NEW YORK, United States — In Dubai, where shopping is culture, fashion industry executives — many of whom lead the Middle Eastern operations of global luxury brands — were recently asked to join a private roundtable with chief executive of the Jumeirah Group, a luxury hotel chain with properties across the United Arab Emirates and beyond.
No American-owned brands were invited, according to one source. Perhaps that’s because the issue at hand was US president Donald J. Trump, who, in his first week in office, signed an executive order freezing the US refugee program for 120 days, indefinitely suspending refugees from Syria from entering the country. What's more, the order barred all people from seven predominantly Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — from entering the US for 90 days. As low-level government workers began implementing the order on Saturday, even US permanent resident 'green card' holders were denied entry to the country, along with academics and business executives on work visas.
The move triggered widespread protests at airports across the country and late on Saturday, a federal court in New York issued an emergency stay halting Trump's executive order after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), partnering with other activist groups, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqis being held at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
On Sunday, Trump scaled back the elements of the order that pertained to green card holders, but promised "strong borders and extreme vetting" of those entering the country as part of his nationalist "America First" agenda that also includes a protectionist stance on trade.
The fashion industry has always been a reflection of what America is all about... inclusion and diversity.
To be sure, Trump reflects a serious threat to the socio-economic norms that have underpinned Western prosperity since the end of World War II. And in the hours after #Muslimban was put into effect, American business leaders — usually politically neutral — began to speak out. Notably, tech executives in Silicon Valley, including many who have engaged with the Trump administration, issued statements on social media, condemning the immigration order as un-American and bad for business.
“As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world. We will continue to advocate on this important topic,” Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella wrote on LinkedIn after the company said 76 employees could be affected by the ban.
The fashion industry, which, like the tech sector, attempted to play ball with Trump leading up to his inauguration by holding olive-branch meetings and dressing First Lady Melania Trump and First Daughter Ivanka Trump for the proceedings, has been much less vocal. When this article went to press, no major fashion companies had issued public statements on the matter. A spokesperson for Ralph Lauren, which dressed Melania Trump for the inauguration, declined a request for comment, saying the company was staying mum on the subject.
Yet individual fashion leaders were beginning to voice their concerns. “The fashion industry has always been a reflection of what America is all about... inclusion and diversity,” wrote designer and CFDA chairwoman Diane von Furstenberg via email. “It will continue to stand by these standards. I am personally horrified to see what is going on.”
Common-sense immigration policies will help keep our fashion industry competitive in the 21st century.
And closed-door meetings like the one in Dubai are taking place as the results of Trump's policies begin to directly affect the free movement of personnel, including nationals of the banned countries living in Europe or the US, as well as those with dual nationalities. Retail sales, which rely on the purchasing power of high-net worth tourists from the Middle East, could also suffer if people from across the region, wary of the new rules, stay away.
The upcoming round of fashion weeks, which begin with the men’s Autumn/Winter 2017 shows in New York on January 30 and stretch all the way through the women’s Autumn/Winter 2017 shows in Paris, could also see lower attendance because of immigrations concerns.
Last week, before the ban was issued, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) had already brought together several of its members, as well as other industry executives and educators, to discuss “how immigration policies should best address the needs of the fashion industry,” CFDA chief executive Steven Kolb told BoF. The recommendations will be released in a white-paper report in partnership with FWD.us, which advocates common-sense immigration reform.
“Common-sense immigration policies will help keep our fashion industry competitive in the 21st century by making it easier for companies to attract, hire and retain foreign talent including expanding the number of visas for many foreign graduates from US schools and also expanding opportunities for international designers to come to the US,” Kolb said.
“We also need to address the foreign workforce of seamstresses, tailors and garment workers — which may include undocumented workers — by expanding visa options and creating a pathway to legalisation and/or citizenship where applicable.”