Delayed payments. Cancelled orders. Shuttered factories. And more than a third of the global population on lockdown. Coronavirus has ravaged the footwear industry at every level — and independent designers face the most risks.
It might have seemed inconceivable a month ago — but many creative talents are now faced with a difficult decision: whether to move forward with fall. Here, designers get candid on how the virus is upending the luxury fashion cycle as we know it.
The designer was early on spring deliveries — and her factory in Italy was still shipping a few weeks ago until the recent mandate to shut down nonessential production in the country.
But for the fall ‘20 collection, which she showed during New York Fashion Week, Gosselin said she is currently undecided on how to proceed, especially after her largest wholesale account canceled its order.
“I’m trying to figure out the right decision,” she said. “Are people going to spend once this is all over? Will they want to invest in luxury items?”
Gosselin had already begun a reposition of her brand prior to the pandemic’s retail fallout, reducing the focus on wholesale focus and investing more heavily in her own e-commerce. “I think we will be doing something more curated,” she said, pointing to a few seasonal standouts plus signature styles. “It’s the perfect time to rethink seasons. I’m kind of tired of that crazy cycle of fashion weeks and producing however many collections per year. And all of us traveling for it – look at what happened with that.”
Gosselin is also thinking about her production line when weighing the options. “I have my team in Italy, my factory. They have already been hit hard by this and what happens if we all cancel production?” she said. “We are so focused on Instagram, influencers, the glitz of it all, but it’s a real industry that supports millions of people. That’s who we need to support right now.” SHANNON ADDUCCI
Mariasole Cecchi, Les Petits Joueurs
The brand was timely with its spring production and deliveries — so while there are still a few payments pending, most orders have been closed. For fall, however, it’s a different story. “People who already placed orders are calling to cancel, freezing sales or requesting changes to the terms of payment,” she continued, adding that these are big retailers, not small boutiques.
She believes it is the duty of big industry players to support smaller independent labels. At the same time, though, Cecchi admits that she does not know when she can deliver the fall orders the remain because her Italian factories are closed and it’s unclear when they can reopen.
The brand is working on a new business model, but one thing’s for sure: “Whatever happens nothing will be the same as it was before,” the designer said.
Now, she’s editing down the collection, concentrating on bestsellers and focusing on a direct-to-consumer strategy while retaining the wholesale accounts that remain loyal. She warned that producers must be flexible with minimum order quantities. “We’ve all been saying for ages that fashion was too fast and the system was due for a collapse,” Cecchi concluded, “but then it just happened out of the blue.”
Paris Texas, Annamaria Brivio
Brivio is still awaiting balance payments for spring orders from some of the retailers she works with — and while she’s doing her best to negotiate, there aren’t easy solutions. “As a new company, this could strongly affect our business,” she said. “All the spring shoes have been already produced so many are stuck at our warehouse.”
Pre-fall production is almost complete but she’s currently working with clients on reducing their orders and exercising the same flexibility when it comes to fall. “We work with some big and strong partners who are are still supporting us in this difficult moment, who believe in our brand and want to keep our partnership safe and strong.”
While Wazen certainly suffered from cancelled buyer appointments, a large part of her sales are derived from her online store — so she’s still forging ahead.
Her strategy has shifted though: She is now executing a digital marketing campaign originally slated for 2021.
As opposed to Italy like many of her competitors, her shoes are made in a factory in her hometown of Beirut. It has been closed for the last two weeks as lockdown came early to Lebanon, but for that reason she said that the situation has been well contained so she hopes to resume working normally from the start of April.
However, there will still, of course, be issues. “We are in a pickle with sourcing leathers from our Italian suppliers which means we may well have to eliminate some of the styles we had initially wanted to produce,” she explained.
Ada Kokosar, Midnight 00
Kokosar is entirely reliant on retailers for sales — which makes this moment particularly challenging.
“My brand is small and young and we still don’t have an e-commerce,” she said ruefully. At the same time, though, she does understand that the buyers who cancelled their fall orders did so because they know the demand would not be there. “The last thing I want is to have a fall collection sitting unsold in storage,” she said. “We need to have the courage to press the reset button and adapt to this change,” she said.
To her this means slowing down to preserve quality, reducing production volumes and editing down the collection. “I’m taking this time to understand how I can transform my brand in a way that is more sustainable and more meaningful,” she concluded. “We are all linked to each other, from suppliers and manufacturers to brands, retailers and finally consumers. So each must support the other to find solutions.”
Julia Toledano of Nodaleto
“We want to support the retailers who have supported us from our launch, but we have to measure the risk,” said Toledano. Some stores cancelled a proportion of their spring orders and also asked to change the conditions of payments for pre-fall and fall.
The designer is making difficult decisions on a daily basis. “We need to support each other and unite more than ever,” she said. Her shoes are produced in Italy where all the factories are now closed. Once they reopen, she will need to reduce the order quantities.
Since launching the brand last season, she has focused on a permanent collection, emphasizing existing molds and lasts — and plans to ramp up that strategy. “I think everyone will reduce their consumption of fashion after this crisis ends,” she predicted. “People will buy less but less and focus on quality.”
Julien Martinez, Martinez Souliers
Martinez received spring payments before the crisis — and also managed to ship all of his spring and summer collection before the virus brought things to a halt.
In the first days of the crisis he received automatic emails from retailers saying that pre-fall orders would be canceled but following direct discussions, the buying teams confirmed this would not be the case after all. However, while he operated a virtual showroom for fall, many buyers both cancelled those orders or reduced their quantities.
Pamela Costantini and Domitilla Rapisardi IINDACO
The brand debuted in February with its own e-commerce channel — the launch collection was not reliant on external retailers. However, the duo admitted that the fall sales campaign has been extremely difficult.
“Emerging brands and start-ups were not the priority for retailers this season,” they said, explaining that stores cut their budgets, preferring to buy brands that they already knew.
They are continuing their focus on her direct-to-consumer business. But while spring sales exceeded expectations she knows there are challenging times ahead as it isn’t possible to determine how fall production will pan out.
The shoes are made in Italy where all the factories are currently closed. In the meanwhile they are using their downtime to “study ways to increase the sustainability of our products and processes and create new ideas for future collections.”
With a strong direct-to-consumer business and Bulgaria-based production still operating, the hot brand could be in a better position than most — but co-founder Valentina Ignatova is certainly not complacent.
It isn’t just a matter of adapting her strategy for fall. She’s making adjustments on a daily basis and is in constant contact with wholesalers and suppliers. “For us it’s all about having very transparent daily conversation with your partners and clients,” she said. “Only by doing so you can truly understand each other’s needs and problems. We’re all in this together and we should support and help each other now more than ever.”