Employees at Lafayette 148 headquarters making hospital gowns, while practicing social distancing.

Following retail’s lead, wholesale brands based in the U.S. are making plans to reopen their companies as soon as they get the go-ahead from their respective state governors.

WWD surveyed a host of companies about what their strategies will be in terms of sanitizing the workplace, staggering the workforce and hours, use of mass transit, child care (if their employees’ kids are still home from school), social distancing in the office, taking employees’ temperatures and wearing face masks while at work. The other question posed was how they’ll conduct market appointments (digitally appeared to be the most common response).

On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York laid out a list of safety precautions that each business must put in place before reopening. That includes adjusting hours and shifts to reduce density in the workplace; enacting social distancing protocols; restricting non-essential travel for employees; requiring workers and customers to wear masks if they are in frequent contact with each other; implementing strict cleaning and sanitation practices; enacting continuous health screenings for anyone entering the workplace; continuing tracing, tracking and reporting of cases, and developing liability processes.

Cuomo has not said how long the stay-at-home orders will remain in place in New York, although lifting them in less-hard-hit regions will come before the highly dense areas such as New York City. He did say that when businesses are allowed to reopen, those considered “more essential with low risk of infection in the workplace and to customers will be prioritized.”

While several companies such as VF Corp., Tory Burch, Theory, Rag & Bone, Capri Holdings, Diane von Furstenberg and Rebecca Minkoff said they have yet to finalize their plans, a few major women’s and men’s vendors spoke about how they’re formulating their strategies to return to work.

Deirdre Quinn, cofounder and chief executive officer of Lafayette 148, which has employees currently sewing hospital gowns for medical personnel at their Brooklyn Navy Yard headquarters (socially distanced apart), said, “You can call 30 ceo’s and get 30 different answers,” when asked when New York-based wholesale companies might open.

She said she’s been able to understand  best practices from her Chinese operation, which has reopened its offices there. They have reduced business hours, employees have to wear a mask, they disinfect frequently and take their staff’s temperatures twice a day. Employees bring in their own food.

As for the New York strategy, she said, “Obviously I’m not going ask people to go on mass transit. We have parking in the Navy Yard. I will separate who has to come in to get their job done. There are people in finance who can work from home,” she said.

The brand has set up a virtual showroom, to open resort June 15. Lafayette 148 has 25 stores globally, and needs to do the buy for its China and U.S. stores. “June is a digital market and I’m really kind of proud of it,” she said.

Quinn doesn’t think her New York flagship store on Madison Avenue will open before June 1 or 15.  “I don’t want to be first, I want to see some traffic. I’m not in a hurry to open up and not have customers. I don’t want to pull people off of furlough. Now we have to deal with the rent, nobody’s given anybody breaks and at the same time, nobody’s paying,” she said.

The company has six people working in the warehouse so she’s not rushing the store openings. “I’d rather be a follower.” Her Atlanta store is under construction and will open in July.

“I might be one of the few people who will open resort,” Quinn said. She’s shooting three videos: Showroom looks, inspiration and runway. They’re doing flat shoots of all the styles and stockkeeping units and is making fabric rings for people who want to buy it, so they can feel the fabric. She’ll send it to the stores and then ask them to send it back.

Once things start to recover, Quinn said she plans to rethink the business, with more of an emphasis on direct-to-consumer. “I want to be wherever our customer wants to go. Where does she want to shop? Is it online? Is it in her home? Is it in a specialty store? Is it in a department store? It doesn’t matter. When we come out of this, we want to go more into custom-made. We’re going to change it back to be much more made-to-order.” She said the company can make money that way because it owns the factory, “especially if you rebalance what percentage of your business is direct versus wholesale.”

When her freestanding stores reopen, they will take the temperatures of employees. She’ll also do appointments so people can come in without anyone else there, which works well in a neighborhood store. “China was doing that anyway. We want to clean the dressing room after every use, before the store opens in the morning and evening,” Quinn said.

She’s eager to reopen the company because she has to start shooting her catalogue and be ready to open its virtual showroom.

“As soon as New York lets us, which seems like June 1, I’m all over it,” she said. Lafayette 148 has 100,000 square feet in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “The issue will be ‘Can they do carpooling?’ I’ll have limited hours. It’s all about the safety of people. There are people who are completely uncomfortable. I don’t want people here who aren’t comfortable to be here. I’m also not rushing to pull people off of furlough until I have jobs for them,” Quinn said.

Meantime, Quinn said she cut back fall orders by 50 percent, and pulled back pre-fall by 70 percent, and cut overhead. “Everything I could do to survive and to be careful with the cash. We’re private. There’s only so much money that we have.” She had to furlough half her employees.

“It’s really bad. They do say we’re in it together. It’s so true. It’s every industry and every person. Let’s hope the vaccine comes and [in the] fourth quarter, people have their confidence. Until a vaccine comes, there’s the fear of the second round,” Quinn said.

PVH Corp., parent company of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, among other brands, said from a go-to-market perspective, the crisis accelerated some innovations and changes that were already underway to improve efficiency, product and its environmental footprint.

There is an increasing adoption of 3-D design and fewer physical samples made as the company embraces digital ones. Design edits and approvals are also being done digitally, requiring fewer physical materials and less shipping in the product design process. PVH’s market launches and sell-in meetings are taking place virtually, instead of in person, which often requires air travel. In addition, PVH is leveraging 3-D design as a tool to support the assets for product detail pages on its brands’ web sites.

Tommy Hilfiger: Digital Foam Board

Tommy Hilfiger: Digital Foam Board  Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger

To connect with its customers in Europe, it will start experimenting with live-streamed selling sessions, showcasing product and connecting with shoppers in their homes. And to get product to them, PVH is experimenting with same-day delivery in Amsterdam, and some stores now serve as fulfillment centers for both tommy.com and Zalando in Germany, building upon the successful test that was done before the COVID-19 crisis.

For associates getting back to work, PVH is going to take its learnings from China and Europe, which is just starting to reopen offices and stores in select locations. Europe, for example, created live training sessions about health and safety on Instagram and created a series of instructional videos. In North America,  in addition to following local/regional health and government guidelines, PVH is rethinking new ways of working, from office spaces to working-day hours. The company launched a survey last week [week of April 27] of corporate associates to hear directly how they’ve adjusted to the remote working environment and what they feel could be potential challenges to returning to workplaces.

PVH has already provided to all North America corporate and retail teams home deliveries of three-ply disposable masks.

A welcome sign at a Tommy Hilfiger store.  courtesy shot

The group’s employees are using their collaborative digital tools, taking PVH University online learning classes, socializing (happy hours, group yoga sessions), and participating in almost daily trending themes (Superhero Day, post your pet, etc.) resulting in hundreds of photos, videos and comments each week on the PVH news app. “We recognize the key will be flexibility and agility fully understanding that there will be steps forward — and then steps back — and that’s all part of the recovery,” according to PVH.

Nili Lotan said she has 60 employees in her New York headquarters. “One thing we might be able to do is work in shifts, have some people come in the morning, and some people come in the afternoon to reduce the amount of people in the office. Some people will continue to work from home,” Lotan said. She noted that she has an 8,000-square-foot space. A big part of the showroom is not active right now, so she feels they can spread out.

“I do believe a lot of people enjoy working at home, including myself, and I think some of us will just stay home, and just come in for a meeting and leave. Things will change. I have no problem with people working out of home and report on what they’re doing. Market is coming up in June, and we’ll hopefully figure that out. A lot of people will want to do market on Zoom,” she said. Lotan never does a fashion show, so it’s one thing she doesn’t have to worry about. “Hopefully other people won’t do fashion shows. It will be part of the history,” she said.

People will have to wear masks and gloves and they’ll have to have their temperatures checked when they arrive.

Lotan said she received a small business loan. “Obviously cash is the most challenging thing right now. We have to figure out how we are moving forward. It will not be the same. It won’t be the same salary. We have to figure out to handle it.” She did lay off very few employees. She was able to bring most of the retail team, who worked at the company’s freestanding stores, to the web.

J. Michael Prince, president and ceo of U.S.P.A Global Licensing Inc. and U.S. Polo Assn, which is headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla., has a gradual plan for a return to the office.

“Our plan is to slowly and thoughtfully reopen at the end of this week,” he said. The company will bring in five to six people to start. “We have conference rooms set up, so only X amount of chairs are used and they’re six feet apart and sanitizing stations and thermometers available at the doors to self-check your temperature.” He said it’s going to be a five- to six-week rollout plan, in compliance with Florida guidelines. “We’ll start with a handful of people, and evaluate the week, and add a few more people. I don’t think we’re fully functional until mid-June,” he said.

U.S. Polo Assn’s global creative center’s open space showroom in West Palm Beach, Fla.

U.S. Polo Assn’s global creative center’s open space showroom in West Palm Beach, Fla.  Courtesy of U.S. Polo Assn

There are 45 people at global headquarters and their creative center in West Palm Beach, Fla. “We’re talking to our licensing partners and they’re taking the same approach,” he said. “They’re looking at the second week of May reopening with a handful of people. “We’re going to issue a best practices guide that we’re working on to share with our partners.”

If employees have children at home, he said, “we’re going to provide extreme flexibility. What I’ve told all the working moms and dads, if you need to spend the next month working from home if that’s best for you and your family, we’re completely fine with that.”

Only one person will be allowed in the restroom at a time, and there will be a red light/green light at the bathroom to allow entry. Only one person will be allowed in the kitchen and there’s no congregating in any common areas. For a meeting, if Prince has a conference room that seats 14 people and he can social distance up to five, he’ll allow four to attend, and have the other people Zoom in. And there will be specific chairs you sit in and wipe them down when you leave, Prince said.

U.S. Polo Assn’s conference room will have social distancing.

U.S. Polo Assn’s conference room will have social distancing.  Courtesy of U.S. Polo Assn

Further, he’ll have people wear face coverings at least for the first month in the office. He said he has cubicles and an open space set-up, and employees won’t be less than six feet from each other.

The company has 1,200 stores globally. It plans to start opening stores late in the week of May 4 in certain markets. They will be street-level locations, not malls. They’ll have reduced hours, reduced staff, and will set up sanitizing stations. They’ll test it with a handful of key doors and slowly expand. They will be opened first in China (some have opened where they’re testing and learning), the Middle East and Europe. U.S. store openings haven’t been determined yet. They’ll have face coverings for both employees and customers if they don’t have them. Once customers try on something, it has to be sanitized, and they’ll let it sit before it goes back on the selling floor. Dressing rooms will be sanitized after each customer’s use and will be wiped down.

As far as how many people will be allowed in the store at a time, Prince said it depends on the size of the store. “We’ll take into account social distancing, and make sure they don’t get too close to each other. The tricky part is having a decent consumer experience with the brand while managing the safety and wellness of employees and consumers. It will be definitely a balance.”

U.S. Polo Assn has 75 stores in the U.S., and 1,200 globally.

He said his employees around the world unfortunately have been on furlough. “Our intention was not to have to do it, but when you look at the duration of this, you got to a point you have to think about survival and still having a business. We thought it made more sense to survive, be in business, bring these employees back the right way as opposed to jeopardizing the whole operation financially,” Prince said.

Online, the company saw a 50 percent decline in business the first month of the pandemic, because consumers were focused on toilet paper, food and absolute necessities. “The last 30 days we’ve seen our online business up 50 percent over last year. Shockingly good numbers. We believe there will be pent-up demand for apparel and shopping. The area that’s really going to be impacted is travel and entertainment. Let’s say a family planned on going to Disneyland and spending $5,000. I don’t know if that happens in 2020 or halfway into 2021. I think some of that discretionary income will be reallocated to soft goods like baseball caps and apparel.”

He said U.S. Polo Assn’s wholesale business has been on complete shut-down. He sells such retailers as JC Penney, House of Fraser, Central and Karstadt. He believes the brands will have to lead the initiative with its retail stores. He said in Florida, stores started opening this past weekend the weekend of April 25, with the exception of three counties. He said the state will open up to 25 percent retail and restaurant capacity. “It’s slowly starting to open,” he said.

“We want to be a leading brand out there, we want to get facts, test and learn, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, that’s for sure,” he said.

Stephen Granovsky, ceo of Luxury Men’s Apparel Group that owns Samuelsohn and manages Hickey Freeman men’s tailored clothing, has been making personal protective equipment in his factories in Montreal and Rochester, N.Y., for several weeks. The government of Quebec said manufacturing of apparel can partially resume on May 11 and fully resume on May 25. That factory produces both brands’ clothing, he said.

Hickey Freeman

The Hickey Freeman factory in Rochester, N.Y., which has been making PPE, will soon be allowed to start making clothing again.  Courtesy Photo

Granovsky said he expects to have about two-thirds of the staff return in May and be operating at 80 to 90 percent of capacity by the end of June. He also expects to work with the union to see if summer vacations are negotiable to make up production shortages since the factories were closed.

When workers in the factory return, he said, there will be procedures performed at the front door to ensure people are not sick, and temperatures will be taken. Once cleared, every operator will be given a mask, gown and face shield. 

Start times will be staggered, as will lunchtimes and breaks. The factory will institute extra cleaning protocols and deploy safety police to ensure rules and safety precautions are followed.

Regarding the offices in New York, Rochester and Montreal as well as the headquarters in Toronto, employees will be required to wear masks, work spaces will be at least six feet apart and people will be asked to take breaks and eat lunch at their desks, Granovsky said.

In the design and marketing studio in Manhattan, there will be a “strong balance between in-person and digital appointments,” he said. Salespeople may be asked to make personal visits to stores to visit customers and there will be “toned down” presences at the upcoming trade shows: the Chicago Collective in late August and the New York trade shows in late September, he said. 

“The short-term future is different than the long-term,” he said. Initially, meetings will be more digital — the company is investing heavily in “tools that can bring our assortment to life” — but it will move back to more in-person meetings once a vaccine is found.

John Tighe, president of Peerless Clothing, said the company is “formulating a game plan” for reopening its New York City offices. He is drawing on the “best practices” of the company’s retail customers who have more experience opening for suggestions on how to proceed. 

Tighe said the company still has a couple of weeks to finalize the plan because he doesn’t expect to be able to reopen until June. “Businesses need to have a very structured plan,” he said, adding that Peerless has created “four buckets” in which it will navigate: distancing, cleaning, health and commuting.

He expects that he will stagger staff to ensure the offices are not crowded and allow flexible hours to address commuting and other issues employees will face.

Additionally, he knows that many retailers won’t immediately be back to full staffing levels, and they may not be “storming back into New York City right away.” So Peerless is planning to prep its showroom to accommodate stores that are willing or able to travel but also prepare digital alternatives for those who are not. 

Peerless already canceled its participation in the upcoming Project men’s trade shows in Las Vegas in August and New York City in September. That’s on top of having been among the first to cancel showing at the last Project show in Vegas in February. Instead, the company will show its seasonal offerings to retailers “digitally and virtually,” Tighe said. That may include sending swatches to stores and doing meetings remotely. “We’re going to be nimble to service customers,” he said. 

Turning to production, Tighe said that is “going to be tricky,” especially because many retailers may simply “pack-and-hold” merchandise they didn’t have the opportunity to sell this year. “We won’t really know what this looks like until fall of 2021, but we’ll take actions so that we come out of this stronger.”

One New York-based sportswear manufacturer, who asked not to be identified, said it is also working on a back-to-work plan where employees will be staggered, desks spaced out more, plexiglass installed between stations and floors taped to indicate directions people need to walk. If the government requires masks, those will be made available as well, he said.

For market week, the brand intends to show at the usual time in July, but the merchandise will primarily be displayed digitally. “We may potentially set up space where buyers can walk through the showroom, but it won’t be an official market week.” 



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