How Coronavirus Is Impacting Small Fashion Brands

Susan Alexandra

As the world settles into various levels of lockdown amidst the coronavirus pandemic, consumer spending habits have changed drastically. And that behavioral shift is having a crippling effect on small businesses in the fashion industry.

Emerging designers who were previously just trying to stay afloat are faced with the reality of potentially losing everything. They worry about the health of their business and whether they'll be able to continue paying their employees when sales have dwindled to a near-halt. Without storefronts, a working supply chain, and a steady stream of shoppers, their expenses are no longer balanced with profits.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Designer Susan Alexandra believes the lockdown could impact the fashion business in positive ways. The industry might emerge with a renewed focus on sustainability, for example, after realizing how much reduced production helps the environment.

Christina Tung of SVNR is noticing a shift toward community efforts, with brands stepping up to help fight coronavirus. Her company is using their time and resources to manufacture masks for hospitals in desperate need of PPE (personal protective equipment). And the footwear store Margaux is donating 10% of all sales to support health workers on the front lines.

Finally, brands like Roxanne Assoulin are using their reach to lift people's spirits during a time of great distress and uncertainty. "This is everyone’s responsibility," Roxanne tells Bustle. "Consider how you will use your platform to encourage helpfulness and kindness."

Bustle caught up with these designers and more to discuss the state of the fashion industry, what the future holds, and how the average person can help.

Susan Alexandra:

Courtesy of Susan Alexandra

How has the pandemic and social distancing affected sales at the most basic level?

I think this will shift more brands into DTC sales which means we can shave our prices. We are currently running a site wide sale which has helped with sales. I don't think most people are interested in shopping when there is so much un-certainty and nowhere to go. However, fashion can be a means of escapism and in this time, the desire for color and vibrance is at an all-time high.

Has this affected the production process and supply chain?

It's a really confusing and difficult time, no one has a playbook for this. Our big wholesale partners have all sent ominous emails about canceling orders or delaying shipment and payment until fall. The way we work is that orders are produced on our own dime and now we have to sit on huge quantities of merchandise that is not being accepted. Our office is also closed until further notice. We have had plans to seek a storefront by end of 2020 which are also on hold.

I am SO lucky that all of our bags are hand made in NYC. Our manufacturers are still able to create and produce and in fact, more than ever are asking for orders as they are able to produce orders from the safety of their homes.

How will this impact your business in the long term?

The fashion industry will be flipped on its ass and rightly so. I believe that connecting to our audience directly versus with wholesalers will be our salvation. After this, I am more excited than ever to work with our community and to grow it further.

Will the fashion industry go back to normal after this period or do you think it’s forever changed?

It has to be changed. It's not sustainable. Where do we think we're going when we generate so much? Our planet is aching for change and we must be the seeds of that change. We don't need 6 sales seasons. We don't need fast fashion.

SVNR

Courtesy of SVNR

How has the pandemic and social distancing affected sales at the most basic level?

Our sales have slowed to a halt at the moment, understandably. As a society, our priorities have shifted and it's tough as a business owner to bear. It is upsetting to think our business may be one of the many casualties of this pandemic, but the reality is that we are in survival mode and sacrifices must be made.

Have you had to shutter any showrooms, storefronts, or office spaces to compensate for the loss?

Luckily, since launch, I've kept my overhead relatively low as I've been a one-woman show working out of my apartment, but we do support other businesses, factories, and a sales showroom so we are continuing to support them as best we can.

Has this affected the production process and supply chain?

We've pulled the plug on all new production and I am putting my time and resources to sourcing and manufacturing PPE for our nation's healthcare workers through our Go Fund Me campaign. I'm hoping to raise $10K by Sunday so we can order in bulk and receive higher priority. Our first shipment of 1,000 masks just got packed up and shipped to be distributed to hospitals for healthcare workers.

I make all my jewelry myself in Brooklyn, but my silk dresses are manufactured overseas. Our factory has been so communicative and helpful during these times. We have such a strong relationship, I want to do as much as I can to support the staff there. They just sent over 50 surgical masks with my last shipment a few weeks ago because they heard we were running low.

How can people help?

Purchasing is always greatly appreciated if that's an option for people. Digital gift cards are easy to fulfill, but if customers are willing to wait a bit, ordering physical items is just as great and we can ship at our earliest convenience. Other ways to contribute to designers would be to share their products and stories with your community. Any words of encouragement are also welcome. With all that’s going on, it’s been tough for everyone to feel connected, including designers.

Will the fashion industry go back to normal after this period or do you think it’s forever changed?

I hope this is a wake-up call to the excessiveness in the industry. In recent years, we have definitely seen progress with sustainability in production, sourcing, and design, but this pandemic has made it crystal clear how quickly reduced consumption directly impacts the environment. Everything in fashion is cyclical and consumption is no different, but I hope for a new normal that what we are learning through this situation, we will never un-know.

Roxanne Assoulin

Courtesy of Roxanne Assoulin

How has the pandemic and social distancing affected sales at the most basic level?

It’s affected sales from all sides. Most people are focusing on their priorities: their wellbeing, the wellbeing of their families, what their best decisions are based on the most current information available. We can’t only see this as something negative. What it has given us is a chance to be more creative in a new kind of way.

We are redefining what relevance is and what value means to our customers. We are also deciding as a team what our posture is in critical times like these. We’re focusing on tiny small ways to distract from the doom and gloom, things that make you smile and maybe [give you] a chuckle… we want to always give the option to look on the bright side.

In the fall, we developed three bracelets with sayings that people seem to find grounding right now: They read "this too shall pass, faith not fear, ride the wave.” Those hit at just the right time.

How can people help?

No one is in this for themselves anymore. We are in this together, as a truly global community. It's an opportunity and a platform for people to connect differently and on a deeper level. This is everyone’s responsibility: consider how you will use your platform to encourage helpfulness and kindness.

Are you participating in any donation programs or manufacturing supplies to help fight coronavirus?

We are planning to give some of the proceeds from an upcoming bracelet to support those brave and courageous health care workers on the front lines. We are also looking to gift our products to some of the doctors and nurses to brighten up their day. This pandemic is a reminder that supporting organizations all year round is especially important. We are constantly donating to charities that make sense to us, such as ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Unicef, LGBTQ, amongst others.

Will the fashion industry go back to normal after this period or do you think it’s forever changed?

I doubt it. Change is in the air. You can fight it or embrace it. I’ve been around long enough to know that the fighting is useless.

La Ligne:

Courtesy of La Ligne

How has the pandemic and social distancing affected sales at the most basic level?

Fashion brands across the board are suffering when it comes to sales as consumer spending habits have understandably changed. As a digitally native brand, the majority of our sales are generated from our e-commerce business which is still up and running for the time being.

We did take the necessary action to temporarily close our New York City store on Madison Avenue, which of course has an impact and we've had to postpone previously scheduled trunk shows through May.

Has this affected the production process and supply chain?

There have been impacts on supply chain, whether it is [garments] produced in NYC or in China. Given our ability to move product delivery dates around at our discretion, we are, however, more able to adapt than others. But of course, the lack of in-person design meetings or fittings naturally affects the overall design and production process.

How are you protecting your employees during coronavirus?

Our employees and their well-being are our top priority. We advised our corporate team to work from home (they will continue to be paid throughout) and we are maintaining a positive and connected approach. We have been doing team-wide daily zoom brainstorming sessions and implemented virtual office happy hour on Friday's to keep spirits lifted.

Will the fashion industry go back to normal after this period or do you think it’s forever changed?

This is undoubtedly an unchartered time for the fashion industry, but we believe it is strong, resilient, and ever evolving. There will be changes, perhaps a larger lean into the digital aspect of a business, but we remain optimistic for the future. It’s important for brands, designers and everyone within the industry to come together to support each other and adapt to what’s going on in the world. There is a need for community now more than ever and for customers to feel connected to the brands they are shopping.

Amélie Pichard:

Courtesy of Amélie Pichard

How has the pandemic and social distancing affected sales at the most basic level?

Our main customers are French and American, so last week we lost 99% of our sales. We stopped advertising as well. I think people need to refocus on themselves for a while, and I think it's good and totally normal. I am not sure that brands like mine should propose discounts because they are worried about their sales. It won’t be of any help...We have to overcome those hardships patiently. It's just the beginning.

I stopped my relationship with fashion rules in 2017, so I show collections as soon as it’s ready to my customers. I usually take my inspiration from the process of agriculture and try to replicate it in some ways in my work to rethink the fashion [business model]: a direct sale, a company on a human scale, a de-standardization, a sustainability of craftsmanship, a natural rhythm, a technology at the service of good innovation...I promote the "buy less, buy better, create less, make it better" [approach].

How can people help?

I don't think they have to support either small brands or big brands. It's not a fight between David and Goliath. People just need to make better choices. Know what they buy, think about it, make inquiries about what they buy. Like for the news: you have to double check before you can put you trust in them...just buy brands who invest their efforts into making beautiful and good products for people and the Earth.

Will the fashion industry go back to normal after this period or do you think it’s forever changed?

When I saw that in some countries, people lined up outside [a luxury shop] after they lifted their confinements, I felt terrible. Why do they need to buy [from this luxury brand right away]? What do they need to buy a luxury brand item for? To feel more important within society? I have mixed emotions. The fashion industry will change when people will stop wanting to look like their neighbor. The main problem of this industry is the followers. Why don't people want to look different in a world where everything is possible?

Margaux:

Courtesy of Margaux

How has the pandemic and social distancing affected sales at the most basic level?

We've seen a material drop as market uncertainty, inability to leave home, and deep discounts from other retailers impacts consumer spending. But we are fortunate that our Spanish factory was able to ship several orders — including key spring product — before shutdowns in Spain forced them to close this week. With healthy inventory on hand, we are continuing to fulfill orders from our warehouse in Georgia without delay.

How can people help?

We encourage those who are able to continue shopping small and local, whether that means ordering takeout from neighborhood restaurants or shopping from small businesses for everything from pantry staples to at-home workwear. Small businesses have difficulty absorbing losses that result from such unexpected changes in the market, and ones that rely on retail for revenue are hit with particular force under the current circumstances.

Are you participating in any donation programs or manufacturing supplies to help fight coronavirus?

Yes! Now through April 15, Margaux will donate 10% of all sales to support health workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 through donations to Direct Relief and Doctors Without Borders.

Will the fashion industry go back to normal after this period or do you think it’s forever changed?

The markets will rebound, and the world will right itself eventually (hopefully someday soon). The brands that survive will be those who were and are able to quickly adapt to a rapidly changing environment—and those who can find opportunity where others cannot see it.

Read more here:

Can Coronavirus Live On Clothes? Your Fashion Questions, Answered

What Stores Are Closing Due To Coronavirus? The List Is Growing

Is It Safe To Online Shop With Coronavirus?

We are shining a spotlight on some of the millions of small businesses now challenged by COVID-19. This is part of an ongoing commitment our parent company, Bustle Digital Group, is making to support small businesses throughout the entire month of May. Tell us about your favorite small business on social media using #SmallBusinessSalutes.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC or NHS 111 in the UK for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.