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How agency Claret Showroom is handling Covid-19

Claire Spencer-Churchill and Alex Lyles, co-founders of agency Claret Showroom and resortwear trade show Splash Paris, explain how they are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

We are the European distributor for seven of our brands, and also cover the US and Middle East markets for some of those. When the lockdown happened in the UK, we contacted our brands, which are based around the world. We wanted to find out what stage they were at with submitting autumn 20 orders to their factories – we are still making amendments to those – but, more pressingly, production of pre-autumn 20 and, of course, the remainder of spring 20.

While our priority is to honour our contracts and orders with our brands, we are at the mercy of our customers – the retailers – in this unimaginable scenario. Initially, some of our brands, in countries where the crisis hadn’t hit as hard at that point, were of the mindset that this would be a short-term problem and that business should return to normal quite quickly.

That made negotiations hard but, as the virus spread further over the following days and directly affected their own countries, they felt the impact themselves and became more aware of the need to partner as much as possible to mutually overcome this hugely difficult time and protect future trading relationships.

We have been speaking with retailers as regularly as possible, listening to them explain their differing circumstances and offering discounts and payment plans as needed for spring 20 payments. On the whole, the independents have been more communicative and eager to make a plan with us than some of the [large retailers] on whom we had been depending for our cashflow.

It will be matter of adapting case by case until more of a norm sets in again

Of course, they are businesses too, but if they use their powers to act as ruthlessly as some have tried, then what hope do we or our smaller brands have for survival? It can’t be about protecting big profit margins – we all have to take a hit and not forget about those at the end of the chain that need support the most, the factory workers.

We also own and run Splash Paris, a premium resortwear trade show that takes place biannually in the city. Our next show was scheduled for the end of June for resort 21 collections. We cancelled the show last week, as did the other trade shows set to take place during Paris Fashion Week.

As sad and disappointing this has been, we have at least had some helpful conversations with our brands and buyers, sharing thoughts and ideas between us on how the coming seasons might be handled. Some brands won’t be able to produce a resort collection for the typical selling dates as their factories are closed and won’t open in time.

Many buyers don’t envisage travelling overseas for that market, and expect to see some collections virtually if they can’t see them locally. It seems each retailer and brand will have their own set of needs and abilities, and it will be matter of each adapting case by case until more of a norm sets in again.

One thing most people seem to be agreed on, however, is that the industry is far overdue a shake-up of the delivery schedule, so that retailers will be able sell a coat at full price when it gets cold and a bikini at full price when the sun comes out. This year that schedule might be unavoidable with the inevitable production delays but perhaps it will stick. Our next Splash Paris show is scheduled for 3-5 October during Paris Fashion Week for spring 21 collections. We longingly await that time, when we hope to be able to connect with our friends and partners again.

Read the Drapers Interview with Claire Spencer-Churchill and Alex Lyles 


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