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'SS20 is no more': one supplier's view of the coronavirus crisis

Emily Sutherland

Oliver-Matei Buhus, operations director of high street supplier Paragon Clothing, tells Drapers how the coronavirus pandemic is shaking every aspect of fashion retail industry.

The clothing industry has consistently faced instability over the past few years after its slow recovery from the last global financial crisis. Economic headwinds have eroded even the mightiest industry participants. Our most recent shockwave, Brexit, thrust both retailers and suppliers into new and uncharted territory.

But not since World War II has a single incident created such seismic waves as the emergence of the Covid-19 virus, which is in danger of tearing the very seams of our trade. This invisible enemy is simultaneously attacking every component of our supply chain, from thread to shop floor. No business is immune and most certainly none will emerge unscathed.

For the first time in memory, we have witnessed the effective cancellation of a season. SS20 is no more. As a result, there are unavoidable financial blows to every supplier involved. Finished garments have been cancelled, gathering dust in warehouses and retiring as dead stock.

Millions of metres in fabric rolls sit in mills or on factory production floors uncut

Millions of metres in fabric rolls sit in mills or on factory production floors uncut, again set to be retired as deadstock. Buttons, zips and label – to name but a few – are now redundant. Factory storerooms are the morgues of our trade.

Hard losses

Industry-wide, suppliers are forced to absorb direct losses and accrued liabilities. Even the most trusted retailers are simply unable and unwilling to foot any part of the bill. Unfortunately, the old adage “desperate times require desperate measures” rings true. The devastating effects of these cancellations are being further amplified by forced extended payment terms – non-negotiable, of course.

There is little concern for the suppliers that have been – and post-pandemic will continue to be – the mechanics of billion-pound retail businesses.

London-based Paragon Clothing is an established garment supplier that employs teams of dedicated people across the globe, indirectly supporting the livelihoods of tens of thousands of factory workers across six countries of production. We’re relying on self-support to navigate these new waters.

The scope of support offered via highly commendable initiatives by the government is sadly limited, given the complex global infrastructure of our industry that is active all hours of the day across multiple continents.

Looking beyond these troubled times, it is certain that we will be trading in a new landscape post Covid-19 and retailers are currently carving out their positions to ensure their foundations will remain intact. Can blame be apportioned to retailers on behalf of suppliers for their lack of support? The painful truth is that retailers in a fickle, volatile and declining clothing industry cannot absorb a sudden plunge in sales.

Pioneering product has been replaced with pioneering instruments of survival.

The words of one of our most inspirational leaders, Sir Winston Churchill, are particularly suited to these modern times of distress: Success is not final. Failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

One thing is for certain, we will all be pioneers in a new industrial era once the crisis subsides.

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