Like legions of other small businesses, Jussara Lee is trying to rev up sales. Rather than wait to reopen her Bedford Street store, the sustainably-minded designer is bringing the work to her.
As of Sunday, the “Jussara Lee Needs Work to Survive During the Pandemic” e-mail had been sent to 2,500 clients and 25 percent had responded by sending garments for repair or repurposing, mailing donations or buying items from the designer’s web site. Having recovered from a mild case of COVID-19, Lee is dividing her time between Manhattan and Long Island creating patterns, sewing and reorganizing her studio. Clients have been mailing their garments to her eight-year-old boutique and there is already “plenty” of work, she said.
Should businesses start to reopen soon, Lee does not expect people to instantly start going out as soon as work-from-home restrictions are lifted. “They’re going to wait. It’s the same scenario. Nothing has really changed since when it started, except that we know a little bit more,” Lee said.
Self-isolation is giving people time to realize what is good for them and what makes them feel exhilarated, she said. “It’s not the usual crazy, there-is-so-much-more-to-do rat race,” adding that many people, including closet cleaners, have discovered they want to manage less stuff and simplify. “Creativity is the one thing we have that we can use to beat the machines.…Technology is great and it can have a role in efficiency. But we are the boss. We are the ones who have the creativity and can change things,” she said.
Being reliant on all local production and resources, and having a loyal base of customers is an advantage, according to Lee, who expects the pace of life to remain slow until December due to the cultural behavioral shift underfoot. Some clients have sent checks to help her business, including one donation of $1,000. Grateful as she is, Lee prefers to have work to have people engaged in repairs. That is “good psychologically and time-wise, since everyone is at home,” she said.
Her decades of experience in the fashion industry have led to a more personalized approach to business. The e-mail appeal has allowed her to reconnect with many customers. The five-person team knows many of them individually.
Referring to larger stores, Lee said, “It’s going to be a really rough ride for them. A lot of people are going to shut down because they weren’t doing well before this. Hopefully, the renaissance of fashion will be smaller shops and a smaller scale instead of these huge conglomerates trying to make so much money. Tell that to the businesspeople. But they may be a little more willing to listen now. Nobody likes to lose money,” Lee said.