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'I hope the fashion industry learns from this': three designers' reactions to coronavirus

astrid andersen autumn 20

Three designers who show at London Fashion Week and London Fashion Week Men’s tell Drapers how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their businesses

London Fashion Week Men’s physical shows have been cancelled. Designer Bianca Saunders tells Drapers about alternative solutions, moving the business back home and the difficulties of creating a collection during the coronavirus.

Designer Bianca Saunders

Designer Bianca Saunders

“It would have been difficult for me to be a part of LFWM because I don’t have access to my studio, so it’s a bit of a relief [that it’s cancelled]. 

Men’s fashion week is important because buyers get to see the clothes move and on real people. It’s fine if you’re doing a lookbook, but the show gives the collection a mood and shows that the collection is wearable – much more than images can represent. It is important for small brands like mine to generate excitement, as it brings following and customer interest.

I’ve done four presentations before, but no-one’s seen me do an actual show, and it was my next brand move for June. Part of the disappointment is that I won’t have the opportunity to try this.

I was also speaking to certain brands about collaborations and now I can’t get in contact with them – no one knows their budget for the coming season, and no one can move right now. Having a creative job is not ideal at the minute.

We’ve started to reach out to buyers. Luckily, we finished sealing the deal for orders for autumn 20. Another alternative to LFWM could be showing in a pre-season or within womenswear in September, but no one knows what’s happening. One more consideration would be to put together a lookbook and capsule collection instead, but my collections are quite small in general, and don’t need to be cut down further.

bianca saunders autumn 20

Bianca Saunders autumn 20

Usually when I start a collection, I go out to fabric shops, suppliers are actually at work so they can get back to me quicker, I can visit factories and seamstresses which I can’t do now. Luckily I have a few online suppliers who are still working this season, so I can order from them.

Internships are cancelled and universities have put their work placement schedules on hold because of the virus. It’s nice being able to teach people, but most students will have to go back to their third year of university with no experience. Having a work placement student with me was making it easier to make plans and spread the workload, too.

At the moment, I’ve moved the majority of my things back home and I’m focusing on designing. I have a room set up that has my notes for the new season, and luckily we still have the internet, which I’m grateful for.

I can do research online, but the pace of motivation has been slow, and I’m adjusting to it.

I’ve just set up a sewing machine, but I don’t have anyone to do fittings on properly – models aren’t allowed to work and I don’t have access for people to try on the clothes. Even producing online content has been difficult. I’m enterprising and trying to be creative within my limits.

I make my own patterns and the majority of my social media. Apart from that, I have two people who I’m working with. One is an intern and the other I’ve worked with for a while – we’ve been working on the brand’s website.

What this has taught me is how to prepare for things without help from lots of people. Before this, I didn’t want to have an online shop. But If I had one, I would have clothes on the website already selling.

Finance and not being paid on time is an issue at the moment. I can’t get in contact with stockists. No one’s made payments to me, and if I don’t have money then I can’t make anything.

Creating a collection needs a budget even if you’re not showing it – it costs to make a lookbook.

I’ve had a lack of response with vendors paying on time. I can sympathise, but I’m a small fish and I do need my payments to keep the ship moving.

Luckily I’ve only had to cancel a few things for one store. The factory didn’t make the majority of the order, and I didn’t lose too much money. I have a couple of spring 20 stock items left that I don’t know what to do with as I don’t have the capacity to store them at the studio or at my house.

If I were a bigger brand, it would be more difficult – I don’t have full-time employees and no one is depending on me apart from my factory and stockists, so I have less liability.

I don’t have any of the collection selling online at the moment because of delivery and access. When we went into lockdown I was unable to get to the factories, there were fabrics missing and deliveries being late.

My studio is in Brixton, but I’ve moved back to Brockley where I live. After things die down I might stay at home for now to save money, because if we’re in the same situation for three months it will be more convenient for me to stay here until the pace picks up with buyers. I think it’s about being smart about cashflow, cutting back and making sure I have enough to survive and not close up shop.

I’m using this time to rethink the business’s problems – including the branding of things, the website, the brand as a whole and taking it as an opportunity to plan better. I’m trying to see this as a positive thing. It’s all anyone can do.

bianca saunders autumn 20

Bianca Saunders autumn 20 “Videolight” presentation at London Fashion Week Men’s

Irish-born desgner Katie Ann McGuigan on the need for community, a shift towards sustainability, and the impact of the pandemic on smaller brands such as her own

Katiemcguigan byroryjames 19 crop

Designer Katie Ann McGuigan

I, like many people, have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime. It’s an uncharted territory, and I have to allow myself to learn, adapt and be flexible, as things evolve and change.

I run a small team, which, in some ways, is a blessing during times like these, as people aren’t put out of a job and income. This also means I am still able to continue the design process, working from home, developing ideas for next seasons collection, as well as future projects.

Katie ann mcguigan (5)

Katie Ann McGuigan autumn 20

Luckily the internet and how connected we can all be has really aided this, and allowed my team and I to still progress with our work. I have discovered screen sharing, which has been a great way to stay visually creative while working with others.

Economic and financial concerns are, of course, at the forefront for everyone, and possibly even more so for a smaller brand like my own.

I am lucky enough to be back at my family home in Ireland, where I continue to work on my brand and its future endeavours.

I have always wanted to expand upon my range, creating an entire world around the garments I design. After working in collaboration with Irish company Orior Furniture on my autumn 20 collection, we have decided to resume our partnership, and work on a lifestyle range, including floor rugs, wallpaper and other soft home furnishings. I feel, now, more than ever, home life, a community, and surroundings are vital. I am rebuilding my relationship with these myself, and so this project made perfect sense.

Although fashion is an extremely resilient industry, as we have seen time and time again, the financial and economic impact will be visible, if not detrimental. I hope that the industry can sustain, and overcome this uncertain time, especially without having a huge loss for those, more independent and smaller brands.

I hope that the world, and especially the fashion industry, learns from this. The industry is oversaturated, moving extremely quickly, churning out collections faster than ever before. Maybe this will force everyone to slow down, rethink and minimise the overconsuming culture that it has built up.

This would also aid in terms of sustainability, producing apparel that is meant to last beyond a season, as well as looking into more environmentally friendly and conscious means of production of goods.

Katie Ann McGuigan at her aw20 presentation

Katie Ann McGuigan at her autumn 20 presentation

At the time of writing [April 2020], London Fashion Week in September has not been cancelled. I intend to show my spring 21 collection there. However, as that is still pending, I have considered other means of showing my future collections.

There is no doubt that social media and the internet is more important than ever before. It is the way we are all able to connect with everything that we deem important. I would intend to use platforms such as Instagram and my own website to my advantage: presenting my collection digitally.

Smaller brands, such as my own, will feel a heavier impact from the current situation, as we aren’t supported by a larger conglomerate. I can only be hopeful that this doesn’t diminish the smaller brands and businesses, as that would be detrimental to fashion in its entirety. The British Fashion Council is providing a fantastic initiative, by offering crisis-relief funding. I hope that other councils, conglomerates and communities will follow in pursuit, extending a helping hand, to maintain the emerging designers and smaller brands alike.

Danish designer Astrid Andersen shows her menswear and womenswear collections in London and Copenhagen. She tell Drapers of her hopes that, in the long term, fashion may look to reform its seasonal calendar as a result of the situation.

Astrid Andersen

Astrid Andersen

I run my business from our studio in Copenhagen, and the city has been in a lockdown nearly a month now, which means we work as much as we can from home, and try to focus on running our ecommerce site as efficiently as possible. It has been really amazing to see how understanding and supportive the customer is during this time.

We have had some retail partners cancel orders we received in January and some are even wanting to wait with their spring 20 deliveries, so we are holding this stock as well at the moment. Our main message to our partners is to keep open communication: knowledge is the only thing that will give us a chance to help each other survive this situation. We all need to understand the landscape we are trying to navigate.

We are also facing a challenge setting up the autumn 20 production, since our factories in Portugal and Lithuania are both in lockdown. I feel very strongly that it is important that we try to ride this out together and not start to replace our Italian mills, because more than ever they need our orders when we do return from this.

We are trying to communicate that with our retailers and preparing everyone for the patience that is needed once the delivery window opens again. At the moment, it is a day by day assessment.

As a business, our main concern is keeping to our deadlines and that our partners accept the orders they have committed to. We simply don’t have the cashflow for cancelled orders. The best we can do is stay in close communication with all partners, both in production and retail.

Astrid Andersen autumn 20

Astrid Andersen autumn 20

On a positive note, we also have to focus on the potential boost our ecommerce might continue to experience so we can secure our own independence [as a brand] on the other side of coronavirus.

We have already created an internal system where we only host a [fashion week] show for our autumn collection in January. For the spring collection we do a much tighter edit [of product], and shoot a lookbook or do smaller installations, so we will continue to do so for the coming season.

However, we have already decided to join Copenhagen Fashion Week in August, as the timing and location make a lot of sense for us.

We also want to focus on our archive fabrics in house and create a repurposed capsule to sell direct to consumer. It feels like a relevant time to be considering what we have at hand.

The situation is hard to fully comprehend yet, but there is no doubt that it will affect a lot of smaller businesses, as our cashflows and equity are still so limited, and the cost involved in running a fashion brand is very high compared with the turnover.

Hopefully this will shake up the format of presentation and the [seasonal] calendars in a way that may create more sustainable showcase solutions. Perhaps it could shift the system back to being in season with deliveries, and focusing on fewer, better collections. It could point the consumer directly to brands and their independent ecommerce sites, which would strengthen smaller fashion houses a lot.

I’m yet to fully understand the full support on offer to businesses from the Danish government, as the criteria are still being legislated, but I do have full confidence in our government and how it’s prioritising its resources. I’m mostly proud of our healthcare system and how generations before us created a sustainable and socialistic system that ensures equality in the face of such a pandemic.

astrid andersen autumn 20

Astrid Andersen autumn 20 show at London Fashion Week Men’s

 

 

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • Gracious Store

    Everyone in all field is in one way or the other impacted by this COVID 19 Pandemic, not just the disappointments and cancellation of events, but more so, the uncertainty that goes with this Pandemic

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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