With the COVID-19 crisis stretching from weeks to months and WFH more the norm, many consumers have continued to dress down at home or on the streets.
In line with that lifestyle shift, Nicole Miller is introducing a casualwear collection of hoodies, T-shirts and other relaxed silhouettes. But the New York-based designer already had plans in motion to develop this new collection before the pandemic struck. The new reality only accelerated that strategy, she said.
Acknowledging how people have taken to being “totally casual,” Miller said, “It’s affected everybody’s lifestyle. We’re not going back to parties anytime soon. But people still want new clothes. You aren’t going to wear the same sweatshirt all the time.”
Well aware that casualwear can be “a very crowded area,” Miller said her take may be distinguished by the iconic prints for which her label is known. There are also subtleties in the stitching and finishing and continually introducing more of a contemporary silhouette for a more modern look is another priority, she said. Orders for the first delivery, which has yet to ship, were overbooked so additional production was needed, she said. Interest in the new category has led to about 40 new accounts, which helps to offset the decline in dress sales due to COVID-19. The aim is to fully offset that drop within a year, Miller said.
Acknowledging the difficult time that all companies are facing, Miller said her company has cut back on production for fall deliveries by 20 to 30 percent. While manufacturing for gowns was reduced, production for cashmeres and sweaters has increased, “since we always seem to sell out of those items.”
Many retailers that used to specialize in dresses switched tracks due to the ultra-casual trend that took hold in recent years, Miller said. This new venture has enabled her to recapture some of those old accounts and open new ones with some of the many stores that specialize in T-shirts and jeans.
The designer’s casualwear is the latest introduction to her portfolio of 50 or so categories that include swimwear, shoes, lipsticks and phone cases. Each delivery of the casual group will feature about 30 styles. After considering 100 different words for a label, the designer and her team opted not to coin a name, preferring to refer to it as the casualwear collection.
Some styles feature a peace sign imprinted with “Peace of Mind” and other T-shirts have an evil eye embroidered on them. Black-and-white tie-dye sweatshirts and activewear are popular items in the first delivery. Made with 18 percent Lycra, the activewear has a lot of memory. There are also sustainable aspects in the casual assortment, including bamboo T-shirts and organic cotton. Miller said she expects the new range to make the company more of “an all-around lifestyle brand” to offer customers “something for the other days of her life.”
Some of the casualwear is being made in New York and in California. Trying to do as much domestic production as possible, the company aims to have at least 50 percent of its production in the U.S. by next year. South American resources are being explored for organic cotton and interesting resources, Miller said.
Leaning toward doing a fall presentation and then meetings with buyers and editors via Zoom, Miller said salespeople are already doing virtual meetings. The company’s team, which did not face any furloughs, sharpened their technologies skills during WFH. Design was the one area of the business that was not as easy to deal with on Zoom. Whether buying a textile design or other features, “we changed our mind about just about everything that we decided to do. Visually, you couldn’t see it as well,” she said.
That was not an issue with the activewear and casualwear, which the team was already familiar with. Trying to find spring prints was another matter. “In the end, we didn’t like anything that we picked when we came back to the office and got these actual designs.” Miller said.
Most of the design team is back in the company’s Garment District studio four days a week and they, like other employees, work remotely on select days.