By Pedro Lazaro
A few weeks before the start of the pandemic the fashion industry at large was getting ready to receive hundreds of clients, buyers, and fashionistas to their SS 2021 collections.
September and October are the months that kick off the runways in New York and Europe, preparations for this date start as early as a year before.
Puerto Rico is no exception, although fashion events are celebrated in October there is a tendency to show year-round through social, and philanthropic events.
However, for many all of that planning, booking, casting, designing, producing, came to a sudden halt.
Puerto Rico has been overwhelmed by a series of devastating events such as hurricane Maria, the resignation of its governor in 2019, a scandal that rocked the ground, which ironically has kept on shaking thanks to a series a tremor’s and powerful earthquakes which devastated the south-west portion of the island.
Then, like millions around the globe Puerto Ricans found themselves fighting against an invisible and deadly foe, Covid-19.
The local fashion industry reacted immediately to these dire events in a very proactive style.
The creation of face masks, uniforms, and special protection gear were being produced by independent fashion designers and local brands.
In order to grasp different scenarios from the source itself, I was fortunate to interview prominent fashion designers Lisa Thon, Herman Nadal, and Reynaldo Jose Flores.
They too were getting ready their collections and curriculum. Miss Thon is the director and professor of the Digital Fashion Design department at EDP University. Mr. Flores and Mr. Nadal are also successful designers and professors at the EDP campus in San Juan. https://edpuniversity.edu/
Something else that these three creatives have in common? Nor the past situations, nor the present pandemic have deterred their individual plans.
Quite the contrary, I believe they’ve redirected their effort by producing emblematic pieces that adapt to this new reality, inspiring others to follow suit.
“The pandemic has altered our collection date presentation, postponing it for months.
It also impacted the usual way we use to introduce our work to clients and the press”.
“Social media and E-commerce have become the most relevant tools for keeping communication and selling our products since social distancing is still recommended in our new reality”.
“Being a small island, the production of special occasion designer gowns has been impacted. The switch to the creation of mask and ready to wear collections is what’s keeping many afloat. Even the anticipated prom season was obliterated by the pandemic”.
Ms. Thon recently launched the Quarantine Icons, Quarantine Fashionistas, and Pillow Divas T-Shirts Collections with beautiful illustrations done by the designer.
“Also, I started a series of weekly lives in social media that has kept me connected, in both my design and education realms”.
The also professor considers the importance of moving forward in a more conscious way, learning to reinvent oneself towards the client’s demands and needs.
The fashion designer suggests that this situation can represent an opportunity to expand designers and creatives awareness in terms of how to create new products. How to approach the whole business process, from designing, publicity, communication to generating sales.
“The Government could help by funding a special program where fashion designers can present their work virtually through all their platforms. These funds could also address the creation of designer websites or through the Puerto Rico official web page. As an effort to introduce our countries Fashion Industry in a more organized way to the rest of the world. Virtual events could also be part of that initiative”.
Lisa Thon has presented her collections at New York Fashion Week, the MBFWNY, the Dominican Republic, Spain, Colombia among many other important venues. You can see and shop Thons amazing T shirts and fashions at https://lisathon.com/
-Reynaldo José Flores:
“The fashion industry in Puerto Rico has had to drastically adjust to the momentous changes that as a society we have suffered both locally and internationally.
Indeed, the designer’s work has already had the need to reinvent itself. We have witnessed and participated in how fashion workshops have changed the production of exclusive dresses for protective masks and protective equipment.
Obviously, the way it has been able to recover as an industry is that these changes have boosted online or Internet sales that have increased.
Social networks have become an ally with more accessible fashion.
The fashion designer and professor reveal that fashion has become more democratic and affordable, and everyone can access and have it.
“That is why designers can help in this process designing and creating pieces in standard sizes that do not require the customer to have to measure themselves to purchase the product.
Also, there is an opportunity to cover the current need and use of raw materials that help and allow the creation of sustainable fashion with a high level of awareness. This, in turn, will allow the local economy to be incentivized.
The multi-talented designer has presented his collections at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week El Salvador, and Costa Rica Fashion Week.
About the impact of COVID-19 in fashion:
“This is an international matter. Consequently, we have all been affected, some on a larger scale and others on a smaller scale.
Certainly, the pandemic has transformed us, fashion shows will not be in person for the moment. It is for this reason, that international fashion houses have resorted to presenting them through digital platforms”.
How has the pandemic altered your agenda or work load?
“Believe it or not, it’s when I’ve had the most work, when the pandemic started all the malls and stores closed, so the public was forced to shop local. It all started with the production of masks that brought many customers.
Once the client buys something there is an opportunity to create a bond of trust and as a brand one can continue to offer other products. Currently even with the pandemic my workshop is still active as there is a movement to support local talent, plus the process is easier than going to a mall or waiting long weeks for the arrival of the merchandise from an online store.
How do you think the fashion industry has been impacted in Puerto Rico?
It was a hard blow, but not only for the fashion industry but for all the creative industries. Whoever stood by waiting for this to pass basically got stuck. This is the perfect time to reinvent yourself and create products and designs that the consumer needs right now.
How have you’ve been able to overcome this situation?
“I have overcome this situation creating designs for a new lifestyle we are living”.
“I create unisex pieces; I create oversized pieces. Besides, I’m launching accessories like wallets, hats, and illustrations. Products that are not sized, but still have the aesthetics of the brand and are relevant. Right now, the gala and cocktail dresses are not in demand, as designers and creative individuals you have to think about what the current need is. My point is to create clothes for our reality and our tropical climate.
How can the industry get back on its feet?
“Social media has incredible power, if they are handled the right way one as a brand, doesn’t even need to participate in events, it’s all about quality content, digital strategies and creating a link with your customer, creating trust”.
What can the government do to help the fashion industry?
“For designers and creatives in trouble, it would be a very good idea for the industries to be exempt from the IVU for a few months. I have received aid and was exempt from two months’ rent.
It would be great to re-produce textiles and important materials from the designer’s raw material.
I have received help, I am an artist resident of the urban area of Bayamon, it means that I have a workshop and housing in the town as part of a special program from the mayor’s office. The program’s goal is to repopulate the urban area”.
Should we aspire to overcome and find some kind of normalcy I suggest we take into consideration how these artists have found ways of creating normalcy in this new world.-PL