It's hard to explain what these past few weeks have felt like. I acknowledge that each business will find its own way through this unprecedented moment in our industry's history. For me it has felt like I am trying to solve an equation on a whiteboard (à la Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind") while standing in quicksand. Every day is a challenge to keep our business alive, our team and community safe and our customers inspired and loyal.
I started my company at the age of 25 years old because I wanted to help women fall in love with color, be inspired and feel happy. I was young, naive and 100% focused on being creative. In the past eight years, I have built a brand that I'm extremely proud of, that is sold in over 120 stores in the US, and that I am now fighting to protect.
As I write this, I am currently six months pregnant with my second boy and self-quarantining in Toronto with the borders shut down. I question if it's weird that what keeps me up at night is which retailer might cancel our next delivery instead of whether I will be giving birth alone in a delivery room without my husband (as per potential NYC restrictions). But no, it's not weird...because this company is my baby. I have a team of 28 people in NYC who I deeply believe in and feel incredibly responsible for, as they are financially reliant on me being able to figure out how we address this crisis. I am used to being in control of our finances, our terms with stores and what and when we create, which allows me to direct my efforts to how I want my team and my customers to feel. The challenges we are facing every day are mentally and physically exhausting and our current situation brings to light the internal conflict between my desire to protect our employees versus the operational priorities I face as CEO. I looked at all our options and made the decision that it is a priority to protect our people first.
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Every Monday morning we have an all-team meeting. Three Mondays ago was our first digital Monday morning meeting (courtesy of Zoom, my new best friend) and was different from any meeting that preceded it. Our President and I addressed the company honestly and openly and laid out our priorities for the weeks ahead – getting as much information as possible from our retailers, partners, media, other designers, the CFDA and the government and most importantly, cutting costs wherever possible. Each team was tasked with scrutinizing their budget to save every possible dollar – sacrifices were made in order to save our employees, and in one week, we saved $1.4MM by being diligent, logical and rethinking what was absolutely essential for the business to function at this exact moment. Our sales forecast is impossible to predict for the remainder of 2020, but our losses will far outweigh these savings and continue to put pressure on us every day. This situation before us has eliminated the time for thinking and put much-needed emphasis on doing. With this in mind, I've put together the 10 actions I've taken the past three weeks that have helped us in the hope that it might provide a roadmap for other brands facing similar challenges.
We have grown from 10 to 28 people in the past two years. I have been clear to the team and shown in action that my priority is to protect them the best I can amidst this financial uncertainty. Staying connected is what will save us and allow us to feel stability. It's also easy to forget what working with each other feels like, so we have started Thursday night virtual Pictionary cocktail hour – don't forget about the qualitative when you are drowning in quantitative evaluation.
Supporting our community
Philanthropy during this time is critical and we believe that doing what you can to help the community should be a priority. In the month of March we donated 10% of sales from our e-commerce orders to Kids in Need and last Tuesday we launched an initiative to create and donate 10,000 masks to NYC hospitals to protect our health care workers. We privately raised $15,000 to produce 5,000 masks and began crowdsourcing to produce 5,000 more. We surpassed our goal in less than a week and have been so overwhelmed by the show of support, that we are continuing to raise funds to keep producing PPE. Next on our list is figuring out how to make isolation gowns. If development or production is slowing down and you have a talented team who can make anything, divert their talent to make something that matters.
Shifting our marketing
We immediately shifted our marketing to focus entirely on positivity, creativity and color. We believe it's important to bring our customers along on our journey during this challenging time. From hosting digital color therapy classes to asking our audience to digitally paint their ceilings on Instagram to imagine a more joyful environment, we are shifting our creative energy to dream and to make an impact outside of clothing.
Cutting costs, no matter how small
Everything is up for negotiation. We have hustled and asked for a lot of favors. From rent relief and eliminating uncut inventory to canceling subscriptions and rethinking lookbooks, no cost has been too small to rethink. We canceled our water cooler replacement and honestly that felt triumphant. The only thing you should be spending on right now is people and production.
Partnering with our retailers
Our retailers are big and small but what unites them is that they are struggling too. We have actively shown partnership, extended payment terms, shared marketing collateral, hosted virtual product knowledge sessions with their staff, shared e-commerce imagery, and continue to be available to support them in any way possible. At this time, 85% of our business is wholesale — the faster they recover, the faster we recover.
Rethinking our delivery cadence
We've adjusted the cadence of all products originally slated from March through June and will defer shipping our Spring 3, Summer and Pre-Fall deliveries to later when stores are open and customers are shopping. Many retailers are canceling orders for late Spring and Summer deliveries, but we are not accepting cancellations outright and are instead looking for partnership and creative solutions to repackage assortments. We should all be focused on selling goods that have already been produced, paid for and shipped across the ocean – declaring these new products valueless is wasteful and it's critical that we are paid for the costs incurred to produce these pieces in order to stay solvent. The silver lining is that this reset might finally provide a much-needed change to the retail calendar to better align with customers' seasonal needs.
Reevaluating our production needs
We've re-evaluated all uncut production and reduced our available-to-sell inventory anywhere we could. In the past, we would have had extra inventory to give us an in-season buffer to respond to demand – this year we won't, which means that our bets are permanent and create additional risk.
Having honest conversations with our factories
Our factories are mostly in China and are just now re-emerging from their own battle with COVID-19. We are having honest conversations about payment schedules and feasibility, which is helping us maintain and strengthen our partnerships while also prioritizing payments that benefit both businesses so that we can all get out of this stronger. We also work with factories in India and with the recent announcement of 21-day closures there, we will rely heavily on reallocating to our Chinese partners. Never burn bridges.
Evaluating all emergency funding opportunities from the government
We are talking to the CFDA, SBA, and are monitoring anything that is available from the government for us to bridge our losses. We are applying for all loans and employee wage coverages available. Our finance team and I are up late nights filling out applications for PPP, EIDL and all coverage we can find to help our business move forward.
Supporting our industry
We've been spending time thinking about what will happen to our industry as a whole – our retailers are filing for bankruptcy, small designers are left with unsold inventory, and the economy is heading for a recession. Just as we are coming together to fight COVID-19, we need to come together to rebuild what is broken about our industry. Our team has come up with some ideas including:
- Starting an online marketplace for American fashion brands to band together to sell our unsold inventory with 15% of proceeds going back to the healthcare industry.
- Coordinating Zoom calls for founders and C-Level executives to openly talk about issues they are facing and developing solutions in real-time.
- Banding together to change the delivery cadence to align with how our customers are actually shopping.
I know I won't be alone in re-evaluating priorities and streamlining operations after we emerge from this pandemic, but as we navigate through new challenges each day, it's become clear to me that it will be essential to our survival as an industry that we work together. We have ideas, but we need your help to make them a reality. If these ideas are of interest, or if you have others you would like to work on together, we encourage you to email us at email@example.com. If we plan together now, our industry and our community will come out of this stronger.