Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the past six months, if you're like most Americans, you've spent a lot less money on clothes than you normally would — while also spending a decent amount of money on masks.

Why it matters: Behind the change in behavior is a huge change in capital flows from some of the largest names in fashion — including Balmain, Urban Outfitters, and Walmart. The biggest losers are some of the poorest people in the world.

Between the lines: My favorite mask is a lovely flowered number from Amy Kuschel. Kuschel's pivot to masks is a classic example of what Pratt professor Minh-Ha Pham characterizes as "white, feminine-presenting, and middle-class" women doing their civic-participation bit in the fight against the coronavirus.

  • When that kind of pivot happens at the scale of the global apparel industry, millions of livelihoods can be destroyed.

How it works: Brands typically place orders for clothes about three months before they want them delivered, but pay only after delivery. "In the midst of the pandemic," writes Pham in the latest issue of Feminist Studies, "western fashion brands and retailers exercised their contractual right to cancel existing orders, or more accurately, to stiff workers on wages for orders already completed and, in some cases, already shipped."

  • Those workers were not white, or middle-class, or, most of the time, even American. The hardest hit were in Bangladesh, where some 4 million sewers make clothes for the biggest brands in the world. Half of those jobs could be at risk from the effects of the pandemic.
  • A similar story played out from Myanmar to Cambodia to Vietnam, where, again, up to half of garment workers could end up losing their jobs.
  • In the U.S., many garment workers are undocumented, which rendered them ineligible for CARES Act stimulus and unemployment checks. Just like their counterparts in South Asia, many of them didn't just lose their jobs — they also were never paid for work they had already finished.

By the numbers: U.S. garment workers, forced to take any job available, are paid as little as 5 cents per mask, or $190 per week. Needless to say, working conditions have not been improved from their pre-pandemic poorly-ventilated state.

The bottom line: "Garment workers making face masks aren't Rosie the Seamstress," writes Pham. "They're not making masks in the safety and comfort of their homes, they're not doing it out of a sense of public-spiritedness or as a show of gendered civic engagement."

  • Artisanal face masks from Etsy (or Amy Kuschel) are all well and good. But they're also, as Pham writes, "a privileged kind of feminist distancing."

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Oct 9, 2020 - Health

26% of Americans know someone who went to work while sick

Data: Survey conducted by Global Strategy Group & Navigator via Paid Leave for All. Note: ±3.1% margin of error; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

A quarter of Americans say they know someone who has gone into work while feeling unwell, according to a survey provided exclusively to Axios by the Paid Leave for All campaign.

Why it matters: We will not be able to get the pandemic under control unless people can stay home when they're sick. Clearly, many Americans are not able to do that — especially people of color — without risking their job or their paycheck.

Halloween and COVID-19: What you need to know

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Celebrating Halloween and Día de los Muertos will be difficult and more isolated this year, but can still be done while minimizing harm to others.

Why it matters: Traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, indoor parties, haunted houses, crowded cemeteries and communal candy bowls are all considered high-risk activities by the CDC.

Updated 29 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus — COVID-19 looms over White House Halloween celebrations.
  2. Health: Fauci says maybe we should mandate masks if people don't wear them — America was sick well before it ever got COVID-19U.S. reports over 80,000 new cases for 2nd straight day
  3. World: Polish President Andrzej Duda tests positive for COVID-19.