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As Brazil Coronavirus Cases Surge, How Alexandre Birman, Havaianas + More Big Brands Are Faring

More than 10 million coronavirus cases have now been reported across the world, and behind the U.S., Brazil has the second highest outbreak and death totals. With 24,052 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 1.37 million — and 58,000 deaths — the recent surge has brought on major concerns from the World Health Organization and health experts.

The crisis has taken a major toll on Brazil’s economy, with the unemployment rate rising to its highest in two years at 12.9%. The footwear industry, which is the third largest market behind the U.S. and China., has also seen significant impact.

For Alexandre Birman, the CEO of Brazilian footwear powerhouse Arezzo & Co., adapting to recent challenges has been key. “Right now the most important thing is that our team members feel safe and supported during this time. We’ve focused our efforts on our online business and engaging with our customers on our social platforms and several different digital interactions, such as communication and sales by WhatsApp or curbside pickup,” he said.

Birman added that because the coronavirus spiked in the U.S. first, he was able to prepare and have systems in place that had already been effective, such as closing all of the company’s stores in several cities in the country in accordance with the governmental instructions, as well as having his team in São Paulo and Campo Bom working from home until this day.

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Despite Brazil’s coronavirus surge in June, the factories that produce its brands — Arezzo, Schutz, Anacapri, Alexandre Birman, Fiever, Alme and Vans — are up and running, according to Birman.

“There was two-week hiatus in our production in Campo Bom, in the South of Brazil, where no one worked at the factory when the virus spike happened,” he said. “As the government allowed employees to come back to work gradually. We are starting to get back on track but following all safety measures. All employees have the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and we continue the safety distancing we have always been doing, even before the virus.”

As for another popular Brazilian brand Havaianas, which also has a strong presence in the U.S., battling through the pandemic with digital in mind has proven to be a successful tactic. According to Roberto Funari, CEO of parent company Alpargatas, the flip-flop label is growing in all online channels and through its own e-commerce.

In total, Havaianas U.S. e-commerce business grew by more than 200% in May and June.

“In the last couple of months we perceived a migration to online sales. Our expectation is of considerable growth in all digital channels,” Funari said, adding that the performance of some Asian and European countries has risen due to the re-opening of the markets. “We have been investing in technology and digital strategy before the pandemic. Globally, we are relaunching a massive new e-commerce platform with special features to enhance the core relationship of our user, build brand loyalty and boost revenue.”

Production-wise, Funari said there was no interruption due to the coronavirus. However, the company did retool all production processes to comply with the health and safety orders, such as reducing the number of employees on-site, installing physical barriers between workstations, supplying masks, which are now mandatory during the workday, among other measures.

With more than 300,000 points of sale in Brazil for Havaianas, and more than two-thirds of its stores remaining open, Funari remains optimistic that the supply chain and the company’s ecosystem, such as suppliers, partners and retailers, will overcome the COVID-19 effects.

For smaller brands, however, finding sales success in Brazil at the moment is a struggle.

“In a small atelier, one person being out of the office can make a big impact and challenge the production process and timeline,” explained Gustavo Assis, co-founder and creative director of Brazilian sunglasses brand Lapima. “We know we will experience ups and downs.”

Co-founder Gisela Assis added, “The Brazilian market is still closed. Aware of this situation, we’ve turned all of our eyes to our clients in Europe and the U.S. Logistically, it has been challenging as everyone seems to be working in a different rhythm now. We feel a sense of understanding among our clients and suppliers and know that we are all in this together.”

Many U.S. brands also manufacture product in Brazil, including Tory Burch, Bernardo and Jack Rogers, but the impact is not yet clear. A spokesperson from Bernardo said the label has only experienced small production delays so far.

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