Fashion has come to a near standstill amidst the coronavirus pandemic leaving many brands to wonder if they will be able to weather the economic storm left in its wake. Heritage brands and retailers are announcing layoffs or furlough, as Nordstrom did yesterday, or are floating the word bankruptcy in the media, as Neiman Marcus has done. The already-struggling fashion bible W has hit pause, furloughing 17 of their 58 employees.
What does all this mean for people who are still fighting for their businesses amid the pandemic?
In speaking to 7 leaders in the industry for this article, the goal was to understand what they are doing to mitigate the situation for their businesses. Spanning the spectrum from a CEO at a global e-com site to independent entities to startups, these people represent the different facets of the industry and paint a picture of their experiences as this crisis continues.
THE E-COM GIANT: JOSÉ NEVES, CEO FARFETCH
Farfetch CEO, José Neves’ business relies on the boutiques that sell on his platform and has … [+]
First and foremost this is a human situation and the health of our staff and customers is the first priority. We are a very global company so when this hit in China and then in Japan at the end of January and February we ensured our team was able to work from home and we made other necessary operational changes there. That was our first experience with the situation.
Our current priority is to support our community of boutique owners and brands who sell on Farfetch. When you shop on Farfetch, your items arrive from one of 700 boutiques in 50 countries around the world, or from one of our many brand partners.
Most of these are small family businesses and have had to close their physical store locations. For many, Farfetch is now their only channel so we feel supporting them is a huge responsibility as a platform.
We are working with these boutique owners to help them in any way we can. We are making sure they can keep selling to customers on Farfetch, even if they can’t welcome their customers into their retail stores at the moment. We are assessing all ways we can drive sales volume and traffic to support these boutiques, including putting them front and center on Farfetch website, changing visual merchandising to surface as much boutique stock as possible.
We are also offering logistics and warehousing support. This includes moving stock from boutiques to our warehouses when boutiques cannot ship themselves due to regional lockdowns or staff shortages. We are doing this as a service to them, without charge.
A dedicated #supportboutiques project is launching this coming week, to get the whole Farfetch community involved.
Crucially, we also want to help the shops when they reopen. We are planning to invest in a full-blown marketing campaign, including paid marketing at our expense, to encourage footfall in due course when we are all out of these times of needing to socially distance.
“This is the way we can help the industry. We can’t help the health situation directly or calm people’s concerns on a personal level. But as a platform, we can help small businesses stay alive.”
I think we at Farfetch have such a different work model. We have offices in different countries—Russia, Latin America, and the US. As you can imagine they were all facing different situations. And we have different working environments. We have office workers, logistics, and boutiques. For us, it was absolutely essential to keep people informed on a constant basis. Applying government recommendations immediately as, and when, they were needed around the world as they were different region to region. Very few workers are not working from home, some teams are in studios and logistics, but most of these are third party.
To support boutiques the questions we are constantly asking are: Can we help with warehouses? Can we help with logistics? Can we help with demand? Can we help with marketing? Can we help complying with health guidelines? For example, some Italian boutiques can ship online but they need masks and they can’t find them. We’ve used our global logistics to import masks and deliver them to our boutiques in Italy so they can keep logistics going.
This is the way we can help the industry. We can’t help the health situation directly or calm people’s concerns on a personal level. But as a platform, we can help small businesses stay alive.
THE INDEPENDENT: TARA SWENNEN, CELEBRITY STYLIST (Kristen Stewart, Allison Janney, Matthew McConaughey)
Tara Swennen is a top celebrity stylist for whom almost all work has frozen and worries when it will … [+]
Obviously we’re all scared. I technically own my own business, but I really work for myself. My employees are independent contractors and I still consider myself one as well.
If you’re freelance right now, you’re expected to go out and find work, and there is simply little to no work to be found. It’s a catch 22. Freelance artists are the ones caught in the loophole. We don’t get healthcare or employee benefits. There are a lot of things that make it frightening for us. It’s very difficult.
As a stylist, all the red carpets have been shut down. The Met Ball, movie premieres, Coachella—it’s all been postponed or cancelled. I still have a few things on the books for late April, but I have to assume those will go away as well.
“If you’re freelance right now, you’re expected to go out and find work, and there is simply little to no work to be found. ”
I have some saved in the bank, but unfortunately, most of my savings are tied up in the stock market. We are working with our agents, various firms and corporations in an effort to get creative but most are reluctant to spend money at the moment in an effort to weather the storm. Hopefully over the next few weeks—things will change.
I am taking the time to do things around the house, organize the studio and be proactive for when work comes back. And when it does, I hope it comes back with a surge.
As a single mom—being independent means I can be around and present. But I have friends in other industries that are expected to work full time while attempting to teach from home as well. It’s a lot.
I don’t know where the light is at the end of the tunnel, but hopefully it will come to us soon.
THE DESIGNER: STACEY BENDET, CEO AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR ALICE AND OLIVIA
Stacey Bendet of Alice and Olivia is trying to find production solutions to keep her business … [+]
From a business perspective, it’s all very reactive right now. I think it’s an opportunity for some companies to be a little leaner, to be more focused. It’s that time to reflect on how you can do that, figure out who your best players are, who is really an A+, who you can come together with and grow. My business partner Andrew, if you are going to describe a soulmate partnership, I’ve got it. I am grateful for him and his calm leadership during these worrisome times.
All of my stores are shut, so those businesses are zero, the retailers are shut, so there’s that. I have to keep the production going because I can’t not have product when this is over. We are all working remotely trying to keep our design and production process moving along while we reduce inventory for future deliveries and tighten up our budgets across the board. Very difficult decisions need to be made quickly and unanimously.
The first thing we did was to reduce what’s in production in May and June, because we had goods that were meant to ship in March and April which we wanted to sell, so we needed to cut production so we don’t have overflow of inventory.
We have had this immediate shift into digital gear. All meetings are on Zoom and we’re setting up Zoom shopping. In the Spring, we want to host an online digital prom. We really don’t know what is going to happen with this, but we’re planning for it. We want to do things that uplift and make people feel better.
“There are certain parts of your staff that are literally not going to work for three months. We haven’t made those decisions yet, but there are going to be some hard decisions to be made.”
What are we doing in terms of our staff—I have the most incredible, positive team ever, everyone has banded together to keep it all going. But at the same time there are certain parts of your staff that are literally not going to work for three months. We haven’t made those decisions yet, but there are going to be some hard decisions to be made.
We’re also looking at what we’ve gone through in China. In China we saw the trajectory for how long they were shut down for, how long it took for them to recover and reopen. It gives us some idea of what to expect.
I also think, the hardest thing is that if you’re a working mom and you have kids in school, it’s hardcore.
This is disruption on a global level that we’ve never seen before. I’m trying to be as nimble as possible and hold steady as possible.
THE EDITOR: PETER DAVIS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, L’OFFICIEL MAGAZINE, US EDITION
Peter Davis is the Editor-In-Chief of the US edition of L’Officiel. He is implementing pay cuts for … [+]
We’re a global media brand with 31 countries, and on the positive side it’s brought all the countries together to share content. We’ve always shared content, but because we have to be scrappy with how we proceed, we’re sharing content more than ever.
In the US we’ve had to do things like push out print dates. We publish four issues per year so our Summer issue is going to come out later than planned.
We’re spending less money and finding ways to lower budgets, which is happening naturally just because we’re not creating like we normally do. We haven’t had any layoffs, but we have talked about pay reductions until things change, and everyone is on board. So we’re not making dramatic changes. In Paris and Italy it’s different, they have furlough pay and different ways that government supports them.
There’s still print advertising, especially in Europe where print is still more relevant than the US, but in the US we also work as a media advertising firm, and those brand partnerships have morphed into something different now. Right now, we’re completely digitally focused and are asking talent to create content at home, since everyone is at home.
“I think fashion as an industry has slowed down and come to a standstill, especially for small brands. For the big brands, I’m seeing a lot business as usual, pushing through, even though it’s obviously not business as usual.”
I think at first brands were slow to proceed, and it seems to be back on track and moving forward. It’s hard in some cases, like big shoots where we’ve partnered with the likes of a Dior. We can’t do that now. But we are figuring out how be scrappy.
I think fashion as an industry has slowed down and come to a standstill, especially for small brands. For the big brands, I’m seeing a lot business as usual, pushing through, even though it’s obviously not business as usual. Most people have to push pause.
But brands do still need to be relevant. I’ve spoken to a few PRs to request clothes for talent so they can style themselves, and I’ve had great response, because creating content is most important, whether that is a writer writing form home or a musicians playing music from their homes.
We have a meeting twice a week on our digital stats globally with all the international editions, and of course, there’s definitely an increase in traffic because people are glued to their phones. We’ve been posting a lot on social and the website on concepts like how to give back, fitness at home, and beauty at home.
This sort of content has had great feedback. People want these sorts of posts. But for us, it’s new terrain, these are posts we wouldn’t normally do.
One hope is after all this and after all of this, fashion will pick up again and people will have a renewed interest supporting brands they love.
THE STARTUP: VANESSA BARBONI HALLIK, FOUNDER, SUSTAINABLE LUXURY BRAND, ANOTHER TOMORROW
Vanessa Barboni Hallik launched her brand of luxury sustainable clothes in January. After gaining … [+]
As a starting point, it’s an incredibly challenging time to launch a business. It took us two years of preparation to get the product out the door. We developed all of our fabrics which came from raw material. We have a slightly different product, and it’s an all year collection, but thankfully, we are well placed to work with the inventory we have for a long time.
My personal approach is to get as tight and nimble as possible because I see a tremendous amount of potential at the back end of this. Especially in a world when we take a more connected approach to how we consume.
I came up through my finance career during a crisis. I started my career in 2003 and then in 2007, went into crisis mentality. So this feels familiar. It’s getting incredibly clear that what is killing all of this is the uncertainty. I have never seen job losses this fast. The incredible uncertainty is causing people to make really drastic decisions quickly.
“This is an opportunity for businesses to communicate who you are, what you value and also to be vulnerable. Which is difficult because businesses are used to projecting strength.”
We’re not making any long term financial commitment around production, for example, until we have visibility around what the economic situation looks like. We have a tight team and we are in hunker down and over-communicate mode. Our product doesn’t go on sale, that is our business model and we’re sticking with it. We’re spending time communicating with our consumer on social because investing new resources is tough, so we’re spending a lot of time creating content.
I am heartened to see that through communication in a really authentic way, the actual audience continues to grow, but last week as the news flow start to become more frightening we saw a material uptick in returns.
It’s difficult to say what will come from here. We just launched with Matches and we haven’t even started paid social. We were looking forward to having pop up and creating the in-store experience but now all of that is on hold.
In full transparency, we were just starting our raise for growth capital, so this timing could not be worse from that perspective. I think you have to get creative. We are not in a place where we have to get capital to keep the lights on…yet, but growth is on hold. It’s the worst possible timing from an investment standpoint. It’s about focusing on survival.
In terms of investing and finance, I think it really differs so much institution to institution right now and what each portfolio looks like. There are a lot of investors that will find tremendous opportunity for investment because valuations have been so inflated. I think it’s really going to depend on each fund. If you look at Warren Buffet as an example, these are the moments where value investors put capital to work.
This is an opportunity for businesses to communicate who you are, what you value and also to be vulnerable. Which is difficult because businesses are used to projecting strength.
THE STARTUP: TINA BHOJWANI, CO-FOUNDER, SUSTAINABLE LUXURY FOOTWEAR BRAND, AERA
Tina Bhojwani had a stellar career heading brands like Theory and Dolce and Gabbana. AERA is her … [+]
We consciously chose suppliers and manufacturers based in Italy for reasons around social and environmental sustainability as well as for the quality of the artisanal craftsmanship specific to Veneto. These partners remain the ones who have been the most affected by Covid-19 thus far and there is still no clear sign as to when it will end.
The people we work with there have become extended family to us at AERA and we have been hearing about the day-to-day there through their eyes which now feels like a foreshadowing of what’s to come here in in the US.
Thankfully, we had completed all the initial production for the first part of this year. We produce in small quantities and are grateful to not be sitting on a lot of excess inventory. And for now, we have had no choice but to temporarily hit the pause button as we know that the slowdown here is imminent and it still remains unclear as to what the long term effects will be on our supply chain.
As we are primarily a DTC company we will creatively continue to try to drive online sales as long as our warehouse stays operational. But, all other forms of business as we know it have ceased. Our pop-up planned here in NYC next month is no longer happening, conversations with select retailers have come to a halt, and all events are postponed or cancelled. This does make it very difficult for a new brand like ours to get exposure in the market.
Our day-to-day business life today relies on a new form of self-discipline with remote teams connecting via phone and video conferences. However, the most difficult part is being forced to implement cost cutting strategies so early on in order to continue to operate under these extreme conditions.
“The most difficult part is being forced to implement cost cutting strategies so early on in order to continue to operate under these extreme conditions.”
From a marketing point of view, we have just created our ad campaign “Luxury Footwear Without A Footprint” which we will be deploying in order to continue to grow the awareness around our mission and hopefully generate on-line sales.
People will remain in isolation at home for the foreseeable future so we will be offering thoughtful brand related content to keep our audience engaged. But, one specific part of AERA’s organic content which has been a powerful tool thus far was generated through our strong celebrity following. As of this week, all requests for samples by stylists for celebrities’ events have stopped, understandably so.
We remain 110% committed to our brand and its mission to put people and the environment first; and, are hopeful that everything pick up again and that the global conversation around sustainability will have even greater relevance when it does.
THE PR: CINDY KRUPP, FOUNDER, KRUPP GROUP
As the founder of PR firm, Krupp Group, Cindy Krupp has found herself in the position of helping her … [+]
First and foremost, we’ve spent the past ten days listening, and listening intently. I’ve gotten on calls with each and every client. I’ve spoken to every member of the media that we work with consistently. And we asked them all: What does your job look like for the next ten days? Two weeks? And what we can we do for you during this time? We are trying to be super sensitive in every conversation we are having. We have to be so thoughtful.
Everyone has a different scenario. We have clients that have their own brick and mortar stores who do not have wholesale business, and we have helped to craft messaging for them. We are able to help most our clients that have a strong e-com business most immediately because they are still getting business.
It’s 2020, so all of our clients have their own communities through their social channels, and I have told all my clients to not go dark. Instead, we are showing what designers are up to, how they are passing time, so they can continue engaging with their loyal consumers. We’ve asked clients to give us every piece of content that we don’t have so we can help them get it out. We are also trying to get some workarounds to do digital press previews.
We’re not making any long-term plans now, only short-term strategy. We have to make decisions in real-time. Everyone’s mentality last week was different than it was this week.
“I have had a good relationship with agency owners, but I know that’s now how the sandbox always is. But we’ve been sharing with each other what we’re doing for our brands. That’s a lovely silver lining to this situation.”
We have clients that have asked to pause their contracts, and I’m accommodating that, because there are certain aspects of our scopes of work that I can’t do right now. I’m trepidatiously proceeding. I’m still navigating it all. It’s scary times. I’m evaluating every expense and what we deem essential and non-essential. I’m evaluating a reduction in the salaries of my staff, while taking the workweek down to 32-hours.
The mental health of my staff right now is where I’ve been spending my energy. We have a lot of young people here who can’t go home, and don’t have family in New York, so a lot of my staff is are alone in their apartments. Every other day we have a virtual water cooler chat and talk about what we are doing, what exercise classes we’re doing, what we’re reading and watching.
I’ve spoken to about 6 other agency owners and asked them what they are doing, and how they are handling specific things like expenses. I have had a good relationship with agency owners, but I know that’s now how the sandbox always is. But we’ve been sharing with each other what we’re doing for our brands. That’s a lovely silver lining to this situation.
We’re going to have to play this by ear for a long time. I’m hoping for the best and planning for the worst.