With the Supreme Court’s gruesome erosion of reproductive rights, fashion brands are organising to help employees undergo safe abortions

Earlier this year, as the AW22 season began to swell, Russia invaded Ukraine, with many designers taking to the runway in an expression of solidarity. A mere four months later, and the SS23 edition of Paris Fashion Week men’s dovetailed with the catastrophic rescission of Roe v Wade, meaning the industry’s biggest outing has once again played-out in the shadows of global crisis.

With the expectation of action falling on the shoulders of the fashion’s biggest players, firms like Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Levi’s, and Capri Holdings – which presides over Michael Kors, Versace, and Jimmy Choo – have all pledged to help their employees undergo abortions, committing themselves to covering the costs of any US staff member who requires reproductive health care. “The company will now provide travel reimbursement to any US employee who needs access to health care not available in their home state,” Gucci said in a press statement last month when leaked documents from the Supreme Court revealed its plans to overturn the fundamental right to terminate a pregnancy.

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That brands have had to step in at all is bittersweet. Nobody should have to disclose this kind of information to their employer, and outside of fashion, access to abortion has already been used as a bartering tool to prohibit employees from unionising – like in the case of Starbucks, which has approached employer-provided healthcare as a labour-disciplining device. The revocation of reproductive rights will have an impact on everyone, and while these measures will help people to regain agency over their bodies, it’s those who sit outside of luxury fashion that are likely to be most afflicted. To this end, Gucci has ramped-up its Chime for Change campaign, “to support partner organisations that enable access to reproductive health and protect human rights, especially for the most vulnerable.” 

Kering, the parent company of Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, and Bottega Veneta, also made its stance clear, though it has yet to detail tangible plans to support its employees. “Kering and its brands stand against all forms of violence against women. We support the freedom of women to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives,” a black-and-white Instagram post read. LVMH, meanwhile, whose net-profits rose 156 per cent last year, has not outlined its position – though this is surely a matter of time, given that it procured a million euros to rebuild the roof of the Notre Dame, and threw its weight behind the COVID effort in France, overhauling its ateliers and factories to produce non-surgical masks and hand sanitiser.

Today’s media diet is a jarring mix of runway images and gruesome dispatches from the eight states where abortion is no longer legal, and the nature of online activism means that there may not be a catch-all way for fashion brands to approach the erosion of human rights. But, after years of ushering designers onto a soap box, brands appear to be responding with substance and speed, even there is always more to be done.