Need Supply & Totokaelo Fold As Pandemic Takes Aim at Small Retailers

Need Supply Co. and Totokaelo —  sister retailers under the privately owned NSTO — will not reopen post-pandemic, a representative from the company confirmed.

In 1996, Need Supply founder Chris Bossola put $1,500 worth of vintage Levi’s on his credit card to open his first store, a 200-square-foot boutique in Richmond, Va. By 2019, the NSTO retail footprint had grown to include physical outposts in Seattle, Japan and New York under the Need Supply Co. and Totokaelo banners as well as the robust, fashion-favorite e-commerce platforms Needsupply.com and Totokaelo.com. (In 2017, Need Supply merged with luxury retailer Totokaelo.) As of April 2019, NSTO employed about 150 people worldwide and had a presence in 75 countries.

Prior to the pandemic, Need Supply had been planning to expand its brick-and-mortar footprint with a new unit in Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as grow its private label offerings. Need Supply has a significant e-commerce business offering a range of goods at a variety of price points, while Totokaelo specializes in high-end luxury goods. Both Need Supply and Totokaelo have been stockists for brands Collina Strada, Eckhaus Latta and Ganni — independents that rely on retail partners for both distribution and marketing.

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While the coronavirus crisis appears to have precipitated NSTO’s decision to wind down operations, multibrand retail has been struggling in recent years amid increased digital competition and more competitive pricing. In the calendar year prior to the pandemic, New York retail staples Opening Ceremony and Barneys New York had closed.

But as the public health crisis ramped up in mid-March, government-mandated store closures and cuts to discretionary spending hit traditional retailers hard. According to data from the Department of Commerce, estimated monthly clothing sales for the period from March to May were down by a whopping 66.6% versus the comparable period a year prior. Amid the global health crisis, Neiman Marcus Group and JCPenney have gone bankrupt, with fellow department store chains Macy’s and Nordstrom making sweeping job cuts in a bid to cut down on costs. What’s more, Lord & Taylor, owned by clothing rental service Le Tote, is reportedly planning to liquidate its store post-pandemic.

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