Fashion Post-Covid: How 7 Insiders Are Channeling Big Positive Energy In 2021
New Year's resolutions have always been a bit of an eye roll. Setting positive intentions and kick starting good habits is one thing, but there’s no guaranteed January 1 magic that makes them stick. And 2021 — following a year where the COVID pandemic has changed the future of fashion and knocked nearly everyone else's plans off course — doesn’t need any additional pressure to check off a specific item on your bucket list. Instead, perhaps everything you can possibly predict about 2021 lies in the lessons you're taking with you. And in the case of seven powerful voices in fashion, things are looking optimistic.
Operating in a range of roles in fashion, the insiders below each possess a unique perspective. It's not solely reflective of them learning to get by with less, communicating in distance circumstances, or even challenging entire leadership structures within a company — which they have. These editors, designers, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders have also learned to experience (and spread) joy, even in a year when it's run low. So consider this: How would you sum up your energy heading into January? How has 2020 changed your relationship with an industry you love? And what happiness did you find in a year that's been, well, trash? These are the questions posed instead, and perhaps are the best indication of what is worth resolving to do in 2021.
How 2020 Changed My Fashion Outlook: Laura Brown
“My appetite for bullshit is ZERO, you can put that in all caps,” says InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown. “The silver lining for this [year] has been a more humanizing environment because we're all in it. You can’t pretend that you’re out at the best party or wearing the coolest clothes, because you're not. You’re at home.”
This lack of patience for pretension and status-chasing personalities — so often associated with luxury fashion’s quite elitist history — is the biggest way Brown says she’s changed in the last year. That, and “now we have to have a nurse on the set.” That’s not to say Brown hasn’t felt the universal pressure of managing a team and keeping creativity high while illness and racial injustice plague a nation. However, this year only led her to double down on the mentality she established at InStyle since taking the helm in 2016: “Everyone’s in.”
“I was really getting over this sort of agency, gate-keeper-y stuff — the way fashion has been for a long time,” she says, “and I really got in my feelings when we were shooting the Zendaya cover. Donté Maurice and Ahmad Barber of AB+DM Studio [who photographed her], they were so on it. I posted on Instagram that I’m sick of the old ways. My team’s like that, too. And as tired as we are this year, having done the best work we’ve ever done, is something else.” Among their achievements are stunning features with Viola Davis, Kristen Stewart, and Jodie Comer, capturing Dr Anthony Fauci in a rare off-duty moment, landing an exclusive President Obama interview, and launching Brown’s own podcast, Ladies First.
“I desperately yearn to go back to a Valentino couture show and look at it like I’m an 8-year-old girl,” says Brown on the topic of unfettered fashion joy. But as she’s staying at home, she’s made a point to expand her reach this year beyond the obvious fashion capitals of the world. Thus far, she's connected with creatives and potential future collaborators in Atlanta, Montreal, Nigeria, and South Africa. “I think that's been very democratizing because we have all been at home and it’s not like everybody’s at this party and you can’t be there. You can be.”
Brown’s zero-BS attitude and hunger to connect beyond the obvious fashion bubbles has served her well in navigating and making the best of this year. And she’s optimistic for 2021, too: “We know there’s a vaccination coming and Trump’s out of office just about. So there are two really positive things coming our way.”
How 2020 Changed My Fashion Outlook: Brandice Daniel
At the start of 2020, Founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row Brandice Daniel wrote down that she wanted to give money to designers of color. It was a goal to achieve sometime this next decade, following 13 years of referring to herself “a proud outsider” and working tirelessly to champion designers hoping to succeed within a competitive field that hasn’t always prioritized diversity. Daniels didn’t expect to achieve her goal within months.
The result was Icon360: a fund created by HFR to provide relief for designers of color impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in addition to having her dream realized, the painful circumstances under which they happened have defined the year for her, as well. “George Floyd got murdered before we were going to launch, and I remember thinking ‘should I even do this right now?’ It was just so meaningless in the face of what I had just seen,” she recalls. “It really was such a wake up call for so many people in fashion. That week I had some of the most honest and raw conversations that I had even had with anyone that was non-Black in the fashion industry. At that point, I had non Black executives call me, asking ‘how are you feeling?’ Because my emotions were so raw, they got such honest answers and we were able to have the type of dialogue that I always wanted to have in fashion.”
By June, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s “A Common Thread” gave a $1 million donation to Icon360 and Daniel’s expertise was in demand. “We almost went from a place of being in the background to really being called on quite a bit for our experience and knowledge in this space. It’s been an interesting shift for us as a company and me as an individual,” she says. Then in September, HFR finally handed over checks, from $10K to $100K, to designers. “To be able to give money away to people who need it, and they’re also getting the mentorship, that is the best part of this entire year for sure,” Daniel says.
“This period for most Black people in fashion is still one of the most emotional and also conflicting moments, because some of the best things I’ve hoped would happen for designers are happening right before my eyes,” says Daniel. “If you had contacted me at some point in the summer, I would have been one of the most joyous people you talked to all year. The conflict comes when I am honestly leery about the longevity of these opportunities. While there are so many great things happening, I’m also seeing that so many companies don’t have processes, procedures, or structure in place to be able to sustain the great work that they’re doing.”
Still, among 2020’s epic lows and soaring highs, Daniel expresses that more greatness and progress is to come. “Things have happened in 2020 that have literally taken us leaps and bounds ahead of what my schedule was for things, so I think that that will continue in 2021.”
How 2020 Changed My Fashion Outlook: Olivia Kim
Championing young, under-the-radar designers is part of Olivia Kim’s legacy in fashion. It dates back to her role at Opening Ceremony in the early aughts and now in her current role as VP of creative projects and home at Nordstrom, where she’s been since 2013. “I wouldn’t say that  has changed my relationship with fashion, but rather it has further defined it,” she says.
Kim — who launched Space, a curation of emerging brands at the mass retailer, in 2015 — says that she’s stayed committed to her mission because she realized how huge Nordstrom’s support can mean for any brand who deserves a bigger microphone for their message. “As a retailer, in particular here at Nordstrom, I've always loved that my main job is to be a platform to share what we see and our point of view around relevance with our customers. That matters now more than ever. Our customers want to know that we are engaged in issues that matter and support brands with messages that resonate with their own core values. Being able to be a platform for those messages and brands is something I take very personally and to heart,” Kim shares.
In a year that saw fashion retail sales plummet — March sales dropped 50.5%, according to the Census Bureau, August’s by 20%, according to the Commerce Department — Kim says she’s feeling “encouraged” heading into 2021, especially as she’s been able to find solutions to connect even in the most challenging circumstances. “Unable to travel for market and discovery, we’ve had to lean more heavily on social platforms like Instagram to seek out newness,” she says. “Some of the most joyous interactions with new young designers have been made by way of Instagram DM. I’ve discovered and personally purchased clothing, accessories, ceramics, from a wide variety of makers and artisans — it’s been awesome. I love the notion that despite our personal worlds feeling so small this past year, the connectivity through the world wide web and beyond lent human connections.”
How 2020 Changed My Fashion Outlook: Karla Welch
For stylist Karla Welch, fashion is forever a source of joy. “Since I was a little kid and laid out my weekly outfits,” she explains. But she says 2020’s been a bit different: “honestly, I took this time to think of things that weren’t about clothes.” Her Instagram reflects this, as well. The start of the year shows some of Welch’s stunning work — Sarah Paulson in Andrew Gn, Kristen Wiig in Valentino Couture, Tracee Ellis Ross in Christopher John Rogers — but as things changed, Welch didn’t shy away from using her platform to speak to the country’s biggest, often ugliest, challenges.
“I am who I am and always will be,” says Welch on her continued commitment to using her platform to share outfit credits, address social justice matters, and leveraging her fashion status to give back with her x Karla collaborations (her 2020 partnerships with Dockers and Eddie Bauer tied to donations to The Trevor Project and American Forests, respectively). Naturally, 2021 can expect much of the same, with some new commitments: “I have a newfound love of sweatpants but I still really appreciate the love of getting dressed up, of loving what I own, of loving what I wear. I am really not obsessed with the new — of having something right off the runway.”
Welch says she’s feeling a “We’re in it together!” attitude heading into next year. It’ll be necessary, too, given the kind of industry change she’s hoping for. “Fashion needs to slow down, period. I think it's time for magazines to adjust their schedules to help retailers and designers — let’s not show a January issue with spring clothes at the end of November. It makes no sense and is damaging. Time to sync up calendars and show collections in season!”
How 2020 Changed My Fashion Outlook: Victor Glemaud
So many designers shifted their energies and talents towards making a positive impact on the fashion world, even during a year that put an overarching strain on running a business. Some produced face masks, donated merchandise or sales, and in the case of Victor Glemaud, he founded IN THE BLK. Launched in June, the organization aims to provide resources and help build economic independence for Black creatives in fashion. Its launch influences how Glemaud’s looking ahead to 2021, too. “Founding IN THE BLK this summer reinforced my longstanding approach of working with and supporting folks who look like me,” says Glemaud. “The mission now is to continuously express this philosophy in every project I take on.”
But while Glemaud, who’s known for his elevated and alluring knitwear, shares his mission to do even more work amplifying voices within the Black community, the past months have also inspired him to make do with less. “I will design less [sic] collections. I will travel less for work. I plan to buy less clothes. 2020 has taught me that I can and want to live with less,” he says.
This is a lofty goal in an industry that’s historically pushed for more consumption. But as Glemaud puts it, there’s a “wasteful side of fashion” he plans to leave behind. “Knowing that clothes and accessories are sitting around in warehouses all over the world — it’s all too much.” It’s no surprise then when asked how he’s feeling heading into the beginning of January he sums it up in a word: “Ambitious!”
How 2020 Changed My Fashion Outlook: Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas can’t precisely measure how much her year has shifted, but if jumping from 13K followers to near 200K is any indication, it’s a lot. Thomas, a blogger, activist, and environmentalist, founded Intersectional Environmentalist in June. It’s a continuation of her work recognizing the threat our planet faces due to waste, overconsumption, toxic chemicals use, etc., while also acknowledging there’s an imperative part of the conversation that’s often overlooked. “Being sustainable in your supply chain, for me personally, is not enough, says Thomas, “I’m not going to support a brand that’s not looking internally at how they're sustaining their Black and Brown employees.”
Just as the Black Lives Matter movement has revealed deep-rooted flaws in the fashion industry, Thomas also credits it for shedding light on how even those companies perceived as “sustainable” were falling short on creating an inclusive environment. Now through EI — which itself has over 200K Instagram followers since its summer launch — Thomas has created a resource that’s challenging brands to take a deep internal look and kickstart the work to progress. “There are so many environmental intersections with the fashion industry, even if just using regeneratively grown cotton and regenerative agriculture. In addition to that, what I love about IE is it considers all the social justice issues and how that might tie in with sustainable supply chains, worker wages, and workers rights.”
Thomas says that 2020 has not only allowed employees at these companies to step back and consider what changes need to be made, but consumers, too. “Consumers have a tremendous amount of power to hold these companies accountable and ask them questions,” she says. "Be expressive if there’s something you want from the company because, who knows, maybe they're listening and change is on the way.”
Thomas says she’s slightly jaded — the need for an inclusive fashion industry has existed far before 2020’s reach, after all — but hopeful that the momentum is building to something lasting and impactful beyond performative measures. Personally, she’s ready for it. “All this movement with EI has happened during the pandemic so I haven’t been able to connect with people,” she shares. “I’m also grateful for that because it would have been overwhelming to all of a sudden fly places and interact with people and talk about it and do in-person engagements, but I feel like I’m ready for the world and that gives me a lot of hope. I’m going into 2021 with a little more confidence, as well.”
How 2020 Changed My Fashion Outlook: Jodie Chan
Wes Gordon’s vibrantly colorful and print-rich designs for Carolina Herrera is a feast for the eyes, but Jodie Chan is one of the brand’s most trusted mouthpieces as the vice president of global marketing and communications. She’s among so many public relations professionals who’s shifted their messaging and communication strategy to reflect global health concerns. For example, earlier in the year, the brand launched zoom sessions with bridal experts and brides-to-be to provide guidance when face-to-face consultations couldn’t happen. “I was touched by how these communities came together and were so open, vulnerable, and passionate about these shared interests,” she says.
Furthermore, this year prompted an internal look — both for Chan personally and the brand — that’s shaping how they prioritize progress. “A big element is reflecting on our place in society, and where we stand as individuals, as teams, and as a brand,” she says. “I love the project our sister brand CH Carolina Herrera launched, 'Heart for Hope', which pledges 10 percent of all leather goods and accessories sales to supporting Red Cross's efforts to fight COVID this year. I've spent more time reading and learning more about how we can further push for racial equity. We are all thinking more about how we can weave civic and social responsibility into whatever we do, within frameworks that feel comfortable personally and professionally, and I'm excited about the fact that we're only getting started.”
Chan says she’s inspired by the kindness that’s come out of this year and wants to channel that energy into next. “I actually want to bring the resilience and never-say-die attitude we've grown over this year into 2021,” she shares. “Remember when we thought this would last two weeks, tops? We are much tougher than we make ourselves out to be.”