Fashion Brands Repurpose Resources to Offer Aid in the COVID-19 Crisis

Retail giants like Yoox Net-a-Porter Group and Brooks Brothers quickly pivoted to offer life-saving services.

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Masks in production at Brooks Brothers

As businesses rapidly adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, in some cases temporarily suspending their operations to protect the health and well-being of their colleagues and wider community, some have been particularly innovative in devising new ways to serve those in need. Their approach has been to utilize their unique resources, turning them into valuable tools for good.

Among these companies are Yoox Net-a-Porter and Brooks Brothers, two leaders in retail that have turned company efforts toward delivering food and manufacturing medical masks, respectively.

“It’s all about taking a step back and evaluating, as a business, the tools you have at your disposal that can be repurposed to make a real difference,” says Federico Marchetti ’99, chairman and CEO of Yoox Net-a-Porter. The tools at Marchetti’s disposal were fleets of delivery vehicles used to transport online orders; these have been repurposed to deliver food and critical supplies to vulnerable people in Hong Kong, Italy, London, and New York through partnerships with local charitable organizations in each city.

Yoox Net-a-Porter’s Volunteered Vehicles initiative was able to spring quickly into action with vans voluntarily operated by the company’s drivers. “We knew we could fill the missing link of getting supplies from point A to point B,” says Marchetti. “We also knew that we could operationalize transport quickly and efficiently to provide vehicle support in markets where we already run these services.”

Yoox Net-a-Porter delivery vans

With vehicles and drivers ready, Marchetti had to identify how to offer services to make the most meaningful impact. The solution came in the form of new partnerships with charity organizations on the ground in cities around the world. The Red Cross in Milan, Age UK in London, ImpactHK in Hong Kong, and God’s Love We Deliver in New York were identified as requiring vital transport resources to help get their deliveries straight to the doors of those in need.

When asked why he had taken such a step to jump in and support aid efforts during the crisis, Marchetti shared, “As an entrepreneur, I’m passionate about turning ideas into reality, and I’m aware of the positive impact that an idea – together with a great team to pull it off – can have. When our customers, colleagues, and communities around the world are all facing hardship together, it is our duty to think creatively about the support we can give.”

But other companies, especially those that manufacture goods, have struggled with the implications of China’s total shutdown and subsequent halt in factory production. The majority of the most-needed supplies during the pandemic—notably masks and protective equipment for frontline workers—are produced in China, and the lockdown was already creating massive shortages in the US long before COVID-19 was present in the country.

Employee sewing a mask at a Brooks Brothers factory

Matteo del Vecchio ’08, CEO at Deconic, the jewelry subsidiary of Brooks Brothers, found himself in a rare position as China shuttered its businesses. Brooks Brothers has three factories in the US, located in Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina, and he saw an opportunity to provide much-needed protective equipment to medical workers when the supply became scarce and such production was deemed essential in the country.

“We were seeing two things that we wanted to try to fix. One was the shortages of protective equipment and the other was the fact that our workers could not work. We felt that being able to produce masks was the solution for both problems,” says del Vecchio.

Brooks Brothers collaborated with federal and local governments and with the FDA to get masks authorized for medical-grade use and into the hands of the frontline workers who need them most. The company is producing 150,000 masks per day, and has just launched production of medical gowns.

For a company with deep American roots that once manufactured US military uniforms during the civil war, offering aid in a crisis comes naturally. When asked how long the company will continue these efforts, del Vecchio replied, “As long as they are needed.”

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