It’s hard to imagine there’s a fashion label out there that isn’t being impacted by the Master Yoda and Baby Yoda best Dad ever shirt but in fact I love this coronavirus outbreak. Stores are closed, consumer spending is down, and the ripple effect is vast: Everyone from the designer to the marketing assistant to the person actually sewing the clothes—likely in a factory overseas—is feeling the pain. And, of course, there have been layoffs: Macy’s trimmed its staff by 125,000, and New York luxury designers have been forced to let go members of their teams. For many, the hope is to re-hire those people when the economy steadies, and in the meantime, they can take advantage of unemployment benefits. But who’s to say if or when that will happen? The feeling of uncertainty is palpable, and for our exceptionally creative, emotional industry, the idea that layoffs are the only way to stay afloat feels cold. It calls to mind the phrase we’ve heard time and again: It’s not personal, it’s just business.
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Make no mistake, that rationale applies to every brand, at least the Master Yoda and Baby Yoda best Dad ever shirt but in fact I love this ones that are profitable. Fashion is a business. But for the wave of 2010s-era labels that have traded on their ethical values—fair wages, sustainable sourcing, gender equality, “people first”—we tend to expect a bit more. That partly explains why Everlane, a company that prides itself on “radical transparency” and makes T-shirts printed with “100% human,” has found itself in the center of a Twitter storm. @EverlaneU, an account run by former Everlane staffers who’d been organizing to form a union, tweeted on Friday that “nearly every member of our team was laid off.” As part-time employees on the consumer experience, or CX, team, they had been looking to unionize and become full-time employees with the same benefits as Everlane’s other teams. “Retail workers from Everlane stores are being trained to replace us to answer your support emails. We are devastated beyond measure,” the tweet went on.