The Week Here: The Pivot

27 Mar 2020

Is there an upside to a pandemic? What happens when we view this as an opportunity for businesses to build their resilience, and for communities to band together? Amy Tai lays down the need-to-knows from this week.

As slow as the general public has been to heed government advice, those who are fortunate enough to stay at home have swiftly adapted in ways to be expected of Millenials: we are streaming live, conferencing on Zoom, and virtually speed dating on Houseparty. We’re walking dogs with drones. Rona memes abound.

One of the hardest-hit industries, hospitality, has overnight adopted new operating models made possible by the temporary lifting of regulations. The UK has cut through the red tape preventing restaurants from dispatching takeaways, enabling 3,000 restaurants to sign up with Deliveroo, while cash-haemorrhaging bars and restaurants in New York are taking advantage of relaxed liquor laws and selling bottled cocktails to go.

The US Senate just approved the largest economic rescue package in modern history, which has Americans asking: “Where’s my check?” The answer is it might not arrive for another four months. Meanwhile, self-employed workers in the UK were trying to figure out how they could live on £94.25 a week, until the government’s recent announcement that it would raise the level of financial aid to that of salaried employees. A collective sigh of relief was audible in the London borough of Hackney, where one in six workers are self-employed.

With alarming reports of medical workers having to resort to crafting homemade masks with double-sided tape, independent labels are joining in on the effort to supply frontline staff with protective gear, with The British Fashion Council issuing a call to action to all “designers with production capacity.” Phoebe English and Three Graces are among those turning over their workshops and donating proceeds. 31 Chapel Lane is giving away Irish linen face masks. Dov Charney’s American Los Angeles Apparel is manufacturing and delivering masks to hospitals in Seattle, New York, and Las Vegas.

While the closure of non-essential shops has moved our focus to digital solutions, it’s easy to forget that sales occurring in brick-and-mortar stores still account for 80% of retail transactions in the U.S. Eventually, consumers will return to the high street and when they do, it will be in search of community. “We are social beings and we crave social environments … the desire for experiences is from time immemorial,” said Joe Pine, co-author of The Experience Economy.

We don’t know when all of this will be over. What we do know from studies of the behavior of other humans who lived through times of great upheaval (the Spanish Flu, World Wars) is that when it IS over, we will, in all likelihood, go shopping. Although, sadly, it won’t be at Laura Ashley.

If there is anything to marvel at during this crisis, it is the astounding speed at which we can adapt. Even our collective (Freudian?) preoccupation with elimination has also rapidly evolved; it appears that while the British continue to stockpile loo rolls, my fellow Americans have now moved on to panic-buying bidets.

Amy Tai is a creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.