It was always a possibility that the results of the 2020 US presidential election would not be decided the day of — or maybe even the week of — Election Day. On Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner in Wisconsin and Michigan, putting him on the cusp of the 270 electoral votes he needs for victory. However, President Donald Trump, who falsely claimed victory in the early hours of the morning, said he would ask for a recount in Wisconsin and has threatened legal action to slow or halt the counting of votes in other states.
Biden and Trump have offered starkly different visions for America’s future under their hypothetical administrations. And though fashion’s leaders don’t know which of those outcomes is coming, they have plenty to say regarding actions the industry needs to take.
This year, many companies not only encouraged their customers to vote through marketing campaigns or by selling pro-democracy merchandise, but they also tried to make it easy for their employees to cast their ballot and volunteer at the polls. In a shrewd marketing move, Everlane went black on Election Day, giving every employee a paid day off and encouraging customers to focus their attention on the issues by voting. At Warby Parker, more than 100 employees took paid time off to work the polls as volunteers.
For fashion brands, the results will be consequential: Trump’s protectionist trade policies may further erode margins, while Biden’s potential tax hikes could come at a significant cost. But right now, executives are eager to focus on what they can change, and the steps they will need to take to get there.
“The more that you’re prepared for uncertainty, the better that you can navigate it,” said Neil Blumenthal, co-chief executive and co-founder of Warby Parker.
Here’s what US fashion leaders are saying about how the industry must move forward:
On Industry Transformation
"Building bridges is going to be important. We’ve suffered these past four years, factories have had to move, we’ve been hit on the supply side, on the distribution side, we’ve been hit on the sale side. We can’t blame the administration, 100 percent. We are a global business, heavily reliant on most partnerships around the world...partners have been hurt, people aren’t paying their bills. No matter who wins, we as an industry have to take it upon ourselves to repay a lot of the damage, and it’s unrealistic to think the federal government will do that for us." — Helen Aboah, chief executive, Urban Zen
"We must urgently reckon with our own reliance on the broken 'take-make-dispose; model that fashion has long neglected. This is a singular moment where we have the opportunity recalibrate and re-inform who we want to be as an industry. It’s on us all to examine the traditional supply chain of fashion: from design, to material sourcing, manufacturing and end-of-life practices.... We’ve long understood the imperative here, but we know we need to continue innovating in the space and partnering with designers and retailers to inspire even more active participation in closing the loop of consumption." — Jennifer Hyman, chief executive, Rent the Runway
"If Biden wins and takes Congress, the struggle will be to push real reforms, to push the healthcare and environmental and social policy conversations forward beyond business-as-usual democratic corporatism. If Biden wins and the GOP [Grand Old Party] has Congress, the struggle will be to fight tooth and nail for the few GOP who are open to breaking party lines in order to accomplish anything at all....” — Céline Semaan, founder, The Slow Factory
On Civic Engagement
“Brands and business leaders playing a more civically engaged role is absolutely here to stay. There’s a part of me that believes that this is nothing new: business leaders were always very involved in their communities. The nature of business has evolved, as has society, that the impact that business leaders and businesses can have extends far beyond their local little league team. But the principle behind doing that still holds true.” — Neil Blumenthal, co-chief executive and co-founder, Warby Parker
“This presidential election is one of the most divisive in modern history. No matter who sits in the seat of President of the United States, we will continue to focus on important issues protecting human rights and climate change. Four years ago we launched our 100% Human platform alongside the ACLU and through that have donated close to $1 million to fight against laws and policies that challenge human rights, including protecting and advocating for immigrant rights, racial justice and LGBTQ+ rights. There is plenty of work to be done and it is crucial that the fashion industry comes together to stand up for these critical issues.” — Michael Preysman, chief executive, Everlane
"It’s a really challenging time to be a leader or a founder of a company because you have to figure out how to walk the line between your personal views and what’s best for the company.... We come back to our core values, we remind people internally and our customers of the things that are important to us: taking care of those that are less fortunate and giving a voice to marginalised groups and trying not to politicise that...just reinforcing to people broadly what’s important to us." — David Heath, chief executive and co-founder, Bombas
On Creating Stability
“This is the moment to come together as a country and to treat each other with respect and compassion. At PVH - and across the fashion industry - we have a role to play in encouraging a culture that cares not only about what we do, but also how we do it. We will continue to stay true to our values at PVH and use our industry influence to drive fashion forward for good.” — Stefan Larsson, president, PVH
“My wish is for calm, focused leadership and a plan to navigate Covid and give business and the economy a boost. The fashion industry — and businesses at large — need clarity moving forward. It’s hard for business owners to plan amidst such volatility and division. Whoever wins, we need to heal and have hope for what the next year brings.” — Deirdre Quinn, chief executive, Lafayette 148
“America is an incredibly divided country, more divided than any of us could imagine and that is heartbreaking. My hope of any combination of victory would be, at the very least, to restore some process of checks and balances with decision making. I’m optimistic that when some sense of normalcy resumes we can begin to heal as a nation.” —Patrick Herning, chief executive, 11 Honoré
Additional reporting by Alexandra Mondalek and Cathaleen Chen.
Editors Note: This article was revised on 5 November, 2020. A previous version of this article stated that Stefan Larsson is chief executive of PVH. That is incorrect. Larsson is currently president of PVH.