Terms such as “social distancing” and “PPE” — personal protective equipment, that is — are now part of our daily vernacular due to the epic and swift global response to the coronavirus pandemic. And that means retailers are responding by putting creative solutions forward to help support emerging demands, among other critical measures.
Weekly U.S. consumption trends data from NPD shows that sales for the first week of March (week ending March 7) look similar to last year with 2 percent dollar growth overall, but experts say they expect to see this change over the next two reporting weeks, according to Marshal Cohen, chief industry adviser of retail at NPD.
Cohen said, “We are in the midst of unprecedented times. Work, family, social, health and emotional well-being have all instantaneously changed. This disruption to our entire lifestyle will most certainly change our short and long-term behavior as consumers. Our focus has shifted dramatically. Fear has moved purchases from discretionary to necessity.”
“We are thinking more about finding solutions than fulfilling desires,” he explained.
NPD sees wardrobe and beauty needs changing. Its report said apparel and beauty sales were already slowing at the start of March, but athletic footwear saw a reversal to positive growth during that first week.
Cohen added that major changes and uncomfortable adjustments are under way. “There are endless shifts we will need to plan for. An online sales boost and dominance of buy-online-pick-up [curbside] options are inevitable. We will see Millennials adjust their habits as they face the second financial crisis in their young adult lives. And our supply chain will shuffle between urgent replenishment and halted needs.,” Cohen said.
“The reality is that no one can say when or where this situation will end. Monitoring retail sales and consumer behavior will be key to understanding the COVID-19 outbreak’s impact on retail as it progresses.”
Such Great Heights
Perhaps the most popular solution on the table is retooling to help meet growing demands, according to J. Kirby Best, founder and chief executive officer of OnPoint Manufacturing. Best told WWD, “As everybody knows, we are in unprecedented times and everything seems to be changing by the minute. One thing is for sure, people are going to require goods and services and right now PPE [masks, gowns and scrubs] are some of the items at the top of the list.”
“It is incumbent on us [manufacturers] to pivot quickly to meet those escalating demands,” Best explained. “Late last Thursday, we were requested to consider retooling our plant for PPEs. We pivoted quickly, and by Sunday morning we were in production. By Sunday afternoon we had three significant orders. At this stage we are waiting for the dots to all be connected — that is to say manufactures being paired with suppliers, retailers etc.”
Best likened it to shifts in responsibility during World War II, when the U.S. “stepped up to the plate and washing machine manufacturers pivoted to machine guns, and car manufacturers switched to bombers. We are seeing the same thing today. Yesterday, many of the industry leaders got together to try to organize and match suppliers with manufacturers and customers. It was not only amazing, but also heartwarming how everyone was willing to step up and help. The American spirit lives on!”
A little optimism never hurt. And companies such as Naked Retail Group, a streamlining solution that facilitates brand activations and custom concept stores, said it is making the most of the current situation with the resources they have at their disposal. Naked Retail will launch care packages today to support its brand partners, that include requisite care products to be sold online. Bundled with hand-selected treats and products from the health and wellness space, select care packages include products such as Goli nutrition bottles — think of Apple Cider Vinegar gummies — CBD for Life, a tincture; Plant People Balm and Relief; Asystem Superhuman Supplements; Hers Calm and Focus Tea; Hims Immunity Vitamins; 8 Greens supplements, and sweets like Sugarpova dark chocolate raspberry truffles, among other mood-enhancing items.
Naked Retail Group said “to continually support our brand partners, after being forced to close our stores, we decided to create care packages for the public to purchase via our digital platforms.”
The company told WWD, “In order to adapt to the unfortunate retail climate, [our] curated series of ‘care packages’ [are] designed to not only support our loyal community, but also our brand partners. Regardless of product and category, small businesses are suffering right now, and it’s up to all of us to find new ways to engage our community and help each other.”
And the greatest accessory for social distancing is masks, which are currently being manufactured en masse through rather untraditional methods. Best from OnPoint Manufacturing added that “another interesting development is that I received a call from Gabi Asfour, of Threeasfour. He is working on designer masks that he will sell so he can give back to the hospitals and care workers in New York. Some innovative thinking to help in these uncertain times.”
Or companies such as KES, a sustainable women’s wear brand, said it has shifted its operations to manufacture protective face masks for health-care personnel and overwhelmed hospitals. The brand said it will be producing several thousand sustainable and washable protective face masks that have the potential to prevent the entry of airborne particles as small as 0.1 microns — and to ensure quality, the masks are made in collaboration with Dr. Galit Sacajiu, a New York-based doctor and friend of KES founder Lia Kes.
Kes said, “As a designer, style influencer and community participant, naturally I would want to take care of and design into an urgent need. Our face masks go along the lines of our brand, made locally, thoughtfully, sustainably and functionally. It is offered from biodegradable materials that can be rewashed and reused.”
“Galit and I have been long time friends, and she called me to discuss designing face masks while I was already in the midst of creating a prototype,” Kes explained. “Dr. Galit being in the medical field and having first-hand experience with the shortage of medical supplies in the face of this pandemic created more of a sense of urgency on getting the production started. We spent the time to come up with solutions on how to carefully design and structure the face mask.”
The masks are available for purchase online, with cotton masks retailing at $12 and washable silk masks for $17 available in black, natural and print. And for every face mask purchased, KES will donate one face mask to a health-care professional, the company said, in addition to giving shelters masks — such as Services for the Undeserved — to provide caretakers and shelter residents with protection.
…and even DIY Masks
And then, there are masks with benefits. Textile and specialty chemical producer Devan said it has received many queries over the past few weeks regarding antiviral finishing solutions for textiles against Sars-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The firm has studied enveloped viruses (i.e. H1N1, corona-types, etc.) and naked viruses (i.e. Rotavirus) and said that its BI-OME AV product — a permanent fabric coating and oder control technology that withstands washing, while keeping performance — is suitable for current needs. Right now, Devan is focused on professionals that need to stay working, such as policemen, logistics workers, shop employees or day-care workers, the company said.
“Professionals could be helped with either an anti-bacterial on their face mask to reduce the chance for these secondary bacterial infections, for better hygiene and less odor build-up,” Devan explained. “On workwear, a combination of a virus spread reducing and antibacterial solution could help as these garments are typically used during long hours, are non-disposable and most likely will be washed at home.”
Sven Ghyselinck, ceo at Devan, said “Normal consumers are increasingly making their own face masks. For face masks, the first line of viral protection is the pore size of the fabric or non-woven [physical barrier]. Typical for these homemade face masks is that the pore size of these masks are often not sufficient to block viruses from penetration. To reduce the risk of secondary contamination an anti-bacterial treatment could provide an extra line of protection.”
Ghyselinck added, “We are available for producers, brands and retailers for more in-depth discussions. We also have over 30 tons of chemicals ready to ship throughout the world. Moreover, most of our distributors have local inventory standing — for immediate use.”
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