Photo of Matt in NY convenience store during Covid-19
Matt, Covid style at the local bodega.
Follow Matt on his Instagram account for more goodness : HolyMatt86

Continuing our series 'Covid-19 Response.' We are asking our creative friends how they are holding up, but more importantly we want to speak about the future of their industries, as we look forward to beating this pandemic. Are there positives to be taken from this collective experience? What are we contributing, and how will their respective industries change?

This latest of our series takes us to New York, the center of the pandemic in the USA. We catch up with Matthew Gu who is much more than a graduate student. He's got a fashion career on the ascent and always one eye forward. He shares his unique, and insightful perspective with us at this time, bringing the giants of East and West, China and the USA.

SPITGAN : Yo Matt tell us a bit about yourself first. Before you came to NY to study.
Matthew Gu : I have been working in fashion industry for more than a decade. In the beginning, I worked at McCann Erickson (Shanghai office) as a graphic designer for 2 years. I was involved in a great number of individual projects, for great companies such as Adidas, Mercedes Benz, L’Oréal, Hennessy on a daily basis. This shaped my art and aesthetic feel. During this time, I became interested in fashion, and I started making small moves. I soon found a job in fashion as a Visual Merchandiser. Since, I have been a VM for 12 years, until 2019, working for companies like Nike, UNDERARMOUR, The North Face, Lacoste, ASICS and Mizuno. My last job was the visual merchandising Manager for Asia Pacific at The North Face. I have learned a lot about fashion, retail business, consumer experience and so forth. I have also built strong solid foundation in campaign storytelling, brand development, store implementation and people management. I loved my job because personally I love to travel. Fortunately working in these international companies gave me a lot of opportunities to travel all around the world. All the experiences gave me great opportunities to work with people from diverse perspectives, which also assisted me in continually broadening my horizon and encouraging me to stay out of my comfort zone.

SPITGAN : So you came to NY to further your education?

MG : Now I am full-time student, studying a Master's degree program at LIM College. My major is Fashion Marketing. I am also taking an online course that teaches me how to use AR&VR to help enhance the retail consumer experience at NYU. Honestly, before this global pandemic, I thought this was gonna be such a great opportunity for me to take some time off and do something that I have always wanted to do. Things I’ve never thought of doing in my 30’s, like going back to school, moving to a new city, meeting new friends, sharing insights with people from a whole different perspective, etc. Well, it is what it is, no one ever expected the virus, this is what we all have to live with.

SG : When was the first day the Coronavirus really hit home for you?
MG : I am from Shanghai. I actually went back to Shanghai the entire winter break, which was around Jan. 19, 2020. A couple days after I returned to New York, I remember that I was moving apartments at the time, Mum sent me a video showing the people in China wearing masks outside, and their temperatures being taken at airports, railway stations, shopping malls and so on. Mum just kept texting me saying, “this is not a joke, son, we might have to go through a lock down, this virus is very serious!” Also, she felt blessed that I left China early, otherwise, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to come back to New York.

At that moment, everything seemed normal in New York. The States, people had nothing to do with the virus until the end of February. Then all the news started reporting the first case of Covid-19 in Seattle... 10, 20, 50… the virus spread fast. We got our first case in NYC in early March, then 50, 100 cases the day after. People were still going outside as normal, either to work, hangout, party, and stuff like that. One thing I want to mention here is that as students, we still had to physically show up to school, because the schools didn't close until the official quarantine on March 20th. What was “interesting” about the CDC’s response to the Covid-19 was the message, “Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, then you will be fine.” No one ever officially recommended wearing a mask. How come we were only advised to wash our hands to deal with the virus when the rest of world was wear masks?!!!

Personally, I started to wear a mask on the very first day of Covid-19 because I took the metro to school back and forth everyday. You know what the vibe is inside the metro station at rush hours. It's super crowded with packed platforms and sardine-can-like trains. It's often so full that no-one else can get on. For god’s sake, I would’ve been inflected with Covid-19 if I didn't wear a mask while taking the metro!

Photo of

SG : How do you feel about your country's response to the Covid-19 pandemic in general, and specifically to your industry?

MG : Well, as a Chinese (National), I think China is doing a tremendous job on slowing down the virus. I love the way that Chinese people were strictly staying home to carry out “social distancing” during the quarantine. Also, everyone made sure to wear masks before going out. There have been security men monitoring everyone 24/7, in every single neighborhood. They checked where you live, where you were head to, and took your temperature. They would not let you go out if you didn’t have a mask on. People from western countries would probably see these measures as a violation of human rights. I do believe democracy is important to everyone and it is what we should always stand for, but there are times we may be overdoing it. We may have missed the best opportunity to respond (in New York).

As you know the industry that I work for is the FASHION industry. So far, I don’t see any fashion marketers that are getting back into the swing of it. In fact, there’s a large number of job vacancies now closed. The unemployment rate continues rising rapidly, and people are losing their jobs in fashion industry. Big fashion retailers might not survive the Covid-19 Pandemic such as The Gap, Victoria's Secret, J.Crew and Forever 21. They are great companies with some problems, but they don't deserve such a terrible fate. I think the reality is that people are not getting paid and not going out. People are spending more money on foods, sanitizers, toilet papers and all kinds of home supplies rather than fashion items. Everything is going back to the essence of life.

2 photos of Matt cutting hair. Left hair and razor, Right, Matt's new cut
Matt cuts his own hair for the first time, says its worth 20 bucks.

SG : What have you been doing during this global lockdown period?
MG : In the first month of the lockdown, I have been attending classes via Zoom meetings and finishing several class projects. Honestly, I was motivated, and very positive about the stay-home quarantine regulation, and I understood what I should be doing to survive in the situation. I bought a whole bunch of fitness equipment, dumbbells, a yoga mat, and a starter version of the money bar. I built a home-based gym! And I got a kids basketball hoop to make sure I keep practicing every day... One day I will be playing in the NBA! LMAO. The hoops really helps relief anxiety, and it's entertaining. By April, I started having negative feelings. I got homesick because I was supposed to fly back to Shanghai by the end of April, but my flight got canceled of course. Also, I’d made an entire travel plan to bring my family to the States in May. I even bought tickets for them. This disappointed me a lot, and made me feel more homesick because I miss them so much, especially my 86 years old grandmother.

Two things are quite interesting about being locked up at home all day. First, I spend more time in the kitchen which is awesome. I cook a lot these days,  American comfort foods like burgers, muffins, waffles, omelettes, all type of stuff. Also, I make Chinese cuisine, both Shanghainese and Cantonese style. I am talking about something at a family dinner level, not those terrible Chinese takeout food spots, alright?! Second, I’ve learned how to give myself a haircut, I have a selfie to show you how good it is! Just like a $20 haircut at the local barbershop! As time goes on, maybe one day I can be a fashion chef or fashion barber, IDC. We will see! 

SG : What's the first thing you gonna do when you can move freely?
MG : First, I want to hang out with friends and meet new friends. That’s mainly what I am here for. Also,I really wanna go back to the gym because I am getting sick of exercising at home. I am not gonna lie, the vibe ain't good. It just keeps my body in a normal shape, not what I had hoped. 

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SG : Has the pandemic made you assess your business model? What changes will you be making?
MG : I think the pandemic has definitely changed a lot of things in the fashion industry, especially my job which is to use retail platforms to attract, engage, and connect with the consumer. For instance, I should not be thinking the way I used to think when doing a campaign promotion at a store. Today’s retail store will be a whole new platform. Nowadays, when fashion companies talk about how much revenue they make, they might look at how much their online platforms make first. It can also be said, consumers shop online now more than retail stores. What I will focus on is to leverage the strengths I have in retail platforms and adapt them to fit online platforms. This to be able to provide consumers with a superior, seamless experience, which is often called “OMINI CHANNEL.” 

Matt made this hamburger


SG : What positive changes do you envision happening to the industry or society in general? Or hope will happen?
MG : I think, VR, AR, and 5G will be the 3 must-have technologies that you must consider in an effort to build the new retail concept. People are now very dependent on seeing, buying, and exploring everything via smartphones, so all technologies will become more mobile interface-friendly, and people will enjoy watching 3D movies and playing 3D FP games, on high speed 5G networks. Also, people will be using VR&AR to try out fashion items. They want to shop without physical touches. This I strongly believe if you are a person that works in fashion, or you own a brand. You must try to think about the fashion world out of the old box (stand-alone stores), and try to combine your ideas with digital tactics to determine which strategy will work for 'OMINI-CHANNEL', meaning all channels. 

SG : We are now all on our own 'islands'. What music is getting you through?
MG : Since I'm in New York. I listen to music via Spotify which gives me a variety of resources to access more music choices. Most of time I listen to Hip Hop, and Techno. Of course Rap is always at the top of the list. I am 34, so I am very much into 90’s, 00’s, Hip Hop. My fav rappers are Biggie, NWA, 2Pac, Puff Daddy, Snoop, D12, G-UNIT, and MC Jin. Lately I have been chasing some young dudes like Tory (Lanes?), Stupid Young, and China Mac. I'm heavily influenced by Hip Hop and it's Hip Hop which has made me what I am today. 

Hip Hop helped me understand the difference between Western and Eastern cultures. It has helped me to be a more open-minded person.

Are you in the fashion field? How have you been affected? What are you hoping will change for the better when we get through this pandemic? Leave us a comment we would love to hear from you!

Matt working out in his home gym
At his home gym set up. Maintaining status quo.

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