George Heaton is the founder of luxury streetwear label Represent, which is stocked by Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. He tells Drapers how the business is reacting to the impact of coronavirus.
It all started for us at the beginning of March, when Italy began its coronavirus lockdown: store orders were inevitably being cancelled and our Italian factories started to close.
In the same week, we had to postpone our annual pop-store opening in London, a takeover of the menswear space at Harvey Nichols in Manchester and a brand launch at one of our stockists in Australia. We’d also started reconstructing our old warehouse as a new design studio, which has been put on halt.
Thankfully, the crisis has come at a time when Represent had a fantastic sell-through rate and a huge increase in wholesale accounts.
I’m overcoming the disruption by constantly being connected and active
Myself and my team have spent many hours completely re-strategising the next nine months of 2020, based on current data and instinct in response to the current climate.
Represent was originally built as a direct- to-consumer brand. We’ve gained a loyal following through the years by offering an amazing product at our best price point.
Represent’s spring 20 campaign with Lennon Gallagher
We are fortunate enough to be able to fall back on to this stream and put more energy into our direct-to-consumer platform because our dispatch centre is still shipping, and we have more stock because of store closures.
One of the key challenges amid coronavirus is maintaining a steady workflow throughout our supply chain. I’m overcoming the disruption by constantly being connected and active: a lot of Zoom calls, supply chain updates and constant communication.
My ability to make decisions that are right for the brand and how we push forward during this time relies on communication. Personally, I am taking in as much information as possible to be able to understand how we might be able to work around the matter.
We have delivered most of our spring 20 collections [to wholesale partners] and had just started to produce autumn 20. Calling buyers and hearing their thoughts and strategies helped my decision making on how to approach the future of wholesale.
Post-coronavirus, consumer behaviour will change and move towards essential pieces
The crisis has meant that for now, we lost our chance to be stocked at one of the UK’s biggest luxury online retailers for autumn. They have backed out because of business uncertainties. However, we have at least established a rapport with them and will hopefully work with them in the coming seasons.
Unfortunately, our main factories are based in Veneto, Italy, which was at the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe, so our production has really slowed down. We also produce in Portugal, which seems to be on the same course as other areas of Europe, and we are already finding factories in the country are starting to be affected, and closing.
Our factories in the UK are also closed for a minimum of three weeks, so we are looking at delayed lead times for production. We’re going to have to sit tight and wait for new deliveries.
Fashion weeks around the world have been cancelled or postponed. As a result, brand’s interaction with customers will become more digitised. We’d already pulled away from catwalk shows around four seasons ago, and instead have put our effort into content such as short films, mini-documentaries showing how collections are made and Q&As over Instagram Live, where consumers can ask myself and my brother ,Mike, who works closely with me, anything about upcoming collections.
Post-coronavirus, I believe we’ll see a shift in the traditional retail calendar for luxury brands. We’ll see a change in how products are displayed and released, which will be less seasonal, and collections will be smaller.
Consumer behaviour will change and move towards essential pieces.
And hopefully, manufacturing in the UK finally becomes the norm for British brands as they look to create more flexible supply chains.