With the presidential election seemingly settled this weekend, the fashion and retail communities can start to look at how a Biden/Harris administration may impact them. Of particular, and possibly immediate, impact are Covid-19 relief, manufacturing, environmental regulation, trade and immigration.
Covid-19 Pandemic Relief:
Fashion and retail companies were hit hard by the pandemic and the ensuing stay-at-home orders. Record unemployment and fears of store safety further exacerbated the situation. While Washington did provide targeted relief for small and medium size businesses as well as enhanced unemployment insurance, the industry and its workers struggled. There were appeals for additional measures, but lawmakers did not embrace them as they did with requests from the restaurant, travel and hospitality industries.
As the Biden/Harris administration takes shape, the fashion and retail industries need a coordinated, high-level advocacy operation to advance their priorities which should include: assistance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance for safe operations and lease modifications; creation of a stability fund to provide direct assistance and a federally-backed business interruption insurance program; and changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
As the fashion and retail industries re-open their physical retail locations and transition to a new normal in the coming months, the Committee proposes the following additional federal assistance:
Biden has said he will create a “Safer for Shoppers” Program. This federal initiative will provide funding and technical assistance to public health departments to provide certification that businesses are compliant with testing and other best practices for reducing transmission of the virus. Once certified compliant, those businesses would receive a “Safer for Shoppers” sign to let customers know. The goal would be to give people a level of comfort to resume shopping in local brick and mortar stores. In addition, he plans to introduce a “restart package” that would provide assistance for small business owners to create a work-sharing structure so they could bring back workers with the federal government providing financial assistance. The package would also include grants to cover the costs of tools essential for stopping the spread of Covid, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and plexiglass barriers. There will be special focus on ensuring minority-owned businesses are fully engaged and receive necessary technical support such as accounting and legal advice crucial for effective participation in these new federal programs.
President-elect Biden has said that upon assuming office, he will ensure that the US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. This international agreement is an ambitious effort to combat climate change. Trump withdrew the US from this accord, which, ironically, took effect the day after the election. Biden is also expected to utilize Executive Orders to undo the nearly 100 US environmental regulations the Trump Administration rolled back or curtailed.
The United States is a country of immigrants – from the Mayflower to today. But, the mechanics and legality of immigration remains a top public policy issue, while also a deeply personal issue for so many.
Immigration laws and regulations impact the fashion industry in many ways, including access and retention of top talent and the cost of navigating a broken system. Designers often rely on H1B visas and the H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent. Congress sets the cap each year for the allotment of H1B Visas. However, in June, President Trump signed an executive order to suspend new H-1B through this calendar year. Joe Biden has vowed to lift these restrictions when in office.
Over the past few decades, manufacturing of everything from anoraks to zippers has moved oversees. While there have certainly been benefits to businesses in the US and workers in other nations, we have also seen the downside to these structures in terms of the environment, workers’ health and safety and availability of essential items. Throughout the campaign, Biden advocated for reshoring and mobilizing manufacturing and innovation in the US. In addition, he is looking to revamp supply chains and create new manufacturing and technology jobs.
The Trump administration weaponized tariffs in its war with China. They implemented hundreds of additional tariffs and threatened many more. Trade agreements were allowed to expire. While Biden also has taken a tough stance against China for violating international trade rules, stealing American intellectual property and illegally subsidizing its own companies, he wants to fight his battle with US allies as part of international agreements. It is not clear how Biden will strike a balance between promoting American businesses and materials and also holding China accountable for its practices, but it would be wise for the fashion and retail industry to make their case now to the incoming Administration and Congress.
While Biden and Harris will not be sworn-in until January 20, 2021, they are cutting the pattern for governing NOW. If fashion and retail want to be part of the design, they should engage with the Presidential transition team and their local elected representatives to make sure their voice is heard and their vision seen.
Once it was women’s pants, then it was the bikini and then the miniskirt that divided the American people on what was appropriate covering. Today, it is a simple piece of cloth that has polarized the public: the mask.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has advised masks for adults and children over the age of 3 to prevent the spread of Covid-19 which has ravaged the world in 2020.
A recent poll by Pew Research Center survey shows eight in ten adults do wear a mask in stores, up from six in ten adults in a June survey. But, that means there are still Americans who will not wear a mask.
Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden has spoken often about the importance of wearing masks and is photographed wearing varieties of the protective gear. He has also said that as President, he would require people wear a mask.
But what does he really have the power to do? There are questions about the legal ability to issue a mandate. Perhaps the reach of such a directive cannot go beyond federal employees or federal property. But, one thing that is for sure: he can lead by example. He can wear masks - correctly. He can tout the scientific guidance of the CDC. He can make mask wearing a condition of meeting with him.
So what does this mean for fashion? Well, in an era where people are buying less, for a variety of reasons, including environmental, economic and societal, this is an item of clothing that people will need to buy. Designers can create original patters and decorations, use logos or make political statements with the simple standard mask pattern. Moreover, everyone needs more than one mask so there will be multiple merchandizing options.
We do not need to wait for a Presidential mandate to be safe. We can do it now. We can #WearAMask and we can make it fashion!
September 22 was #NationalVoterRegistrationDay but many designers and fashion companies have been promoting #voting and #elections for a while. Here’s a list of these initiatives with links to articles, websites and social with more information. Let me know what I missed!
As we have all been confined to our homes these past few months, we have begun to think more about where the products we use everyday would call home. Where were they made? Across the globe, across the country, or across town? The answer is not always straightforward. The Administration, a Congresswoman and a presidential nominee all have an approach to this problem.