When Toronto-based designer Steven Lejambe received the news that he’d been nominated for the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent in Fashion at the 2020 Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards (CAFAs), he was elated. The nomination represented a pivotal moment in the fashion career he has been building since 2016, as well as a shred of hope in the midst of being pummelled by disappointing news. As the COVID-19 virus rages around the globe, three major events he’d been gearing up for—the National Bridal Market trade show in Chicago, a figure skating red carpet event and a charity fashion show—were all cancelled. “I needed a bit of good news,” he says.
As a small-scale independent designer, Lejambe is one of the many individuals in the Canadian fashion industry who have lost their entire livelihoods in the span of a few days thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the estimated $10,000 to $15,000 in new business he expected to earn from the trade show, he lost $7,000 to $10,000 in evening dress commissions due to cancelled events and was laid off from his full-time retail job at John Fluevog Shoes. (Full disclosure: Lejambe and I are former coworkers.)
“Everything has come to a complete halt”
As calls from public health officials to “flatten the curve” (a.k.a. stay home) to curb the spread of the virus grow louder, the way the world operates has been completely rewritten in a matter of weeks. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been laid off from their jobs, and self-employed and independent contractors, of which there are many in the Canadian fashion industry, now face an uncertain future.