Fashion’s Corona Casualties

7 min readApr 21, 2020


Photographed by Gabor Jurina, courtesy of Fashion Magazine

The global pandemic known as the Coronavirus is expected to wreak havoc on the global economy; especially transnational industries like fashion. Generating 2.5 trillion in global annual revenue, fashion is expecting to see major year-on-year contractions in 2020. Besides the projected contractions, it's the showcased events, such as the global fashion weeks that have already had their lights dimmed, before they were ever allowed to shine. While the industry's First World markets are expected to take a major collapse as a result of slow economic activity, it's fashion's low-cost, Third World, manufacturing hubs, that are expected to really suffer. Their health care delivery services are not First World, and increasing poverty from reduced employment makes fashion workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Honduras, and India, particularly vulnerable to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Another vulnerable population that would be affected by the Coronavirus's impact on the Fashion World, are the recipients of Charity donations. Tens-to-thousands of dollars are raised locally as a result of Charity fashion shows. In Durham, North Carolina, their pre Mother's Day Fashion For A Cause, has been canceled due to the pandemic. This annual event raises money for local cancer patient care, research, and awareness. In St. Louis, Missouri, they had to cancel Variety the Children's Charity of St Louis's Runway Lights Fashion Show. The annual event is a funding source to special needs children for equipment and therapies in physical, occupational, speech, aqua, and equine-assisted therapies. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, their annual Penn Charity Fashion Show was another Coronavirus causality. 100% of all proceeds are given to the charter school YouthBuild Philadelphia. Founded in 1992, YouthBuild Philadelphia offers 18-20 year old high school dropouts a second chance at building a better future for themselves. It offers innovative programs to earn a high school diploma, and job skills in a community-oriented, supportive, environment.

Another class caught up in the tsunami known as Corona, are the student fashion designers at Universities that were scheduled to showcase their prowess as designers, from years of higher education learning. This would include Indiana University's, Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design's, annual Fashion Design B.A. Runway Show. The 125 year old University established the Eskenazi School in 2016 by merging the Departments of Studio Art, Apparel Merchandising, and Interior Design. The annual event features mini-collections from its fashion design students. Syracuse University's Senior Fashion Show had to be cancelled. The annual event features the collection of senior fashion design majors at the University's, College of Visual and Performing Arts School of Design.

Nor were these up-and-coming fashion designers envisioning themselves as the creative outlet for the haute couture jet setters. Some saw fashion's Humanitarianism. The Coronavirus cancelled Cornell University's opportunity to showcase the work of its graduate student Sian Brown. The University's exhibition, Black Excellence: Fashion that Prevails, is based on Brown's interviews with North American Black fashion designers. A curated montage-collection, from the subjects of Brown's research findings, Black Excellence explores fashion design as a vehicle where Black culture, dress codes, and identity, are negotiated and produced.

One of the Coronavirus’s greatest Humanitarian fashion casualties, involved those in the movement to end mass incarceration through art. This resulted from the cancellation of the Columbus College of Art and Design’s, 2020 CCAD Fashion Show. Great buzz had been generated around the Hometown, Columbus, Ohio, native, Makenzie Stiles, and her fashion line Mercy. Columbus, Ohio, is ranked third, behind New York City and Los Angeles, as U.S. cities with the most residential fashion designers. Much of this is due to the Columbus College of Art and Design. The hundred and forty-one-year-old academic institution is one of the United States oldest, private, art, and design colleges. The CCAD Fashion Show is a decades-old annual event. Undergrad students spend their entire senior year creating a thesis collection. It often involves trips to New York City, where they purchase the world’s finest fabrics, like from Mood Fabrics. Mood Fabrics was frequently depicted in the hit television series Project Runway. Over a decade ago, the school instituted a strict policy limiting designs used in their Fashion Show to be jury approved. These juries consist of top industry professionals, both in and outside the Columbus area.

Makenzie Stiles understood the importance of her thesis collection, and for it to become a part of the school's illustrious history of fashion shows. But with the advent of the Internet, YouTube, Instagram, and other social media sites, more eyeballs would be on her generations' collections, than those of bygone eras. Not shying away from controversy, Stiles would take her collection in a direction never seen before in the school's 141 year old history, nor in the history of fashion shows. Instead of using this great transitional platform as a means of expression from student to professional, she used it to give voice to the prisoner. The United States is 4% of the world's population, but 25% of its prison population. Prisons are restricted space, and strict controls are placed on what goes in and out, including their voice. A person intimately aware of this is Donald "C-Note" Hooker, a California state prisoner at Los Angeles County. In 2015, as a part of The Strindberg Laboratory, he became aware that prisoners had voices. The Strindberg Laboratory is a professional theater company that provides theater workshops to local organizations, including prisons. With the help of C-Note, The Strindberg Laboratory was able to ensemble a group of prisoners that so impressed the world, money was granted to start the first-in-the-nation prisoner reentry program. BREAK IT TO MAKE IT (BITMI): Busting Barriers for the Incarcerated Project, Los Angeles, California,” provides two years of free housing from the Los Angeles Mission. Two years of free education from the Los Angeles City College, and participation in the jails to jobs program of actual paid theatrical work with the theater company The Strindberg Laboratory.

In 2005, C-Note heard the outrage over the prison cell block from former prisoner Minister King X over the treatment of prisoners during Hurricane Katrina. This indelible impression left a mark when prisoners faced similar conditions during Hurricane Harvey. When C-Note saw the press coverage of the flooded conditions at assisted living homes, he knew no such photojournalism or broadcast journalism would be showing conditions inside the jails or prisons. He drew what the conditions were in During the Flood. Stiles saw this work, and wanted to work with the artist. Using white leather, she purchased from District Leather in Midtown Manhattan, a tattoo needle, and black ink, Stiles tattooed into the leather the artwork of America's prisoner artists. While the process of getting the images in relief into the leather was novel to her, the concept is not novel. However, she found no source material to meet her demands and requirements. “I couldn’t wipe dripping ink off the white leather like I could on skin. It stains and smears, so I had to do a lot of experimenting to get that right,” Stiles says. If that was the end of the story it would have been ambitious enough. Stiles took her collection in a direction that normally comes along once every few centuries, the marriage between Art and Science. The Western World first got a taste of this marriage in the use of perspective in Renaissance art. It reappeared during the Impression era, when artists understood the use of pure pigment to create the impression of light. It would reappear again in Steve Jobs's iPhone. Stiles created QVRs within these tattoo patterns with the names and bios of the prisoner artists and with the use of LED, the patterns light up. “I hope my collection inspires people to support rehabilitation initiatives, but if nothing else, I can remind others to have a bit of mercy for their fellow human beings,” says Stiles.

[Editor's Note]: Donald "C-Note" Hooker is one of America's premier prisoner artists. A poet, playwright, performing artist, award winning visual artist, and is known as the King of Prison Hip Hop. His works have either been exhibited, performed, recited, or sold, from Alcatraz to Berlin. In 2017, Google Search listed him in their search results, as both America's, and the world's most prolific prisoner-artist.

Donald "C-Note" Hooker the World’s Most Prolific Prisoner-Artist | London Daily Post

In 2017, the movement to end mass incarceration through art received a $100,000,000 contribution from social justice warrior, and philanthropist Agnes Gund. Gund, who sold her Roy Liechtenstein’s Masterpiece for $150,000,000, used the proceeds to start the Art for Justice Fund. The fund directs grants to artists and advocates focused on safely reducing the prison population, by promoting justice, reinvestment, and creating art that changes the narrative around mass incarceration.

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