How the global luxury market is responding to COVID-19

June 1, 2020

Ekra Mir, investment associate at Vertem, looks at how the fashion industry is helping to produce PPE for the health and life science sectors and asks if this could encourage more collaboration in the future

The world’s largest fashion houses, such as Hermes, Burberry and Gucci, are not the first names that spring to mind when you think about health and life sciences.

However, the industry has pulled together in these unprecedented times to create PPE for hospitals around the globe.

Hurdles to overcome included sourcing the correct medical grade materials and following clear guidelines to ensure the resulting PPE fit the functional needs and manufacturing guidelines. But the infrastructure these companies have
in place allows them to produce appropriate garments from start to finish.

In the UK, a group of smaller London-based designers started the Emergency Designer Network (EDN). This takes on board volunteers who are either skilled sewers or manufacturers and relies on donations from its GoFundMe page to purchase NHS-certified fabrics, webbing, thread and so on.

Although the garments they make are hospital approved, most are not Government approved, so they cannot be used to replace Government PPE. The garments can, however, still be used by staff or carers to offer a lower level of protection, or even as an undergarment layer.

Many of the brands are taking their efforts a step further by collaborating with universities by funding their research into the causes of possible cures for the virus. The University of Oxford, for example, has received funding from Burberry to support its research into a single-dose vaccine, and Humanitas University, a private university in Italy dedicated to medical sciences, has received funding from Dolce & Gabbana to support its research surrounding the cause of the virus.

It is not just the high-end brands collaborating with universities, though. Sportswear brand Nike has teamed up with Oregon Health & Science University in Portland to create prototypes of footwear that can be used in hospitals.

Although it’s unlikely that these fashion brands will overtake the actual constituents of the health and life sciences sectors, the pandemic may encourage more collaboration in the future.

One of the ways which this collaboration between health and fashion might merge could include the long-term development of ‘smart clothing’, which aims to incorporate the weaving of digital components into fabrics so that the clothing can monitor an individual’s heart, blood pressure, body temperature and other vital signs.

One of the main advantages of being able to increase the area of an individual’s body being monitored is that it provides a richer recording of biometric data, and some experts believe that it even has the capability to replace bedside monitoring in hospitals completely.

So although hospitals and patients don’t need a designer logo stitched on their bedding or clothing, experts in advanced materials could benefit from the advice and inventory of the textile specialists.