In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout, the businesses of young, emerging and independent designers are likely to be the most vulnerable. In a new series, FN will spotlight these creatives to learn how they are adjusting to a new way of working and living.
When celebrity stylist Anita Patrickson launched Amanu in April 2018, the goal was to create human connection and to celebrate an ancient craft of sandal-making. The brand delivers a custom experience — a departure from the conventional prêt-à-porter retail model — by providing a made-to-order sandal in 30 minutes.
Amanu’s brick-and mortar studio, located in West Hollywood, Calif., is Patrickson’s only physical retail location. So when the coronavirus pandemic hit, resulting in a statewide lockdown for non-essential business, her company came to a halt. She has since had to temporarily lay off all employees.
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“I needed to do [lay offs] as soon as possible so I didn’t spend the money and so I can rebuild when this is done,” she told FN. “The reality is, if you don’t lay off, there won’t be a company to come back to.”
As of now, Patrickson is relying on sales from her e-commerce site, however, the online business only accounts for 10% of her overall profits and it has already seen a massive dip since the pandemic hit the U.S.
To buy: Amanu Slip-On Sandals, $275.
“That’s not our bulk of business. It’s complicated. Do we try and pivot and push online, or do we just battle this out? Digital is a way to engage, but maybe this is about holding tight for a second,” said Patrickson, who is also a celebrity stylist to names like Julianne Hough.
Patrickson is also trying to balance sensitivity of the situation whilst trying to stay afloat. “I don’t feel comfortable pushing shoes. For us, it’s very much about connecting with another human being,” she said, noting scheduled social media posts have been cancelled, new style launches have been pushed as well as an upcoming collaboration. “It feels incredibly tone deaf to flog a new sandal when people are stressed about money. But in order for my employees to have an Amanu to come back to, we do need to sell. It’s tough — there’s no right way to do this.”
On a positive note, being small lends the opportunity to adapt. The key is not losing brand identity, according to Patrickson. And it’s her unique ethos that’s offering a silver lining.
“We are lucky because we are made to order,” she explained. “We don’t have a huge spring collection that now we have to offload, in that sense, we don’t have our cash tied up in inventory that will be completely void by the time August comes around.”
She also does everything out of her store, so in the meantime, she’s continuing to ship orders out of her home without restrictions like many others who are facing warehouse closures. (She’s offering vases, tea and other home items online. Gifts cards are a great way to support the business, too.)
Patrickson said creativity is going to be crucial once businesses are able to open again. “That’s where as a small business, you are lucky. Get down and dirty. I think we will revert back to that,” she said, citing the scrappiness of the label’s early days when they held pop-ups on Malibu Pier and hosted parties at peoples’ homes.
In addition, Patrickson will be giving away a $300 sandal gift card every single day for the next month to anyone who enters the brand’s Instagram challenge. It’s an incentive to get shoppers back in store once the pandemic is over. To enter, just follow @anitapatrickson and @amanustudio, and respond to the question posed on Amanu’s post. A winner will be chosen based on answers.
“Never once would I think connecting would be through a medical mask and latex gloves,” said Patrickson. “But I’m hopeful that people will come out of this and want that human connection and crave it. Everyone is going to be keen to buy and come and shop and take holiday. The tenacity of the human spirit is so much more resilient than anything else.”
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