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Fashion Designers Suffer as Coronavirus Halts Business

In this Wednesday, April 22, 2020, photo, knitwear designer Felicia Lynch works on her knitting machine at her dinning room table in the Williamsburg neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Fashion Designers Suffer as Coronavirus Halts Business
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Felicia Lynch started her job as an assistant designer for a fashion company last November in New York City. But, like many others, her job disappeared because of the coronavirus crisis.

Now, the 23-year-old designer is not sure whether she will get her job back. “We are all worried,” Lynch said.

She is one of thousands of people who have lost jobs in the New York City fashion world. Stores have closed. Major events have been cancelled. People are staying home and not buying clothes.

Jobless designers are hoping to restart their careers when life returns to normal. They believe people will want to buy American brands made in the United States. And they think people will want to stay closer to home when they shop.

More fashion designers work in New York City than anywhere else in the country. It is home to about 30 percent of nearly 19,000 fashion designers working across the U.S., a 2019 congressional report said. The city’s fashion industry makes up about 4.4 percent of non-government jobs and creates about $11.4 billion in employee pay, a recent U.S. government labor report found.

The coronavirus struck just as designers were sending their new spring fashions. Now, stores are returning those items and future orders have been cancelled.

Steven Kolb is president and CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). The group has about 500 designers as members. Kolb told The Associated Press that many designers are facing serious financial difficulties because they have large inventories they cannot sell.

Kolb added that stores are also feeling the effects of the fashion downturn, with some struggling to pay rent and other operating costs.

The CFDA has joined with the Vogue Fashion Fund to raise money to help designers, from large companies to one-man businesses. Called “A Common Thread,” the effort so far raised $4.1 million, Kolb said. It has received more than 800 requests for financial assistance.

New York’s fashion industry was experiencing problems even before the coronavirus hit. Once-famous stores that helped young designers - like Barneys and Henri Bendel - went out of business. Now, with the virus crisis causing widespread economic problems, other major clothing stores are also facing the same danger.

Students at New York’s fashion colleges believe future employment in the industry looks very difficult.

Michael Londrigan is an assistant professor at LIM college in Manhattan. He said all the internships for the school’s fashion students were canceled through the summer.

Those internships often lead to industry jobs, Londrigan added. “They were counting on jobs after graduation so we are counseling as best we can.”

Felicia Lynch is not worried about the financial problems the large stores are facing. She believes the future of fashion is online. She continues to design and hopes for a better job when things return to normal.

Laura Ciccarello was in charge of sales for a Chinese company that made fashion items for the New York market. But she lost her job when the factory closed and future orders were cancelled.

Now, she is working on a few fashion designs of her own and has already found a supplier. She is also working with another supplier to make medical items, such as masks.

“This will be survival of the fittest for fashion brands, “ she added.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.


Words in This Story

fashion - n. clothing that is designed and costly

brand - n. the name and reputation of a company

shop - v. going out to buy things

inventory - n. a list of items to be sold

rent - n. the monthly amount paid for an apartment or store

internship - n. an unpaid work experience

counsel - v. to give advice or assistance