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On Vaccine Mandates, the Ball’s Back in Retailers’ Court

This week, everyone will be talking about how retailers approach the question of unvaccinated employees, plus the men’s shows in Milan and Paris.
The US Supreme Court struck down a Biden administration vaccine mandate covering large employers, a requirement many retailers opposed.
The US Supreme Court struck down a Biden administration vaccine mandate covering large employers, a requirement many retailers opposed. (Getty Images)

No More Mandate

  • The US Supreme Court ruled late last week that the Biden administration could not require large employers to enforce a vaccine mandate
  • Nike and some other brands have said they will fire unvaccinated employees at corporate offices, but few have required store workers to get shots
  • Some retailers, including Macy’s and Lululemon, have reduced store hours and taken other measures as rising infection rates made finding enough staff a struggle

Last week, the US Supreme Court struck down a Biden administration mandate that would have ordered large employers to require employees be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. The fashion industry helped lead the charge against the mandate, arguing it would exacerbate a retail labour shortage that has only grown worse as the requirement made its way through the courts. Now, the ball is in retailers’ court: some have ordered employees in corporate offices be vaccinated or risk losing their jobs. Few have extended that requirement to stores.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant complicates matters further, with some stores forced to close because so many employees are sick or quarantining. That’s almost certainly contributing to retailers’ reluctance to require store workers be vaccinated. The high number of breakthrough cases among the vaccinated means requiring shots wouldn’t necessarily prevent widespread illness in the office or at the mall. What it would do is reduce the number of workers who become seriously ill, or die.

The Bottom Line: Whether it’s lockdowns, mask requirements or vaccine mandates, the pandemic has repeatedly forced brands and retailers to weigh the health of their businesses against the health of their employees. Often, the fashion industry has chosen the former over the latter. That need not always be true; when retailers first objected to the mandate in November, some executives said they would be more open to requiring vaccines after the holiday rush. They had their day in court and won. Will they now move ahead with mandates on their own, or come up with new excuses?

Some Goodbyes, Some Debuts

  • Louis Vuitton will show Virgil Abloh’s final collection for the brand on Jan. 20 in Paris
  • Milan Fashion Week continues through Jan. 18, including Prada’s first in-person menswear show with Raf Simons on Sunday
  • Some brands, including Armani, pulled shows due to Omicron, while others, including Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, now bypass men’s weeks in favour of coed shows

The latest Covid variant has once again upended the fashion week schedule, with last-minute cancellations and a partly digital lineup. Whatever the calendar’s final configuration, Virgil Abloh’s final collection for Louis Vuitton was always going to be the highlight in Paris, following on from a lavish, moving tribute to the designer staged in Miami days after his death. Meanwhile, a handful of big names are missing, presenting an opportunity for smaller labels that know how to use their moment in the spotlight. Ones to watch include GmbH, as well as Y/Project and Courreges, which are staging coed shows away from the packed February schedule.

The Bottom Line: The digital-physical hybrid men’s schedules, and the mostly in-person couture week coming right after, are serving as test runs for February’s fashion weeks.

Robert Williams contributed to this item.

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The State of Fashion: Technology