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Sourcing Summit: 3 Ways Fashion Scrambled to Adapt During Covid

The Covid-19 pandemic impacted all apparel brands in some way, exacerbating problems that already existed in the supply chain or creating new ones altogether. But as the pandemic forced these brands to adapt, they are coming up with ways to seize the disruption as an opportunity to reshape their organizations going forward and head into 2021 with stronger business models.

During the R/Evolution Sourcing Journal Summit on last week, leaders of luxury fashion brand Lafayette 148, women’s swimwear and fashion brand Mara Hoffman and brand licensor Marquee Brands shared stories about the sacrifices and transformations that have been made both throughout the pandemic and potentially in the future.

Lafayette 148 increases store presence

Deirdre Quinn, co-founder and CEO of Lafayette 148, noted that the women’s wear firm has already been adapting to the decreasing shopper appetite to patronize department stores, with plans to shrink sales from the channel from its 70 percent in 2020 to 40 percent by 2022. Luxury department stores in particular have been volatile for the brand, which was one of more than 30 labels Neiman Marcus owed money to when it filed for bankruptcy in May.

By the end of the year, the retailer will have opened 12 stores globally during the year, building off the momentum of three popup stores it opened at the pandemic’s start to sell cancelled inventory. Since the stores “worked extremely well,” their initial timeline was extended from six months to a full year.

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The company also feels it benefits from being mostly vertically integrated, with much of its merchandise manufactured at its own factory in Shantou, China. Additionally, Lafayette 148 recently implemented Browzwear so its designers can leverage the technology’s virtual patternmaking capabilities and build out what Quinn calls a “smart factory,” which the company has been working on for years.

“We believe in our business it’s going to be about more custom, and the ability to shift,” Quinn said. “Jackets are not what’s selling right now. It’s all about knitwear so you have to make sure you can get more knitwear, less jackets, more blouses. We were just able to move quickly. I don’t know if anyone can move as fast as we’ve been moving, but we are all certainly trying.”

Planning for 2021 is still entirely up in the air for Quinn, who said she has “148 different versions of the plan” but remains confident that Lafayette 148 will be ready for apparel’s comeback.

Mara Hoffman starts DTC push, limits top wholesale partners

Mara Hoffman adapted to shopping trends spurred on by the pandemic by opting not to produce its 2020 fall collection. The decision heavily factored in the company’s sustainability commitments, with owner and president Mara Hoffman asserting that “the idea of making more things to solve an inventory problem seems very counterintuitive.”

Hoffman describes the business as in “the very beginning steps of shifting towards DTC” since the majority of the brand, like Lafayette 148, largely tilted toward wholesale. But the Covid-related shift will continue to move even further this coming spring with the next collection, which was shown only to select accounts in September.

“During our Market Week, normally we have over 100 wholesale accounts [viewing our collections]. We narrowed down to 10 accounts,” Hoffman said. “We made that shift, and we looked at who were our actual partners through these past seven months and who were standing by us. I think people throw around that word ‘partnership’ quite a bit in the wholesale business and really from the brand side of things, it’s often not a partnership. We’re financing their orders, we’re giving terms and we’re taking things back.”

Hoffman knows it’s a tricky position for her eponymous brand, since the company can’t just exit poor partnerships all together if it wants to maintain its relationship with its factories and not entirely dent its margins. She recommends wholesale to adapt to brands’ interpretations of the modern fashion calendar, particularly as more consumers demand that brands operate sustainably.

“I think it’s about reevaluating their offering and what their own talents are, and getting off of these archaic timeframes where we’re also selling coats in the middle of the summer and beginning to bring spring in the freezing January, so our things aren’t selling until everything goes on sale and instead are selling when it becomes actually relevant and in alignment with the weather that people are shopping for,” Hoffman said. “It’s about wholesalers speeding up with what the brands are already feeling.”

Marquee Brands enters ‘Marquee 2.0’

Although the Body Glove brand got hit with an anticipated 25 to 30 percent loss of business within its swimwear categories across men’s, women’s and kids’ demographics this year, global senior vice president Peter Maule lauded its mix of approximately 70 categories as a differentiator that resurrected sales back up to flat for the full year and has the company “bullish” for a record year in 2021.

The Body Glove story is one of many for parent company Marquee Brands, which acquired the brand four years ago and only recently named former Gap brand chief Neil Fiske as CEO. With a 45-brand portfolio, the licensor is planning to double down on direct-to-consumer sales, particularly through investments in inventory management, technology and human capital, according to Maule, who also serves as senior vice president, sports and active brands at Marquee Brands.

“You have to be in inventory 365 days of the year,” Maule said. “With the seasonal business, it’s understanding how you need to slow those goods and manage cash. The main thing from our perspective is, what kind of support tools can we provide in terms of understanding weekly rate-of-sale numbers that we can provide to licensees based on our entire business.”

Maule touched on Marquee Brands’ recent Sur La Table acquisition, which he said will help to bring the company into the “Marquee 2.0” era. While the company traditionally acquired brands with the intent on changing them into a licensing model, Sur La Table is being handled differently. Marquee is looking into various ways to get Sur La Table’s current customers to shop for the company’s diverse portfolio brands.

“We’re able to take a brand that has an enormous database of customers, and we’re really thinking about how we harvest that consumer data, how we’re able to segment and capitalize on really speaking that shopper,” Maule said. “We really believe owning that customer data and speaking directly to the consumer is a big part of the future of our key brands, and it really was the catalyst to thinking differently about how we acquire companies both today and in the future.”

All of the sessions from this year’s virtual Sourcing Journal Summit, R/Evolution, are available on demand for the first time. Follow this link for more information.