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What's Good: The Fashion and Beauty Industries Prove Their Mettle Amidst Uncertainty

Fear, concern, courage and hope: The community voices out what's on their minds in the time of COVID-19.

by The Editors | Apr 9, 2020

We must not lose sight of the fact that this pause will lift, and things will spring back into action, however different. When it’s time to press play, we look forward to seeing the industry rise up again.

Dear Preview readers,

Fashion has hit pause.

This was our thought when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was set in place. It didn’t feel right to push OOTDs and makeup hacks when life-altering news pervaded.

“What would the community need right now?” we pondered.

Generous cues from a number of readers have directed us towards stories that inform, inspire, and entertain in the way that fashion creatively can. It’s that touch of normalcy we count on to soothe the stress amidst the chaos.

But we would be remiss if we did not look out for the fashion and beauty industry itself, whose players have had to put business operations on hold. What we thought would be a grim report of lost sales, canceled opportunities, and deep worries has turned out to be a message of hope and inspiration.


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Preview April 2020

Here exists a group of creatives who are using their resources, skills, and the time on their hands to help the nation’s cause. Here we see leaders bravely carrying on or pivoting plans to make sure their employees are provided for. Here we’ve found communities in thoughtful discussion with one another, figuring out what needs to be changed or improved when regular programming resumes.

Fashion, despite its frivolity, feeds the soul, and the industry has given numerous people livelihood and a sense of purpose.

We must not lose sight of the fact that this pause will lift, and things will spring back into action, however different. When it’s time to press play, we look forward to seeing the industry rise up again.

We will be here for it.

—Isha Valles, Preview.ph Editor-in-Chief


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Preview April 2020

Scroll down and read more:

  • Fashion Conscious, Conscious Fashion
  • Designing with Purpose
  • Beauty in the Face of Adversity
  • Freelancers and the New Normal

FASHION CONSCIOUS, CONSCIOUS FASHION

by Yanna Lopez


It’s become blatantly obvious that the issue is no longer about whether you should shop or not. The question has become far more complicated, and morphs into a bigger picture as this pandemic wears on—for luxury brands, fast-fashion retailers, and homegrown businesses alike, there are nuances to consider, and, most importantly, people to provide for.

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"At the beginning, I was thinking that our business is trivial, even frivolous, in these uncertain times,” Mikka Padua, founder of curated online shop Seek the Uniq, muses. “And then I thought about the local artisans who make our special embroidered pieces, the sewers who are paid per piece, our shop guides and sales staff who can no longer come to work, our in-house couriers whom I've asked to stay home with their families…we need to keep the wheels turning for them." And so the wheel turns.

Still, one can’t help but wonder what plans these labels had poised for this unforeseeably tumultuous April. Had COVID-19 not erupted, what would the fashion scene look like right now?

Paulo Campos, co-founder and CEO of Zalora Philippines, admits that it should have been a grand fete. “We were set to celebrate Zalora’s 8th anniversary this month, before the enhanced community quarantine was announced,” he reveals. He’s anything but disheartened, though. “Now, instead of having a massive celebration, we’re redirecting our efforts to help the community in any way we can by taking care of our employees, as well as leveraging our communication channels and logistics network to raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts, and give people access to basic necessities through the launch of our new Essential Supplies category.”

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On the matter, Cris Roque, President and CEO of Kamiseta, remains firm. “We have not yet made a decision that we can consider a difficult one. In matters concerning the lives, health, and safety of the people, it should not be hard to know which decision must be made, and that is to save lives first and put our employees first and be there for them.”

Solidarity—and at its root, compassion—plays the equalizer; every day brings word that another handful of brands has joined national and worldwide endeavors to battle the virus’ further spread.

The great news is that good deeds abound. Solidarity—and at its root, compassion—plays the equalizer; every day brings word that another handful of brands has joined national and worldwide endeavors to battle the virus’ further spread. Global names like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, and H&M have pledged aid by using their manufacturing arms to produce disinfectant gel and medical protective equipment, as well as pledging monetary donations to the the United Nations Foundation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in support of the World Health Organization.

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Locally, despite the implemented enhanced community quarantine, efforts are just as remarkable. All proceeds from Apartment 8’s line of eco-friendly, washable face masks, for example, will go towards funding their donations to health workers and those in need. Sunnies Studios has vowed to donate 3000 pairs of certified medical-grade goggles and 5000 pairs of prescription frames to various Philippine hospitals. Carla Cruz, the founder of Tropik Beatnik, shared with Preview that 80% of the proceeds from the special capsule collection Sibol will be donated to a small Gawad Kalinga community of stay-at-home moms with no regular income. And, perhaps most notably, ready-to-wear giant Penshoppe’s production of personal protective gear for medical personnel plus the company’s allotted P200 million donation very recently made headlines.

“So far, we have already pledged to [produce and] donate 2000 PPE suits—1000 to UERM and 1000 to other hospitals and individuals,” Cris says of Kamiseta’s part. “The PPE suit is the most important garment I have ever made in my entire career spanning 26 years for the simple reason that it saves lives.”

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All that said, the struggle for any business to survive in this climate of uncertainty isn’t just real, it’s a given. Manila-based contemporary womenswear label Yoya’s Relief Fund initiative, which entails directing 30 days of online sales to relief movements, recognizes that a measure of honesty is worth laying on the linehelp comes at a cost for a brand grappling to stay afloat, but they're wholeheartedly willing to give it anyway.

“The sudden change in consumer behavior focusing on essential needs at this time of crisis-induced uncertainty is what’s hitting us hard. What this low level of consumption for fashion means for us is existing inventory that will not move and new collections that would have to be deferred,” Yoya’s Pat Mendoza confesses. “When a brush with mortality like this global pandemic happens, we expect most people to pull back and rethink their lifestyles, and that includes their consumption habits. Even if they have the means, some will choose to hold on to their money indefinitely until things stabilize, [and they] prioritize the essential things in life or funnel their resources to helping out.”

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What’s staring us in the face is that a change of priorities is not merely inevitable, it’s necessary. “There’s something about this moment that feels like a reckoning…[the] much-needed transition from fashion-conscious to conscious fashion,” actor, rapper, and activist Riz Ahmed declared during a live-streamed conversation with Business of Fashion’s Imran Amed.

So what gives these floundering businesses hope in the midst of this tilt-shift? Jappy Gonzales, managing director of H&F Retail Concepts (a.k.a. the enterprise behind high-end multi-brand concept stores Homme et Femme and Univers), has great faith in the natural desire for connection that’s so innate to human beings. “Fashion is a global industry, so it's inherently one that thrives through connectivity. In recent years, that connectivity has been magnified and even formed inextricable ties to other industries like music and art. I’m hopeful that once we emerge from this pandemic, fashion will deepen its links and contributions to communities.”

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In short: It’s humans themselves. Mikka echoes the sentiment, “In these fragile, uncertain times, it's all about the little things...every encouraging engagement we get on our Instagram, every email in our inbox as proof of community? All these small things add up. [Joy is] a commodity in trying times—I will be remiss to mention that so is hope." 

Paulo chimes in, “At the end of the day, the strength of the brand is in its people.”

DESIGNING WITH PURPOSE

By Nicole Cruz


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The life of a fashion designer is a glamorous whirlwind of fittings, runway shows, and swoon-worthy collections, but the coronavirus pandemic, as with all other industries, has forced people to hit pause on the fanfare and to focus on the necessities: health and safety. In effect, designers have put all their projects and plans on hold, but ceasing operations entirely was easier said than done.

“When I heard of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Metro Manila, I immediately thought of my team,” says Patty Ang, who, like many others, was primarily concerned about her employee’s welfare, particularly their financial security. And so, many of them anxiously waited for government directives while implementing precautionary health and safety measures to protect their staff. As much as they wanted to keep business operations running to continue providing for their staff, the decision to close shop temporarily was inevitable when the enhanced community quarantine was implemented.

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The suspension of work did not stop designers from extending help to their employees. Vania Romoff, for example, immediately registered her staff for the P5000 cash aid from the Department of Labor and Employment. On the other hand, Carl Jan Cruz set up a special sale to support “the Ladies” of his studio, as he fondly calls them. Bridal gown designer Michael Leyva continues to provide for his in-house staff (half his original workforce) whose work has now shifted to sewing the personal protective gear (PPE) suits he is producing for hospital frontliners.

It’s also good to see how proactive these designers are as business leaders. Just as they design one or two seasons ahead, they are now planning for their brand’s future and are considering more ways to connect with their clients, such as through online appointments and keeping their consumers engaged through social media.

And while they have made it clear that health is more important than their company’s cashflow at present, they all admit to having lingering fears about the future—a natural response for anyone with an enterprise given these unprecedented times. Designers Steph Tan and Michael Leyva both share that they are afraid that consumer’s spending habits won’t go back to normal. Vania Romoff also asks, “Will there even be occasions to wear these pieces to begin with?”

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Despite the questions and uncertainties that fill their minds, designers are rising above their anxiety by letting another feeling overcome them: the desire to help others. This has now become their top priority, as they feel that sharing their talents and resources is the least they could do to those in need. Many designers are addressing the need for personal protective equipment (PPE), either independently or as a group. An example of the latter is the Mich Dulce-helmed Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club (MPGSC), a group of designers, volunteers, sewers, and manufacturers, all geared towards producing PPEs. As a team, they were able to create an open-source medically-reviewed PPE suit pattern that is free for anyone in the world to download and use. As of April 7, the group has raised P496,225.64, and has distributed 1198 PPEs. They are also working with the Office of the Vice President for distribution, just like Michael Leyva.

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Michael has converted his studio into a production house for PPEs. He has created over 2,500 pieces as of April 5, since he started production last March 23, and is focused on distributing to hospitals that aren’t as well-funded as others. Designer Rajo Laurel has also been busy handling his atelier’s PPE production. As of April 4, he has raised over P972,568.65 for the production of PPEs, with 859 pieces ready for distribution and 875 in the making.

Another group of designers who have banded together to further push the production of PPEs is Fashion for Frontliners, a team initiated by Yong Davalos. This team of 12 hardworking designers takes shifts day and night to keep their fundraising and production operations in check. They have raised P3,519,180.21 as of April 2.

All these efforts would not be possible without the help they receive from generous sponsors, who reach out to them of their own accord. It’s amazing to see what can be achieved through this bayanihan spirit.

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Most of the members of Fashion for Frontliners have never even met each other—they are simply bonded by their love for service.

Aside from the help that these designers extend to communities, they are enjoying the little communities and connections they are forming themselves. For example, Michael notes that many of his clients have reached out to him with donations, even without his help. This has strengthened their relationships in a profound way, and Michael is grateful for it. In the same vein, most of the members of Fashion for Frontliners have never even met each other—they are simply bonded by their love for service, and they’re forming close relationships with one another, too.

In a word, these charitable acts have reawakened an element of fashion that is sometimes lost amid the pomp and glamour surrounding the industry: human connections. It is this insight that has caused designers to reflect on their professions and their company’s core values. “It's like a big mirror is being held up in front of all of us to see what we have done and what we should do to make things better. In the end, I hope we all heal from this and choose to do better and be better on all fronts,” Vania shares.

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Ultimately, designers have realized that, yes, they work to create beautiful things, but at the end of the day, fashion will always be in the service of people, be it clients, employees, and fellow designers. Although they acknowledge that there’s still room for improvement, it is the possibility for change that gives them hope amid these unprecedented times. They’ll be using that ember of human connection to fuel their efforts moving forward, and you can bet that they’ll be doing so as one community.

BEAUTY IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY

By Nicole Arcano


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In the face of this crisis, beauty has also inevitably taken a backseat. The line between what is essential and what is considered to be vanity has been made clearer than ever—and in effect, the business is, as expected, not booming. But hope is not lost, especially for the strong business owners who are fighting to keep their brands alive. The question of how, of course, is one only they can answer.

Ever Bilena Cosmetics Inc.’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Denice Sy reports that while products are available in convenience stores and groceries, "we are least priority as most of our products are non-essentials at this time of crisis." Happy Skin and BLK Cosmetics CEO Jacqe Yuengtian-Gutierrez adds that her makeup brands have had zero sales since the lockdown began. Only her skincare brand, Seoul White, is able to continue deliveries for carrying an item that’s considered an essential good—soap. Meanwhile, In Her Element founder Liz Lanuzo also points to the shortage of available couriers as the primary hindrance for sale continuance. “We can only resume our business when things normalize,” she says. Even Avon, a brand known for their direct-selling business model, temporarily closed its stores and has all their online deliveries on hold.

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On the other hand, businesses that rely on contact services like salons and dermatology clinics were given no other choice but to completely shut down operations until the lockdown is lifted.

Dr. Vicki Belo decided to close all her clinics two days before the government placed Luzon on ECQ. “This is beauty, you don't want to work in an anxious place,” the doctor tells Preview. “The doctors were so afraid already, the employees were afraid, so I said, ‘No, we have to calm down [and close].’”

“This is beauty, you don't want to work in an anxious place.” - Dr. Vicki Belo

Hairstylist and salon owner Jing Monis admits that they did not anticipate how hard the pandemic would hit the country either. They had to close all their branches. “Our staff is the most affected [by this] because they depend on their work for them to support their family. For us to help them, we released their salary right away so they can provide their daily needs,” Jing continues.

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Amidst the panic, beauty companies attempt to achieve a sense of normalcy by having employees work from home. Avon Executive Director Agnieszka Isa says that, prior to the lockdown, they already began reviewing options for remote work. “We made sure to equip each employee with laptops [so] they can manage their day-to-day work during the quarantine and remain safe at home with their families.”

Jacqe’s teams are maximizing the use of video conferencing online. “We do regular Zoom calls with all employees and department heads also do regular updates with them. We treat it as a regular workday and still plan out all our innovations for the year,” she notes.

All the brands we’ve spoken to expressed commitment in compensating all their workers as long as they’re able, including those who can’t perform their duties during the ECQ (e.g. warehouse employees). Denice says she feels the weight of their responsibility to the company’s almost 1,900 staff and their families. “Our workforce is necessary to help us face the huge challenge of rebuilding our business after the lockdown. Where Ever Bilena can help make it easier for our employees to survive, we are doing our best to do it.”

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Another option was to release part of their regular employees’ 13th-month pay to compensate them in advance and provide aid for the meantime. The Belo Medical Group, on the other hand, has turned to reallotting advertising budgets, which includes giving up billboard spaces for their staff.

Taking care of their employees’ mental health has become a priority for brands, too. “Now more than [ever] our people need stability, compassion, trust and hope,” Agnieszka stresses. The most common methods used are online wellness courses, regular communication with their staff, and frequent sharing of coping mechanisms via informal channels like group chats.

Efforts to provide relief to consumers are also rising in the digital space. Instead of marketing campaigns, beauty brands and business owners are using their platforms to share uplifting wellness content in their respective tones or promoting bayanihan efforts. Having a social media following on his own, Jing uses his extra time to share essential hair tips online while his salon isn’t in operation.

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Speaking of bayanihan, the beauty industry continues to provide optimism in its own way through various relief efforts. Dermatology clinics such as Belo Medical Group and The Aivee Clinic, for example, donated their unused stocks of personal protective equipment to COVID-19 frontliners. Blackwater and Avon donated supplies of soap and antibacterial sanitizers to the frontlines and communities in need as well, including monetary donations to organizations that support those affected by COVID-19. Happy Skin, Seoul White, and Teviant turned to delivering self-care packages to hospitals nationwide to lift health workers’ spirits. Fundraising through sales is also common, like how In Her Element and Colourette Cosmetics donated proceeds from a set of online orders.

While the industry remains positive that it will rise above this situation, everyone predicts a slow recovery. “Prepare for a changed world. This crisis will change our businesses and society in so many important ways,” says Jacqe. Denice shares the same sentiments, yet remains enthusiastic: “I do believe that within a few months, consumers will eventually return to beauty products. Since historically, beauty has been used as a coping mechanism post-world war to boost morale or encourage self-expression.”

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Among the changes in consumer habits they predict are increased attention to hygiene and cleanliness, as well as the need to digitize several business processes. The situation has also led to a shift in their priorities as leaders. “Before it was all about wanting to be the first, world-renowned, wanting to be the leader of the industry—so egotistical,” Dr. Vicki Belo deadpans. “Now, it's about wanting to serve. Am I making people feel better? Am I improving their lives? That kind of thinking.”

In the end, hope remains. As Liz eloquently puts it, “I've always believed that it's impossible to be pessimistic and to be an entrepreneur at the same time. Optimism is part of the job description. You have to believe that things will work out in the end, because why else would you work so hard to survive? And if it doesn't work out, well, we can always build again. It's going to be hard, but there's always opportunity out there for the intrepid.”

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FREELANCERS AND THE NEW NORMAL

By Jam Nitura


To brave the freelancing industry is to understand that it is both unstable and uncertain. But it’s exactly the absence of a rigid corporate structure that allows them to remain flexible and free to do what they do best. Their time is theirs. In the midst of a global pandemic, however, uncertainty proves to be the enemy, and time, now faced with too much of it, is a constant looming adversary.

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While gig workers in select countries like the U.S. and U.K. have been promised financial support from their respective governments, sections of the Filipino freelance industry—around more than 1.5 million people—have to wait out the long fight alone. Some are only slightly luckier than most. Though the Film Development Council of the Philippines instituted a disaster-relief fund last March 23 amid the growing COVID-19 crisis, help is limited only to entertainment press and audiovisual workers including talents, production staff, and technical crew members normally paid on a “per day” basis.

For the freelancers of the local fashion world, no organization currently stands to extend the same aid. “We don’t have access to protections such as sick pay, and company benefits are non-existent. Aside from that, even if work is cancelled, we still have to pay our bills and employees,” makeup artist Mikka Marcaida laments. The laundry list of dilemmas goes on from a calendar of cancelled shoots and events across what were supposed to be peak months, to an empty source of income from March to June, to the lack of job security even after the lockdown is lifted.

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“I can’t tell yet where I am heading after the chaos,” admits photographer and videographer Karlo Torio. After all, it’s safe to assume a painfully slow build as the country adjusts to a new normal. Realistically, events that provide freelancers with a paying job, especially ones that require large gatherings, will need ample time to regroup.

It’s safe to assume a painfully slow build as the country adjusts to a new normal. Realistically, events that provide freelancers with a paying job will need ample time to regroup.

Forced into a homebound lifestyle, like most people, freelancers have turned to social media to air out their grievances. Joint calls for companies to release their payments on time have littered the internet in earnest need. “We rely on the timely collection of our fees to survive. Please do your part by releasing the payments we are owed for completed work as soon as possible,” reads a unified statement posted on individual accounts.

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The requirement for bank transfers and other online modes of transaction has never been more paramount either as they hope for a new normal once the crisis subsides. As it stands, the current situation has revealed that the status quo for the Filipino freelancer is deeply unreliable.

Other aspects of the job like communicating with clients may see a different approach too. “I think the way we do business will forever be changed,” makeup artist Jigs Mayuga predicts. “Work from home or remote meetings will be the standard unless discussing in person is absolutely necessary. Hand hygiene and health will be one of the top priorities. I hope the changes will be for the better.”

Until these changes catalyzed by the COVID-19 crisis find ground, other freelancers can’t help but see the need for alternative means of work. “I've realized, aside from being creative, practically speaking, we need to have other sources of income that will generate money in times of non-working months,” says hairstylist Mycke Arcano.

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Not much can be done to remedy this unveiled truth while everyone’s grounded in their homes. However, in spite of the odds seemingly stacked against them, for workers in a field centered on collaboration, they understand the importance of dependency.

Though stuck in their own predicaments, fashion photographers Charisma Lico and Shaira Luna have each taken to donating to COVID-19-related drives when they can. Jigs, for his part, centralized his support closer to home. “A lot of the condo staff [in my place] have been staying in the building because of the lack of public transportation and most cannot afford to stop working despite the pandemic. I help out by making sure we buy food for the staff when we go out to the grocery to buy our supplies at home,” he says.

Others are optimizing their use of social media in a positive light to disseminate essential information. It’s the little things that cause momentous ripple effects, after all. Aside from donating to key institutions, makeup artist Xeng Zulueta started a Facebook group chat with the rest of her neighbors in their village to keep constant updates within their community.

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Stylist Cath Sobrevega, on the other hand, helps spread the word online for fundraising efforts to assist local designers currently manufacturing PPEs for medical frontliners

Of course, the importance of looking in as much as they’re helping the battle outside isn’t lost on them. Events photographer Ryan Ong sees to it that his team is coping well, all while keeping in touch with his colleagues. “I also have group chats with my fellow events and sports photographers, we discuss and share how we deal with this situation daily,” he says.

Despite a possibly bleak horizon, Cath maintains the same concern for her own workers: “Amid the chaos, it’s really hard to know exactly what the plans are for the business. But one thing’s for sure, my focus is to support and protect my team even in this hard time.”

Although a change in structure towards a better new normal is hoped for, it’s clear that the collaborative spirit of the freelance industry in the world of fashion and beauty remains intact. When asked how the crisis has changed his perception of the business, photographer Paolo Crodua answers, “[It] hasn't changed my thoughts on fashion photography. I have always believed that a successful fashion image captures the zeitgeist and is able to exist outside [the industry].”

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Perhaps this belief holds true for the industry amid these extraordinary times. Individuals, though separated by a grim circumstance and weighed down by uncertainty, are standing tall together for themselves and for their fellowmen. Here, hope, help, and kindness are passed on, in their own small ways, filling up the gaps in an unwillingly divided world.

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Illustrations by Jethro Ian Lacson and Issa Barte

Art Direction by Bacs Arcebal

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