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President Biden Gives Fashion and Americans Hope

Out with the old, and in with the new, as Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on Wednesday was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

The retail sector and the fashion industry have high hopes for the new Biden Administration, as First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first Black person and first person of South Asian descent to hold the office, selected symbolic looks from emerging American designers. Dr. Biden wore a blue tweed coat and dress designed by Alexandra O’Neill of the budding label Markarian. Harris wore a purple dress and coat by Christopher John Rogers, a young Black designer who was the winner of the 2019 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. Both President Biden and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff wore traditional dark suits by Ralph Lauren.

CFDA CEO Steven Kolb said there is a lot to be excited about in what they wore and the message they sent in promoting American fashion. The industry contributes $383 billion to the U.S. economy, he noted.

“The business side of fashion is in critical need of support and there is reason to be optimistic that Joe Biden understands that it is an engine for American jobs,” Kolb said. “Already, we see how he is prioritizing an economy rescue package with the $1.9 trillion stimulus and the expedited vaccine roll-out plan as he enters the office. Both will help overall economic recovery, and should also bode well for the fashion and retail sectors which have been especially hard hit by the pandemic.”

Kolb also noted that duties and tariffs were a challenge in the last administration and that the industry looks to Biden to “reduce these to provide fashion businesses with opportunities for long-term success.”

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The CFDA chief said that sustainability is a key pillar of the CFDA, and the new administration’s commitment to it—Biden has made the environment and climate change a priority—will be good for fashion.

“Immigration reform is needed that supports a robust fashion industry workforce from factory workers to foreigners looking to establish brands in the US. We are encouraged by plans to give undocumented immigrants and refugees a path to citizenship,” Kolb said.

Kolb urged the industry to “stand with the new President in uniting and healing our country. The next four years will bring change. Change is always good. As a powerful industry, American fashion can be part of that change.”

As one of his first acts as president, Biden signed an Executive Order that protects Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and other aimed at reversing some of former President Trump’s actions.

“President Biden’s immediate attention to immigration reform is welcomed news for the 700,000 plus DACA beneficiaries who make significant positive impacts on the retail industry and to their respective communities.  The retail industry employs thousands of DACA program recipients, and these individuals deserve dignity, respect, and a clear legal pathway to citizenship,” Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said.

Vice President Kamala Harris, and her husband Doug Emhoff, and family, walk in front of the White House during a Presidential Escort to the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, after being sworn in as the 46th vice president of the United States.
Vice President Kamala Harris, and her husband Doug Emhoff, and family, walk in front of the White House during a Presidential Escort to the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, after being sworn in as the 46th vice president of the United States. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

“Dreamers’ contributions are particularly evident as we fight COVID-19, as Dreamers are among those helping to keep stores open, stocked, and safe. These hardworking individuals are part of the social fabric of America and part of the retail family; they are our friends and neighbors,” he added. “Today’s executive order gives these workers some hope that the program they depend upon to work legally in the country that is their home is preserved. RILA implores Congress and the Biden Administration to seek an immediate and long-term remedy to address the legal status of DACA participants.”

The American Apparel and Footwear Association applauded President Biden’s plan to beat back the pandemic as a means of getting the economy back on track.

“It has become clear that face masks and coverings play an important role in keeping COVID-19 infections down, which is key to keeping American businesses open, American workers employed, and American consumers protected,” said Steve Lamar, AAFA president and CEO. “The apparel and footwear industry is strongly in favor of this requirement, and encourages the adoption of similar measures in areas outside of the President’s jurisdiction by state and city leaders. More than 400,000 Americans have died because of this pandemic.

“If simply wearing a mask can slow that down, then there is no debate to be had on the subject,” he added. “During the next 100-plus days, President Biden’s priority will be the COVID-19 crisis and AAFA will do everything we can to support and propose measures that improve the health and livelihood of all Americans.”

The arrival of the Biden administration could bode well for firms across fashion, according to one industry analyst.

“After the rollercoaster ride of the previous administration, Joe Biden’s long-awaited inauguration could signal more stability for an apparel industry that has been through the mill over the last four years,” said Michelle Russell, apparel correspondent at London-based analytics firm GlobalData.

“President Donald Trump’s stance on international trade policy and climate change did little to [instill] confidence in the apparel and textile industry as he embarked on a trade war with China—the largest US apparel supplier—withdrew from major trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and renegotiated others, like the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade pact. Not to mention the risk to America’s long-held reputation.”

She said fashion “may now be able to breathe a sigh of relief” now that the Biden administration promises “to be less erratic and aggressive in its decision making, and one that will likely take a more measured and predictable approach to trade policy.”

Russell also welcomed the president’s appointment of Katherine Tai as the new U.S. Trade Representative, though she doesn’t believe the pick heralds a “change in leadership will soften the US stance on China.” Still, the analyst pointed to Tai’s credentials as a seasoned trade lawyer and international affairs expert who might offer a “fresh and more peaceful approach to policy.”

President Biden’s decision to re-introduce the U.S. into the watershed Paris Climate Agreement also signals a shift in policy, Russell said. “The significant difference in leadership between Biden and Trump is their position on climate change, with the US set to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, driving much needed economic growth and job creation across every sector,” she said. “Yet, there’s also likely to be more pressure on companies to disclose climate risks and greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains.”

Companies across the fashion industry “should now be looking forward to more responsible and effective policies that remove barriers and benefit business and workers,” Russell added.

In his speech, President Biden described the inauguration as “democracy’s day, a day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”

“Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew,” he said. “And America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate, but of a cause—the cause of democracy. The people, the will of the people, has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again the democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And, at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

Biden, who is pushing for a national minimum wage of $15 an hour, also picked up on a theme in his American Rescue Plan, which is that fighting the pandemic as a nation will also help pave the way for a U.S. economic recovery.

And he said that “American has been tested, and we’ve come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.”

Outgoing and now former President Trump elected to leave town before the swearing in. Most believe that Biden will focus first on the pandemic and the economy, keeping intact for now trade policies that are currently in place.