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COMMENTARY: How Canadian fashion and beauty brands are helping fight COVID-19

Photo of hospital gowns produced by Canada Goose workers at one of its manufacturing facilities amid COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo of hospital gowns produced by Canada Goose workers at one of its manufacturing facilities amid COVID-19 pandemic. Canada Goose

In the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, there has been a great divide between what is essential and what is not.

Soap, sanitizer and all things sudsy under my kitchen sink definitely qualify as essential. But the nail polish, styling tools and scrunchies stashed under my bathroom vanity? Sadly not.

As a result of their new reality, an interesting collection of Canadian fashion and beauty companies, whether they have ceased production altogether or pivoted business operations, are stepping up to shrink down the adverse effects caused by COVID-19.

READ MORE: ‘We want to help’: Guelph, Ont. distiller making free hand sanitizer during pandemic

Giving back with purpose is already part of Upfront Cosmetic’s brand. Committed to the environment, each of its shampoo or conditioner bars replaces up to three bottles of packaged alternatives, minimizing waste and ecological impact. The company’s orders are also shipped in plastic-free and compostable mailers.

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Now, it is taking that same commitment to helping families in need during this crisis. For every single shampoo or conditioner bar purchased through the brand’s website, it will donate one back to a Boys and Girls Club across Canada.

“In a time with so much uncertainty, we want to provide families with [bit of] peace of mind, knowing we are here to support them,” says Alicia Sharp, founder and owner of UpFront Cosmetics.

READ MORE: Bad acne? Here’s why coronavirus isolation might be to blame

Sharp isn’t alone in that sentiment.

“We believe amazing things can happen when we care for each other … Now, more than ever, we see the effects and importance of that, which is why we created our Care Crate,” say Alora May and Veronica May, founders and owners of Sam & Lance. (The company is named after their two grandmothers.)

A Care Crate is a self-care kit with products from Canadian female-owned, sustainable brands with goodies like essential oils, lip balms, magazines and more, inspired by their paternal grandmother, Shirley Ann May (she’s the “Sam” in “Sam & Lance”), who was a volunteer at a local hospital for 40 years. They saw the tremendous impact she had working in the hospital and the cheer she brought to those in need.

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Now they want to do their part for those on the frontline. For every Care Crate purchased from Sam & Lance, a second Care Crate is donated to a frontline health-care worker on the purchaser’s behalf.

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Beauty behemoths like LVMH, L’Oréal and Estee Lauder are among those producing hand sanitizers in response to the shortage of medical supplies and equipment around the world. But they aren’t the only ones.

“As soon as we realized how much this health crisis had put a strain on those frontline workers in the health-care system, we wanted to do something,” says Jackie McClements, a vice president with Monat Canada. “This is exactly what our Disaster Relief Kits were designed for, and sending them to hospitals across Canada was an easy decision as a small way to help.”

Monat has donated Disaster Relief Kits to several hospitals across Canada and will be donating hand sanitizers to a number of Canadian organizations in need, including the Salvation Army Winnipeg, Kelowna Gospel Mission, and Toronto police.

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In total, the beauty brand has produced over 240,000 units of hand sanitizer that will be distributed to hospitals, frontline workers, and customers across North America.

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Toronto-based Nudestix is taking an innovative approach to giving back. “We’re hosting live masterclasses on our IG platform every Sunday and Wednesday with global celebrity makeup artists and Tier 1 makeup influencers,” says Christopher Mello, media and social community manager at Nudestix.

Proceeds from all the sales during this period are donated to the World Health Organization, he adds. If the talent donates proceeds from the masterclasses, Nudestix will match it. It’s also donating 20 per cent of all proceeds from sales of their latest ‘Sun & Sea Palette’ launch to WHO.

READ MORE: European Union to rally Canada, allies to help WHO after U.S. halts funding

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And of course, there’s MAC Cosmetics. Though bought by beauty giant Estee Lauder in 1996, we can never forget MAC Cosmetics’ humble Canadian beginnings. It was literally created in the kitchens of beauty salon owner Frank Angelo and photographer Frank Toskan to fulfill their professional makeup needs.

Now one of the top three global brands, MAC is giving back to the world. Through its enduring Viva Glam campaign, MAC will distribute $10 million to 250 local organizations across the globe supporting COVID-19 relief efforts.

For every Viva Glam lipstick purchased, 100 per cent of proceeds goes to various local organizations.

READ MORE: Canada Goose increasing production of medical gear, reopens more factories

Fashion is also making a statement.

Canada Goose’s manufacturing facilities in Toronto and Winnipeg will begin making scrubs and patient gowns to be distributed to hospitals across the nation.  The company has also donated RMB $1 million to the Wuhan Charity Federation to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak. (RMB is the official currency in China, the donation equates to roughly CDN$200,000).

Canadian apparel and accessories brand Aritzia is donating 20 per cent of online sales to a fund that will go to team members and employees of its overseas partners impacted by COVID-19. It has already raised $3 million.

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READ MORE: Stanfield’s signs deal to make protective gowns for N.S. health workers

Intimate apparel brand Knix is providing PPE to healthcare facilities across Canada.

“The Knix PPE campaign was created after I had chatted with my brother, who is a doctor at a hospital in Hamilton,” says Joanna Griffiths, founder and CEO of Knix.

Her brother told her about the shortage of personal protective equipment in Canada. “We knew we had to do something to help bridge inventory gaps while the government put in place some more significant programs. Luckily, we were able to act quickly with our suppliers and have secured over 330,000 units of PPE and 1,200 L of hand sanitizer,” Griffiths says.

They have also provided PPE to over 50 homeless shelters in the GTA, Griffiths adds.

READ MORE: London, Ont., clothing company making protective gowns, masks to support COVID-19 efforts

There are also numerous independent brands like KaelaKay, Aleur, Dotty, With Love Lingerie and many others across the country making non-surgical PPE masks to help the community and frontline workers.

The beauty service industry has been hit particularly hard, with personal care services like makeup, hair, nail, waxing and lash services among those that have been forced to close for the unforeseeable future.

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I’ve caught myself in a cloud of guilt at times, as I ponder such frivolous things like my grey roots growing in, my poorly plucked eyebrows, or my badly chipped nails.

But I’ve come to understand that grieving for the mass devastation, worrying about the uncertainty of the world (including my own financial and emotional uncertainties), while also taking some time for self-care, and enjoying simple moments of joy, don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I hope that hitting the pause button has shown many of us to be kinder to each other — and ourselves.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.