Has Covid-19 Made The Fashion Industry More Accessible? | Read Time 5 mins

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Let's hope business can remain on top, and our comfy loungewear can remain on the bottom.

Being in 'the right place at the right time' is the fail-safe answer fashion moguls give to their young, impressionable audience when questioned about how they became successful. We're promised that our big breaks are "just around the corner"... but how does that translate into the real world? "Just around the corner" from me is a Weatherspoons, not VOGUE house, or a swanky new bar in Mayfair where I can try to mingle with the fashion elite. God knows what would happen if I tried to start a conversation about the underwear-as-outerwear trend with one of the 'Spoons regulars. 

Success is inherently linked to geographical location; when we're looking for a job, a house, or even when looking for love - 90-percent of the time it's about where you are, not who you are or what you've done. "If my parents hadn't had a house in the London suburbs that I could live in when I was working for papers and magazines for no money, I wouldn't have been able to enter journalism" admits author and columnist Dolly Alderton, in one of her tweets back in 2018. "People whose parents live in London will continue to dominate journalism. Which, I think we can all agree, would be spectacularly shit for everyone."  And there we have it - the reason success and location are so entwined with one another is because of opportunity, and the lack thereof has historically been a huge issue for those wanting to pursue a career in fashion.

But is that all about to change for the better? Covid-19 has pushed 85-percent of the British fashion force out of their luxury office suites and back to bed, working from the comfort of home in an attempt to keep some kind of 'normality' in the industry. It's safe to say fashion is having its Britney-circa-2007 moment. Business of Fashion has produced a downloadable white paper report on how companies "must evolve and empower their workforce to adopt new skills to remain operational and succeed." Some of the world's biggest designers are contemplating skipping the upcoming season, up-heaving the bedrock of the fashion calendar as we know it, with everyone being forced to work 'smart' - a new phrase introduced to educate employees on how they can still keep up momentum whilst attending virtual meetings in their slippers. God forbid we begin to think of this as ‘normal’; we're ironically reminded by countless publications to not get comfortable in this new routine, as we slink to the kitchen for the fifth time in an hour to grab more snacks. As someone who doesn't own a million dollar brand, it's unsurprisingly easy for me to sit here and think "what's all the fuss about?", because as a young writer wanting to make it in fashion, I'm seeing this as a very positive adaptation. For the first time in history, location has been taken out of the equation, and we've been exposed to the secret fashion has been trying to keep for decades - you can actually do it anywhere

Let's explore how this could be put into practice. I currently live in Manchester, a city growing year-by-year, steeped in rich heritage with good transport connections to the rest of the country. The latter is crucial, because London is the fashion capital and it's where the majority of all fashion-related jobs are based. So if we're going to talk realistically about the first wave of work-from-home-wonder, we've still got to consider our links to the mothership. Say I got a job working as a features writer for a magazine based in London - it's a 40 hours-a-week gig, with an agreement that my role would be predominantly carried out in a remote environment to the office. All I would need is a laptop, good Wi-Fi connection and a webcam, so I could still be involved in weekly web-chat catch-ups with the rest of my team. There would also be an agreement where I travelled a couple of times a month to London to touch base and be present at crucial meetings and events. That's it. As far as I'm concerned, as long as I can meet deadlines and be able to come to London every now and again, this is a totally viable scenario... and one that the industry is starting to legitimately consider. 

"Remote working will become much more common in the wake of Covid-19. Fashion industry roles (especially communications) will be more remote" predicts Katie Ramsingh, a fashion copywriter with over a decade of industry experience.

"(However) the industry will remain competitive to enter as it's so creative and everyone wants to be a part of it." 

This is also something to consider. Just because the industry may become more accessible in one sense, doesn't mean it's any less ruthless. Its reputation will still turn away thousands of hopefuls every year, regardless of the accessibility of the role-in-question. But we can't deny we're currently in the middle of a massive, model-strut-sized step in the right direction. In a recent conversation I had with Diane Pearson, recruitment manager at Paul Smith, we agreed on the positive effects working from home will have in the industry. "I definitely think (it will be) easier to work from home" she tells me:

"it's opened the eyes of many of our directors and heads of departments seeing that it can work."

There is hope, but there's also a lot of nuances that need to be addressed as well. Whilst it's good news for those who are interested in pursuing a career in a communication-related position, those who aspire towards a more 'hands-on' role may be met with more adversity. In-person practice takes up a large percentage of careers available within the industry - and shock, they're all pretty much based in London. Logistically, these roles will be harder to make remote, even though companies are currently trying their damn best to produce new designs even in lockdown. So maybe we need to ask another question instead - "why, in 2020, are we still in over our heads with the idea of making every reputable fashion company reside in London, and cut off a whole range of talent from all over the country?" (This is perhaps a topic for another day...) 

Ultimately, the fashion workforce has been given a very well-needed and overdue shakeup. A global pandemic is obviously the last thing anyone needed this year, but in the wake of Covid-19 employers and employees alike have realised that we actually have more options than we thought - and this of course applies to all industries, not just fashion. This point in time will be the driving force that champions the work-from-home-wonder, as we begin to see the difference we so desperately need.

*Graphic created using pictures from Pinterest and my own*

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