How has Covid-19 impacted costume designers within the creative industry?

We long for the days when the terms ‘Coronavirus’ and ‘global pandemic’ weren’t in our everyday vocabulary. In a year that has been so chaotic, the arts have been seriously impacted. Rebecca Redford investigates the damaging affects Covid-19 has had on costume designers within the industry.

‘Cultural catastrophe’ are the words used to describe the impact Coronavirus has had on the creative economy as the industry faced major setbacks in 2020.

It’s been nine months, and we still don’t know when the creative industry will be able to operate as normal. The arts are of value to the UK economy, and bring in over £100 billion. TV and film are now back in production, however with the continued closure of entertainment venues the future for freelance designers remains uncertain.

Poppy Lees is a trainee costume maker for the film industry, who has previously worked with Disney on productions such as Cruella. She said: “Obviously it has impacted my career massively. That first lockdown was so strange, of course everything shut down, so I wasn’t working from March until September. All the projects I was working on for the Roundhouse Theatre in London seem to have been cut, I was working as a designer for them and I haven’t heard anything since March.”

When asked how she feels the pandemic will impact those who are looking to begin their career as a costume designer Poppy said: “The problem with these jobs is that there’s no application process to them they’re not an open cause, you get these jobs through people that you know. Which is incredibly nepotistic, incredibly un- diverse its full of very privileged people and so the people that are struggling the most are the ones that haven’t made these connections. If you had only one job since graduating and then the pandemic hit it is just so un-incredibly likely that you are going to find a way back in.”

Photo Credit: @poppylaralees

To survive without a stable income, many individuals had to turn to universal credit to survive. A study by the BBC showed that between March and October there has been a significant rise in people claiming universal credit and job seekers allowance as they search for jobs in the amidst of the pandemic. The number had risen to 2.6 million in October, 1.4 million more than before Coronavirus.

Poppy continued: “I am so thankful for benefits in this country, thank the lord we have that system it was my bread and butter. I was really fortunate that it was enough money to keep me going, also in that period of time I applied for some grants and I was awarded a grant from the Film and TV charity.”

The creative industry suffered considerably within the first five months of the pandemic, with no government funding the industry had to fend for itself. A report found that the Film and TV Charity set up a Covid- 19 recovery fund in order to help those struggling in the industry. Donations were made by BBC Studios, BAFTA and Amazon Prime Video, since April the charity have raised £5.8 million.

Creative freelancer, Jessie Dixon, has been struggling for work since the virus appeared. Jessie said: “Between March and August, I didn’t have a single day of work, in September I had nine days and in October eight days.”

We asked Jessie if she worried the industry would struggle to bounce back, she explained: “Lockdown’s aren’t detrimental they just slow things down, I know of a few productions that are still going as much as they can.

The demand for online content is through the roof, I think it’ll be hard for cinemas to bounce back though. The public have access to so much at home now and some films this year have gone direct to streaming. It might be tough for a while to work out the logistics of filming.”


Throughout the crucial months of lockdown, like many, Jessie started up an online business on Etsy in order to bring in an income. According to latest research there were over 16,000 e-commerce businesses set up between March and July. Jessie said: “I have coped by opening an Etsy store and selling products. I’ve really enjoyed it and hope to carry it on along with my freelance work.”

Tracey Waters, a dress maker, based in the North East, has also had to turn attention towards the web in an attempt to make an income during a time when her usual trade isn’t needed.

She said: “The pandemic has affected me terribly; I do think I am lucky in some sense as I have been able to diversify by using the skills that I have to make things that are useful to people right now.

Even with these efforts Tracy is still struggling through this pandemic, as her income has fallen.

“One week I only made £50, and when you think I have all my rent and bills to pay it’s just not nearly enough. I did get money from the government, but it hasn’t gone very far.”

When speaking to different costume designers in the industry, it seems they’ve all faced unique challenges. The question still remains ‘what does this mean for the industry overall?’

Catherine Kodicek, from the Costume in Theatre Association, believes the pandemic has caused lasting damage. She has said: “The industry did not really support costume workers before the pandemic. The government rescue package hasn’t reached as many people as we hoped it would and so costume people have taken work elsewhere in the retail and service sectors. The variations to the current BECTU negotiated agreements has depressed pay rates and the work is not guaranteed so it will be hard for some people to return until the industry is more stable which means a lot of talented people are leaving the industry. There is also a very real danger that any progress towards racial and socio-economic representation will be lost which is a lasting damage to the industry.”


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