Independent designers are often the industry’s vanguard, finding new, sometimes scrappy, ways to bring their ideas to market. But as the coronavirus expands globally, it is these same smaller brands that are the most vulnerable while navigating the fallout from the pandemic.
Like the world around them, the designers who make up the accessories market — from jewelers to footwear — are finding ways to cope, personally and professionally. Some are lending a hand with donations, while others are sharpening their focus, fostering a community through a digital narrative.
Here in part two of a series, WWD sheds light on independent accessory designers.
Aurora James, founder and creative director, Brother Vellies
I’ve been looking at Brother Vellies less as a business and more as an immediate family and greater community right now. My number-one concern is the health of everyone we are working with first and then our home away from home at the studio second. We have pivoted a lot of our production focus to lower price point, feel good products that support our artisan communities most directly and quickly as well. The number-one thing we can do now and in the next few months is to operate from a place of faith and frugality other than fear.
Susan Korn, founder and designer, Susan Alexandra
This is a time when we as humans and as business owners need our communities. For many of my fellow designer friends, our work revolves around wholesale partnerships. Most stores are canceling orders that have already been produced at great cost, which is extremely destructive for our small businesses. I am asking my community to support and know we are doing the best we can to fulfill orders. Where we spend our dollars in this time is so crucial. This entire situation puts so much in perspective. The overconsumption, the needless costs, the waste, all of which are rampant in modern-day fashion. After the dust has settled, there will be an inevitable shift and reset. The new dawn of fashion is upon us.
Over the past nine years, I’ve carefully curated a list of retailers who share my vision and design direction. I’ve worked hard to maintain these relationships and value their support of my brand.
In a time when many designers are scrambling for sales and offering discounts, I’m donating a portion of my proceeds to COVID-19-relevant charities rather than undercutting my loyal boutiques.
In the days and months ahead, retailers and designers will work together to create and share content that feels thoughtful and relevant. We are mindful that jewelry and luxury goods might seem frivolous in these uncertain times, but people do want to be distracted by beauty. Not only does jewelry uplift our spirits, it marks occasions and gift-giving is now more important than ever.
Lauren Bucquet, Labucq
We’re very fortunate at Labucq to already have a very lean operation, and thankfully that means no layoffs or employment consequences for our brand. We are still pulling back costs wherever possible — specifically holding almost all digital marketing efforts, since we feel like now is not the time to be pushing luxury products, and we also want to save our best assets for a time when our customer will be more receptive and ready to shop. We’ve also made decisions to slow down our release schedule in response to the slower consumer demand as well as rising air-freight costs. For example, last week when a new style was ready to ship from our Italian factory, we decided to ship by sea (instead of our normal air shipping method) to save significant costs, postponing its arrival to a better time for the market in mid-April.
We’re on the cusp of placing orders for our fall 2020 production, and we’ll certainly be thinking more conservatively as we decide what to put into work. So much about what we’re going through is uncertain, and I think we’ll all be feeling the effects of this for some time.
Ali Grace, Ali Grace Jewelry
During this unprecedented time, it is imperative to remain strong, positive, united and use our creativity. At Ali Grace Jewelry, we have been using this time to think outside of the box. We are tossing aside the rules of traditional sales and retail formulas to better support our clients and our relationships near and far. Many of our retail locations, for instance, Allora by Laura in Montecito, Calif., are collaborating on marketing campaigns, focusing on the idea of shopping small and generating as much awareness as possible. Additionally, we are collectively sharing ideas on how to drive sales through e-commerce, e-mail marketing, social media platforms, digital trunk shows and preorders.
Personally, I am encouraging clients to shop directly on my web site, where I am offering 20 percent of sales as a donation to the nonprofit No Kid Hungry. A win-win scenario where I can support a cause directly affected by COVID-19 while still stimulating my business in a personal and professional way.
We are all in this together. It’s vital to keep the community alive as we navigate through this period of uncertainty.
Genevieve Foddy, designer and owner, Genevieve Rose Atelier
I find myself in a very fortunate position during the crisis as I already work from home and am well set up to continue to do so and practice social isolation. Furthermore, as I make all of my orders custom, I am thankfully not sitting on stock that is unable to be sold or shipped at this time. The down side is that my business is very much seasonal, and like so many other bridal and derby designers, my customers’ events have largely been canceled, so there is little demand for these pieces right now. I’m taking a long-term philosophical view of this and I’m using this time to improve my web and social media messages, exploring new customer and influencer relationships for the future and really analyzing my customers’ needs to make even better designs for next season.
Jen Rush, designer, Rush Jewelry Design
I am a goal-oriented person who finds calm in making to-do lists and checking the items off as I go! So I have been using my time at home in terms of my business to plan for the fall and into 2021. The quiet time (although I have three kids “distance learning” online all at the same time — so not that quiet!) has given me the ability to get creative. I am drawing more, working at the bench more, and working on my photography skills. It’s also been nice having my kids home from college — my son and I are teaching ourselves Photoshop. As a small business I am able to adapt in real time fortunately. So I am making the most of it. I find the “hands on” stuff gives me a great sense of accomplishment.
Right now I’m working from home as much as possible — FaceTime with my team and lots of screen shares! I’m trying to keep me hands busy and making things — my husband and I have been working on some clay jewelry that I plan to sell and give the proceeds to No Kid Hungry. I’m hoping that this time at home will help me to really do some inner work that has been needed. I hope we’ll all come out better for this in the long run.
It was with a heavy heart that I decided to close my shop two weeks ago as a precautionary measure. To keep my staff and my customers safe.
All my artisans and I are self isolating as we ride out the crazy, keeping in touch via WhatsApp and sending out funny memes to keep up the morale.
Same with my customers who have been extraordinary, sending me heartwarming messages of support and buying the jewelry via my Insta posts. I’m completely blown away by people’s loyalty and concern.
As for the future, I’m designing a new collection as we speak and as always I look to the future with optimism. To reopening my store with a party, to seeing new designs come to life, to seeing all my peeps in real life and hopefully to big warm hugs.
Karma El Khalil
This has been a powerful time of inner journeying. All of my actions are geared toward protecting my health and that of others, and creating balance. I have experienced moments of deep inspiration, creativity and beauty, as well as instances of fear, anger and great sadness. I believe in connecting with the pain and anxiety of our reality, and in sitting with our discomfort. I have found that embracing everything about this, the good and the bad, is connecting fully with life, and right now what we all really need is connection.
In terms of my business, I have prioritized what is most essential to me — protecting myself, safeguarding and supporting others, and finding balance. I’m not thinking about making money right now. This is a time to give to and of ourselves.
If we can respond to this crisis with courage, awareness, truth and love, we will be as prepared as possible for whatever comes tomorrow.
There are a number of ways that I’m spending this extra time keeping in my mind the future of my brand and my creativity. I have looked into taking various online courses and learn about different creative industries that have I always been interested in. Looking into and learning about different creative avenues has always helped me in my creative process when designing jewelry. I am also using this time to create and design pieces that look to the future sentiment of celebration and joy once this period is over and everyone is able to see and meet their family and friends. Although this phase will eventually pass, it will alter our behavior — the way we shop and businesses are run. Preparing for this shift will be key to succeeding in the future. I think we will see a major shift in where businesses are spending money and a focus on online marketing and campaigns especially for independent designers.
Jill Martinelli and Sabine Le Guyader, cofounders and designers of Lady Grey
We are quarantining in Brooklyn with our families. Both of us have babies now, so we are trying to manage working from home and also making the most of the extra time we have with our little ones! It’s not easy by any means, but we both have a very strong awareness of how privileged we are to have our health and freedom, and we aren’t taking any moment for granted.
We’ve teamed up with our friend Emily Farra (Soft Skincare, Vogue) and we are donating a portion of our online sales to help raise money to purchase and import N95 masks for doctors and nurses at New York City hospitals. We’ve always battled with promoting jewelry in times of crisis, of which there have been many over the past four years. As futile as it may seem, we always do our best to make our hard work count for the greater good. We’ve been honored to share our profits with so many wonderful and important charities over the years, and we hope our business can survive this crisis in order to continue doing so.
As for the future — we are taking it day by day, both professionally and personally.
Tull Price, founder of FEIT
FEIT has always prided itself on being a company focused on less-is-more, quality versus quantity, with a lean backend supporting it. That said, it is not set up to do no business at all, therefore we are cutting costs where we can, turning things off, slowing things down, pushing out timelines, delivery dates, requesting rent freezes and focusing the time and energy we have on our online business and protecting our staff. I believe we will come out of this crisis a leaner and better business.
Coco Dotson and Breezy Dotson, Coco and Breezy Eyewear
We actually took extra precautions early on. Our team has been working from home for almost three weeks now. We are still processing online orders with a slight delay — and we just have one team member dedicated to that task so multiple people aren’t in and out of our office. During this time we’ve been able to tap back into how our company and brand ethos was originally created. It was first created in our living room, we had no money, came up with the best ideas, and we used unfiltered content on social media as our free marketing tool.
We as founders have multiple verticals — we are also DJs and cofounders of a retreat property in the Catskills called The Lorca. While eyewear sales are down — everyone is escaping the city and heading to the Catskills — we’re continuing to give our core audience a tangible product by doing Instagram live DJ sets. This is our version of unfiltered content, which is free marketing for the brand that keeps an emotional connection.
The goal is to not sell the product, but to share the lifestyle.
Annette Lasala Spillane, founder, Limnia
We hope to get through this by having our tiny team work from home and continue to serve online. For the upcoming months, we intend to stay connected to our community online via e-mail/ text/social media and are thinking creatively about how we can survive this while remaining very sensitive to this situation we are all in.
Courtney Bagtazo, founder and designer, Bagtazo
Bagtazo was unable to ship spring 2020 orders to stores as closures were announced the same week we received inventory from our manufacturers. I proposed to share the inventory with my retailers for online sales, and all have agreed. We are cross-marketing together and collaborating on social media in effort to support each other.
Regarding the upcoming months, as a small business, Bagtazo has maintained a lean team and overhead, so the goal is to ensure all open receivables are paid (our manufacturers are independent makers, so getting them paid for the production they delivered is my highest priority), which will be straining but can be done. However, in order to do so, we are pausing all future plans such as pop-ups and market week arrangements for the time being.
Spring 2021 designs are still being worked on, but I may need to make all samples in-house, or pause sample making until we have clarity on how long this lasts.
Diana Harber, brand manager, Coclico
At Coclico we are taking things day by day, prioritizing the health and safety of our employees while staying positive about what things may look like in coming months. In order to adapt to the temporary closure of our retail locations, we are offering more services to our online customers, including virtual store shopping appointments, extended return policies, and the addition of preorder as our shoes are all produced in a small family-owned factory in Spain.
We are continuing to talk to our community and looking at this as an opportunity to engage with them in a more personal way with the hope that we can grow relationships during this time and come back even stronger when it’s all over.
Leonora Arslani, founder, Giovanna
I’m trying so hard to stay positive during this time. I truly feel that this is a transitional moment for everyone, myself included. I’m getting a real perspective on what matters most and I’m hearing the same from so many people. It’s so incredible to see the human connection, all while social distancing. It’s what is keeping us all going. In the meantime, I am doing what I can to help — I am a seamstress so I began sewing face masks from home and will be working with Masks for Medicine to donate to their efforts.
During this time we thought it would be great to highlight some of the artisans that work with us in Brazil. Our clients and community know that Mari Giudicelli is about quality and longevity above all, so we are reinforcing some of the very special people we work with that help distinguish our brand.