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.
Retail news is pretty grim these days. Store closures, employee furloughs and plummeting sales have designers, executives and consumers alike questioning whether traditional retail outlets can ever return to normal — or if the coronavirus pandemic has just accelerated its inevitable fall.
By Far is not exempt from this new reality. And yet, the red-hot shoe brand (and one of FN’s 2019 Emerging Talent honorees) is proving that a new-age digital playbook is the winning formula for success in fashion before, during — and likely after — the days of the pandemic.
Sisters Valentina Ignatova and Sabina Gyosheva, co-founders of the brand alongside Denitsa Bumbarova, spoke to FN over the phone from their shared household in Bulgaria on digital strategy, connecting with their consumers and what happened to their fall ’20 collection after their show during Paris Fashion Week.
How has life changed since we saw you in Paris for your fall ’20 presentation?
Valentina Ignatova: We are now in one house, with three kids — two 6-year-old boys and a 3-year-old girl. We thought we could be more productive together and help each other. I think the biggest challenge [right now] is when you wake up and instantly start working, you don’t take time for yourselves. We just try to push ourselves to feel more positive and bring our energy up.
How has business changed since the pandemic ramped up?
VI: By Far is super digital. If you look at distribution, together with wholesale and direct-to-consumer, we are 85% online [in sales]. We use a lot of software, [and] all communication is digital. So we were not that disturbed. It’s more about being super aware and educating ourselves nonstop on what’s happening.
Have your fall ’20 orders or edits changed at all?
VI: Our factories in Spain, Italy and Portugal are closed. Our factory in Bulgaria is still open, but we cannot produce if we don’t have the leathers, etc. But we don’t expect anything too dramatic in the delays. We didn’t eliminate any styles from the collection. The only thing that changed was a quantity reduction [in orders]. Our wholesalers are struggling. We have empathy for them and we want to make it work. We want to come up with a mutual strategy.
What does that strategy look like?
VI: In every situation, there is opportunity. We are trying to understand the opportunity in each microenvironment. For example, for marketing, people slow down their presence, but it’s the perfect opportunity to create a closer relationship with your clients, to create that sense of a true community. In terms of wholesale, now is the time to understand who is our mutual client. How can we help each other to help communicate our brand awareness for both companies through digital?
How are you communicating with customers right now?
VI: It’s very much on Instagram, but we (also) communicate via email on our website. It’s more about how can I make their lives easier and more joyful? For example, every week we are creating these paintings, coloring pages that you can print out and color. People really love it. We are also doing a series of playlists — ‘90s songs, ‘80s songs — whatever we like. We’re becoming the media. We’re thinking about how we can help them to think positively and concentrate on dreaming about what they will do after this nightmare is over.
How have your online sales changed?
VI: We cannot complain; we are very lucky. All of our online channels are doing really well. People right now are sitting at home. They just want to dream about their lives after this is over. The customer right now, online, is the dreamer. We are trying to give them that opportunity.
Is there any specific category that is doing better or worse right now?
VI: It’s absolutely the same [across categories]. Throughout the year, we equally sell boots, shoes and bags. Nothing is really heavy or seasonal. It’s a bit seasonless.
What are you looking forward to once life and business returns to normal?
VI: We have a saying in Bulgaria that for every bad thing, there is a good. We are thinking more creatively and trying to tap into that — not only for design but for community building. We are looking forward to creating special events for our environment. I cannot wait for this to be over so that we can celebrate life and being healthy.
Will you do any in-person events or remain wholly digital?
VI: We had a lot of pop-ups and events that we had to postpone, in places like the Middle East and China. When this is all over, we want to get back to that. It will be one after the other! We’ll have so much energy! I’m (also) dreaming of having pop-ups in L.A. and New York — when it is safe. We’ll only do it when it’s appropriate. We also have digital events coming up.
Why do you think By Far has remained successful throughout this challenging time?
VI: I think the key to succeeding in digital is evoking the physical emotion that you get when you see something in person. It’s not just about showing something [in terms of product], it’s [also] about creating an emotion. And that is engagement. I would advise other designers to think in terms of their client and to put themselves in their shoes. Go on your own website and experience the full journey through the eyes of your client.