and creating new designs. We are releasing over 30 new eco fair labour products next month (May).”

She continued: “We hope one day to be big enough to mirror our model in other countries to show you it can be profitable by supporting everyone who is involved equally …. As far as the industry, I feel it is an old system and much of it was built for greed and lost its connection to how connected we are to each other.”

Bangladeshi garment factory owners are often criticised for not paying the dues to their workers and they often have to take to the streets to realise their wages.

Even during the coronavirus situation several garment factory owners unilaterally asked their workers to join their workplaces and then send them back exposing the inhuman behaviour as these men and women walked miles to come and go as transports were off the streets under lockdown rules.

Lillian offered to link up Dhaka with those who will take order of between three million and 50 million masks in the UK and ventilators from the USA.

Bangladesh’s veteran fashion designer and choreographer Emdad Houque echoed Lillian and said the treatment of the garment workers was “inhuman,” but those like him were not part of the Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry.

“It was terrible the way those several thousand were treated with no shelter and food … they had to travel by boats back home,” he said, adding that 75 percent income is generated by the RMG, but the workers now don’t have jobs … main issue is most of them are daily-basis workers.”

Houque said the local fashion designers use local artisans and tailors for Bangladesh’s domestic market only and suffering huge losses due to COVID-19 in terms of festival — Pohela Boishakh and Eid — sells.

“All of us have lost over 10 thousand crore Taka of our annual earnings and now we are worried how to handle bank loan, rents and wages of people who work for us.”

“People are now even scared of ordering online fearing someone along the line may pass on the virus,” he added.

However, even if “few are making masks, gloves and funeral clothes for Europe, both the garment and local industries like ours are in a bad situation,” said Houque.

RMG, the country’s top export earner, had earlier forecast a 50 billion-dollar export by 2021, up by more than 12 billion dollars.

The BGMEA has usually denied cheating the workers in terms of wages, but in recent years, especially after the 2013 Rana Plaza factory building collapse, have gone through major changes to meet the requirements of international buyers.

In a related development, the social networks are also showcasing all kinds of hairstyles that people have resorted to as the barber shops are shut in the cities or towns.

Thus experts say the fashion industry will now offer different designs of masks and gloves, more strongly than before as people in general are getting into the habit of wearing those as accessories.

The number of those going bald is the highest as it does not require any talent to cut but only a razor. “There is no barber anywhere and my hair became too long … thus decide to go bald,” said Rumed Chowdhury.

He said that it was also a chance without most of his friends seeing him in the bald if the look was not good and “this is the best time” in stay home for safety time.

Biplob Saha, who owns a saloon in Dhaka’s Gulshan, had to close from 26 March. He tried to do home service but that too became impossible later due to transport problems. “Many of my clients did not want any outsiders to enter their homes.”

“Some of them told me that were trying out their skills in hair styling …  some have gone bald, while are trying spikes or semi-shaven heads during this lockdown times,” he added.

Rumed Chowdhury, 24, said even inside homes, irregular hair growth is irritating.

“I have shaven to become bald and my friend trimmed up from both sides with a chunk of hair in the middle.”

Nadeem Qadir is a senior Bangladeshi journalist and a Dag Hammarskjöld fellow,-