LONDON — Watch, and wait — and hope for the best.
From China’s Pearl River Delta to the banks of the Hudson and the shores of the Thames, manufacturers, brands and designers are waiting to see when — or if — their Chinese factories, casualties of the coronavirus epidemic, will open again. They are also waiting for quarantined workers to return to the factory floor from their homes around the country.
While some factories around the Pearl Delta area in the southeastern part of China have resumed production, they are working with skeleton staffs. Travel restrictions within China have made it hard for workers to get back to factories that have already reopened as Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, sits at the center of China’s transportation network.
In Shanghai, Chenfeng Group, a manufacturer for Uniqlo and a dozen designer brands, including Haizhenwang, Chenpeng, Feng Chen Wang and Xu Zhi, won’t let anyone go into its plants. Factories along the Yangtze River, which travels through major manufacturing cities such as Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing and Shanghai, have been ordered by Chinese authorities to halt production until at least early March.
While most brands’ spring/summer 2020 collections were already delivered to stores before COVID-19 broke, sampling, production, packaging and deliveries have been severely disrupted. Brands say that the full impact of the virus won’t be felt until pre-fall.
Everyone is affected, no matter how large or small: Burberry has canceled its Shanghai fashion show, which was scheduled for April 23, and is waiting to set a new date, while designers and brands including Steven Tai, DanShan and Temperley London are waiting by the phone for the call telling them the factories are back in action.
Xiao Li, a London- and Shanghai-based designer best known for her pastel knitwear, has been calling every factory she knows in China to see if they have reopened. Development of her new season’s collection has been severely disrupted.
“Almost all of the factories I work with are closed. One design from my new collection requires three suppliers: denim, knitwear and silicone accessories, and none of them is open. I don’t even know how shall I face Paris now,” said Li.
Steven Tai, who splits his time between London and China, said the situation is equally bad in Macau SAR, where his factory is based. For the first time in the region’s history, the casinos have been shut to prevent the virus from spreading.
“We get announcements through the city broadcast, in Chinese and English, to tell us to not go out, to reduce going out for work or anything else,” said Tai.
As a result, he’s had to make changes to his fall 2020 collection. “We will have maybe only 60 percent of my initial collection. Fabrics are missing, so the entire story has to be reconsidered. It might not be what we initially planned, but this is going to be a memorable collection,” he said.
Alessia Pasin, managing director of Huishan Zhang, said her brand is one of the lucky ones. The designer Zhang, who divides his time between the U.K. and China, has managed to make it to London and is currently in self-quarantine ahead of his show, which takes place on Monday.
“We do a lot of the deliveries for spring/summer and sampling for the fall/winter show for before Chinese New Year. So we haven’t had any disruptions as of yet,” she said. Although Zhang’s China atelier has only just reopened, the company is confident it will be able to meet its deadlines and deliver the entire spring/summer collection by the end of March.
Other companies might not be able to do the same, which is why Pasin said members of the industry will have to pull together and help each other.
“We know that every single business is affected in a way, large or small, because everyone has a component or a raw material, like cotton, that comes from China. I think that it will be a real show of community at some point where people will have to be a little bit more understanding and flexible,” she said.
She added that the brand is also hoping to communicate with Chinese buyers — and other customers who cannot travel — via WeChat to show and sell the collection.
“There are plans for making videos of all of the looks on WeChat. They can kind of pre-see our look book images and then say, ‘We would love to see this or that live’ so we’ll put it on a model. It’s just about showing them newness and then if we need to, we can send samples back to China and to them. Sometimes in a crisis you have to think outside the box.”
Other brands are thinking in a similar vein. With fashion weeks in Beijing and Shanghai postponed, brands now are looking into live-streaming their collections to buyers.
Although the bulk of Temperley London’s collections are produced in Europe, the printed silk dresses come from China and the brand, like its peers, is playing the waiting game.
“We are in touch with our partners, our producers every day now, and we’ll know on Monday whether the factories can open,” said Luca Donnini, the brand’s chief executive officer. “Luckily fabrics have been delivered, but now the problem is the manufacturing and there will be a delay.”
He said he plans to ask key wholesale accounts to be sympathetic with any delays in deliveries stemming from the factory closures. The Temperley spring and summer collections, which are heavy on silk, were due to drop at the end of February and into March.
Douglas Fang, whose family company owns Pringle of Scotland as well as Fang Brothers knitwear manufacturing plants in eastern and southern China, said it’s hard to estimate how long manufacturing delays will last. Fang Brothers makes private-label knitwear mostly for American brands.
Speaking specifically about Fang Brothers, he said: “Right now, business is not at the top of everybody’s mind. I think it is really about putting the people first, trying to tackle this virus, contain it, and — fingers crossed — it will start coming down. Then I think people will be in the right frame of mind to talk about everything else.
“One thing for sure: We will have delays. We will, of course, try to catch up as much as possible. And this is not about one business, one sector. Everything is backed up, the yarn mills, the freight orders, the packaging companies. You don’t work in isolation, you work in a network and everyone is facing a lot of uncertainties. It is very difficult for everyone,” he said.
Fang added that not knowing is the most difficult part. “Everyone is sort of going by what we went through with SARS back in 2003 and lasted about four months. One thing for sure, this time the virus is a lot more in the media. It is on everybody’s mind, and I think the government has been very decisive this time and very quick and committed in tackling this.”
DanShan, the London-based men’s brand designed by Danxia Liu and Shan Peng Wong, has been able to skirt some of the consequences of the virus. The brand, which is currently working from a studio at Sarabande, the Alexander McQueen foundation, showed its fall/winter 2020 collection at Pitti Uomo in Florence, and delivered its spring collections before Chinese New Year.
Their problem is now with the Chinese retailers. “They are revisiting all of their budgets,” said Liu, because stores are either shut or if they are open, no one is shopping.
Liu has also had to put future plans on hold. “We have some special projects going on at the moment but we can’t start purely because of the factory situation. Everything is pending at the moment and that is a little bit worrying. We just need to figure things out. I guess everyone is now having the same problems, everybody has got their own situation to face,” she said.