Akin to many New York-based stores during COVID-19, Voz Sanctuary, a brick-and-mortar store by the ethical fashion brand Voz, temporarily closed its doors — and only a year after enduring the many adverse effects of COVID-19, the brand has reopened its store in a new location. Call it a second spring.
Voz Sanctuary launched this week at 178 Prince Street in SoHo, where founder Jasmine Aarons says the brand can finally see its “true vision” become a reality. For Voz, the 2,000-square-foot space of a former gallery serves as an experiential and temporary retail concept shop and e-commerce platform that “fuses fashion, indigenous craft and art from Voz and aligned artists” — and, it doubles up as a community space centered on wellness and spirituality.
Voz is known for its handwoven, one-of-a-kind pieces steeped in ancient South American weaving traditions; just a single item can take up to two months to produce.
And much of Voz’s new retail concept is an amalgam of lessons learned during the pandemic. Aarons, founder and chief executive officer of Voz, told WWD, “The era of COVID-19 has been one of fragility, grace and creating the future we have always imagined. Early on, I realized that everything would change forever, and still is changing, but that timeless, essential designs would continue to be treasured.”
“As a small independent New York-based fashion label, the pandemic has substantially challenged and destabilized our company while showing us what value is permanent and pure about our brand and our community. Our mission is to provide fair trade wages for handmade production in South America and New York. We believe more than ever that the integrity, omnichannel fluidity, sustainability and soul of Voz are future-proofed for the next era to come after COVID-19’s earthquake.”
Aarons said that much like other brands and retailers when the pandemic first hit New York, the brand’s entire time migrated away from the city. “I spent the first months of lockdown fulfilling every online order myself on foot, applying to a thousand grants and loans, and going deeply into digital storytelling. We were able to raise our e-commerce sales substantially and maintain many of our relationships digitally and through COVID-19-safe trunk shows and house calls.”
But Voz’s unique business model that employs rural, Indigenous women, Mapuche artisans located in Southern Chile, to create its luxurious, handwoven items through ancestral weaving techniques, created an added layer of complication during the pandemic. “In Chile, Voz artisans and production leaders have faced immense difficulties as COVID-19 has raged there and the lockdowns (now in their third) have been intensely strict throughout Latin America. Car travel was restricted from neighborhood to neighborhood with police checkpoints. We were blockaded from reaching all our artisans to give them orders and supplies.”
Aarons added, “Our team had to find secret backroads, apply for taxi permits, and plea with policemen in order to continue to create during the pandemic. We are still praying that our weavers stay safe in Araucania and doing our best to get orders to everyone.”
To make matters worse, its former shop — also in SoHo — eventually closed in the fall of last year after months of operating restrictions and rising crime in the neighborhood.
“In 2020, our shop and showroom were closed down and restricted to operate multiple times, and the riots and increased crime in SoHo threatened our security. Thankfully we were safe throughout these hardships. The biggest challenge was the urban flight of our clientele to calmer pastures and the closures of stores and shopping traffic all around us.”
Aarons continued, “When we finally let go of our small shop last fall, not sure how to gamble with the impeding next lockdown and third wave spike, our top customers still yearned for a place to try on Voz in person. At Voz, a company that celebrates the handmade and human connection between maker and wearer, we cannot sever our relationship to the physical realm.”
So, the brand moved on to bigger and brighter things. Eventually, its team expanded with new, energizing talent. And its e-commerce channels grew as its customers and supporters “protected our brand by placing generous orders throughout the pandemic,” Aarons said.
“Our loyal clients and supporters continued to shop by appointment, text message and place special orders for them and their friends and family to help us stay in business. We have never felt so much love and support from our customers and fans as we have experienced getting through this year.”
Aarons noted that the pandemic accelerated omnichannel in retail as it “shifted the whole industry toward the future, one that is both mobile and digital but also grounded in meaning, lasting quality and cultural significance.” In light of this, Aarons speaks of retail’s future in an uplifting tone. “There has never been a better time than now to create new visions, start new businesses and forge new partnerships. We know the future of fashion is sustainable, transparent, culturally diverse and humanly meaningful. At a time when everyone has been forced to e-commerce, we believe that people will crave intimate in-person experiences more than ever before.”
“We are honored to be designers and entrepreneurs in New York City through this time of an epic shift and create, a retail concept built upon the soul of our brand, the artisans at our core, and the community of New York.”
Aarons explained that her vision is to offer “intimate, luxury retail experiences where ceremonial designs and materials can be touched and enjoyed, bringing peace and beauty to all who enter. Here, we will continue to share the oral histories of the symbols and cosmovision of our work, as related to our collective journey to restore harmony with the earth.”
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