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How Will a Trump Presidency Impact the Fashion Industry?

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How Will a Trump Presidency Impact the Fashion Industry?

CFDA president Steven Kolb weighs in

BY HILARY SHEPHERD

CULTURE  -  DECEMBER 07

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Photo: BFA.com. View more at BFA.com.

It’s been nearly a month since Donald Trump was announced as President-elect of the United States. From the media’s distasteful normalization of a presidency largely based upon fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric to Hillary Clinton’s powerful and poignant post-election battle cry to a peaceful protest among artists outside the incoming First Daughter’s New York City apartment, the collective reaction has been, well, visceral, to say the least. In a political climate that’s wrought with fiery division and genuine unease, fashion’s response might seem trivial at first glance. But to immediately dismiss the election’s impact on the industry as a whole would be incongruous—as we mentioned last month, the fashion industry is deeply and profoundly tied to global politics. When it comes to ethics, little by little, designers are grappling with the conundrum of whether they should abandon their respective political ideologies and dress the new First Lady for the sake of respect, or stick to their guns and stand up against Trump’s platform, which has been, quite frankly, unkind to the LGBTQ community, minorities, and women. (You can find our full list of designers’ stances here.) But the issue of whether so-and-so will dress Melania Trump or not is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s something else to be said here that surpasses sartorial concerns, and that’s how—not if—a Trump presidency will affect crucial facets of our multibillion-dollar industry, one that's heavily made up of the aforementioned "others" and sits opposite of Trump's alt-right movement on the political spectrum.

"There are a few things that one would look toward Washington for when it comes to our industry," said CFDA president Steven Kolb at the recent Fashion Incubator showcase in Dallas. "I would look at immigration for sure—I think that’s an issue our industry needs to be focused on.” Indeed, immigrants—both documented and undocumented—make up a massive portion of the garment industry in America. "We are going to deport many people," Trump said during a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper in August. "We're going to do that vigorously, we're going to go with the laws that are existing, but we're going to have a very strong border and we're not going to have people pouring back in." Trump's xenophobic attitude is also of concern, and recalls the inflammatory, fear-based rhetoric that lead to Brexit. “When you look at the American fashion industry, it’s really just reflective of the American Dream, or the population’s melting pot," Kolb said. "Many, many American designers are born elsewhere, so you have these kids coming into New York for Parsons, FIT, or Pratt, who are trained here and taught here, but can’t stay here. How can we change that? You want the most creative and you want the most productive talent working in the United States. What’s a path for them to come to work in American fashion?"

The modeling industry is also one to consider when thinking about immigration laws, Kolb said. “There’s issues around models and visas and who can work here and who can’t work here, and that makes it hard for brands and for casting people and agencies in having talent going to fashion week throughout the year,” he said. (To give you some perspective, of the 51 models who walked in the recent Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, only 18 were American-born.) It's worth noting that despite Trump's staunch anti-immigration stance, he has notoriously broken immigration rules when it comes to his own business endeavors, most notably in regards to his modeling agency. (Melania's past is an entirely different article, but the irony of it all is almost unfathomable.)

In terms of trade, Trump has said he wants to terminate NAFTA and withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Whether he delivers on his plan to sharply renegotiate U.S. trade agreements is yet to be determined, but it's nonetheless concerning when it comes to things like production and sourcing. “Much of the fabric and textiles come here legally from elsewhere," Kolb said. "How do we ensure that will continue?" One designer in particular who would inevitably be affected by Trump's radical trade policies is Brother Vellies’ Aurora James, who produces all of her accessories in Africa. “We have a free-trade agreement with certain countries in Africa that makes it possible for us to bring the shoes in and actually have them be a reasonable amount of money for our customers,” she said, citing South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, and Ethiopia as her workshop locations. “If that trade agreement is canceled, which is what is being proposed, then the hard costs for us are going to go up.” Consequently, she explained, Brother Vellies will be forced to raise their prices upwards of 30 percent. “I mean, you’re talking about a $300 shoe now being a $400 shoe. It’s not like I’m producing in Africa because I want to make a bunch of money. It costs us a lot of money to produce in Africa—it actually is cheaper if I produce in Italy. There are things like that that really, personally, are affecting me.” Is she worried? “You know, I can’t spend time worrying. You have to do your research and you have to be aware and say, Okay, how can we circumvent this or what are our other options? How can we explain this to our customers? But I try not to worry because that’s sort of a waste of energy. But it’s not amazing, you know.” 

At the end of the day, it's about acceptance. “We’re an industry of a very diverse group," Kolb said. "It’s an industry of women. It’s an industry of LGBT. It's an industry of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos. We’re a very accepting group, and I worry sometimes. I hope that the rhetoric that was part of the campaign goes away, and that people that we work with, our friends and our colleagues, feel safe and secure, and feel that this country accepts them and respects them and loves them.” Here's hoping.

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