New York fashion companies surveyed said they are allowing their employees to work remotely as the coronavirus outbreak spreads in the region.
A host of fashion firms have said they’ve already closed their freestanding stores, including Fivestory, Misha Nonoo, Ramy Brook, PVH Corp., (including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), Allbirds, Lululemon, Nike, Abercrombie & Fitch Co., and Everlane.
Sandra Campos, chief executive officer of Diane von Furstenberg, said that the company has shut its offices in New York, London and Paris until March 27. She noted that everyone is working from home. In addition, six DVF stores have closed, including locations in Paris, Ireland, the Meatpacking District and SoHo in New York. The New York stores closed on Monday. She noted that most other retailers have closed in those areas, so there has been limited foot traffic.
The New York stores will remain closed until March 23, the others are indefinite.
According to Campos, the design team is most impacted, and they had been working at the office until Monday. Several picked up mannequins and bust forms so they could work from home. Employees can go in if they need to pick up something.
Fortunately, she said, the holiday market doesn’t occur until June and the longest period during the year is between the February launch and the June market. She noted that they did have to close their Milan and Paris showrooms, “so the fall market was quite challenged.”
She noted that production has started coming back, and their Chinese factory is back up and running at 75 percent capacity. It is six weeks delayed in product, but they’ve been able to manipulate and push things up earlier. She said there have been no cancellations from stores. She noted that the Chinese business has picked up again and they seem like they’re back on track. They had done a lot of selling on WeChat, she noted.
Campos noted that they’ve upgraded their e-commerce site and added Hero, a live chat tool. This enables store stylists in an area to pick up a conversation and chat with customers. In total, DVF still has eight stores open around the country, including Seattle and Glendale, Calif. She noted that different malls have different requirements to stay open.
She also noted that the company is planning to do its panel discussions virtually, and it will allow 500 people to join the chat. They plan to launch it this week. “We’ve moved toward a digital focus, and have added 14 vendors to the e-commerce platform,” she said. She noted that they redesigned their web site, to focus more on the digital piece of it.
“We have to be creative,” said Campos. She noted that they’re following the lead that took place in China where everything became virtual.
Tory Burch’s corporate employees have been working from home since Friday, and the company said Monday night it would close all its U.S. stores until March 29.
PVH Corp.’s offices remain open, however associates are working remotely in North America and Europe with the exception of a minimal number of business critical functions. The company also said Monday it was closing over 1,000 company-owned stores in the U.S. and Europe from March 17 to March 29. All retail associates at these locations will continue to receive full pay and benefits for their scheduled shifts during the temporary closure period, said PVH.
Morris Goldfarb, ceo of G-III Apparel Group, said, “Our employees are mostly working from home. People who feel it’s essential to come in can come in.” He said they have accommodated for designers to be able to work from home, although some will will come in.
Goldfarb noted that most of its stores globally outside the U.S. have closed, including Vilebrequin and Lagerfeld. In the U.S. some of the stores are operating on a modified schedule and some have closed. His brands include Bass, Wilson, DKNY, Lagerfeld and Vilebrequin. “We anticipate closing our New York stores in the next few hours,” he said.
Goldfarb noted that his Chinese production is geared up, but there’s been a slowdown in Jordan and Vietnam.
As far as how it’s all working remotely, he said, they have conference calls on a daily basis and are utilizing conference centers to communicate. He’s given some autonomy to individual offices around the globe to do what’s appropriate regionally.
Elie Tahari said that he might have to close the company for awhile, but hadn’t made that decision yet. He noted, however, that design, sample making and specs writing can’t be done from home. “Some people have to come in and some people can work from home,” he said. Tahari said he was also planning to make a decision about his 26 stores on Monday night.
He is currently working on pre-spring and spring, and said, “I frankly don’t think those lines will open if the situation continues.” He doesn’t anticipate there will be a market week. He said stores haven’t canceled orders.
Sam Edelman said it made the difficult decision to close all its retail stores in the U.S. through March 27 and that its Sam Edelman corporate teams are working from home where possible. “During this time our employees who were scheduled to work will be paid,” said the company, which has encouraged its customers to visit samedelman.com.
Asked how he was doing with the slowdown, Marc Bouwer, a New York-based sportswear, eveningwear and bridal designer, said, “It’s not a slowdown, it’s a shutdown – so not well.”
“We are not set up to work remotely, unless you consider this interview working from home,” he said.
To try to offset the downturn, Bouwer has set up an account with the Small Business Association and is checking to see when and if funds will be available in the form of low interest loans. “We are no longer doing business with ShopHQ, as of last week as they were not guaranteeing payment or placing future orders,” he said. The designer added, “We do a large personal client business and with all the event cancellations all orders are on hold.“
As for the best long-range strategy, he said, “Hope for the best. I know how to cut and sew everything myself so if it comes to that I can take a sewing machine to my apartment and set up shop.”
Asked about changes in online sales, reducing prices or offering any incentives, Bouwer said, “As of right now everything has halted, but everything is negotiable.”
Employees at Senlis sportswear and Solid & Striped swimwear are working from home, being paid, and this situation will not impact vacation time, according to a company spokeswoman. Like other companies, meetings and conferences are taking place via Zoom.
Sarah Landman, who oversees both labels, and the leadership team have been very transparent that the plans are “fluid, that things are changing from day to day, to be flexible and encourage understanding,” the spokeswoman said. “HR is available at any time for all employees should they have concerns or need additional support.”
Moving forward, both brands will “adjust as necessary in the best interest of the employees and in terms of the general climate,” she said. “They are determining the best course of action as things progress with the virus, and of course following any guidelines.”
Suzanne McKenzie, founder and ceo of Able Made, an e-tailer of sweatshirts, T-shirts and accessories, said efforts are underway to stay true to its aim to empower people to live a healthy lifestyle. “That same mind-set applies to our workplace and team culture — the safety and health of our team is paramount. We now have a core team of 11 people (not including our factories and production teams). Like many other companies, they are working remotely, but staying connected via video/phone calls, and e-mail.”
Able Made’s daily activity or pay structure is not being changed. In-person meetings, some planned events and brick-and-mortar activations are being postponed with the focus now being on online and social initiatives.
In the current climate the company is seeing steady sales in core accessories items, especially socks, according to McKenzie, who noted that “people’s attention is now on essentials, like food and home goods, and adjusting to a new schedule for themselves and their families.”
Although the Able Made retail shop/showroom opened at 182 Lafayette Street in Manhattan earlier this month in the Energi Wellness building, she expects to see online sales outweigh brick-and-mortar activity in the coming months.
McKenzie added, “The first thing we did to communicate with our consumers was to send out e-mail and social media posts about ways to reduce anxiety and focus on the well-being of self and those around you.” She cited taking a walk, a run or getting outside to enjoy nature; staying informed but taking breaks from the media, and continuing with your regular self-care routines. She added, “We did not promote, or sell, or offer a discount code, or showcase an OOTD. We got flooded with thank you messages for their approach. “I think as brands, we have to understand right now people are high-anxiety and are looking for ways to cope with the fast-changing landscape of their everyday lives.“
She continued, “As a mission-based business, we want to inspire community and well-being, especially now. Long term we will focus on our online and social initiatives, and also look for even more ways to help our communities stay strong and healthy.”
Discussing the widespread slowdowns in production, Graham Baldwin of Graham Tyler, a New York-based sportswear designer, said that the Asian and Indian mills that he uses are just starting to reopen, so development for next season is a bit behind.
“It is a bit difficult to line up sampling for next season at this time, so I am using the time — a month or so — for intense ideation and work.” he said. “Pre-paying for fabric and development — even before they can work on it — is helping people be motivated and make sure everyone in the supply chain is still being paid.”
Baldwin added, “I’m just trying to use it as a time to really focus and enjoy the process of designing.”
Elsewhere around town, Next Management, the model management firm, said it was closing its offices worldwide, and its managers would be working remotely.