“When the pandemic struck, my first thought when it hit was, I’m going to die,” says Sabrina Zohar, the founder of a Brooklyn-based brand that makes sustainable loungewear. “I was afraid that we would close our doors and liquidate,” she said. This wasn’t the first fashion company to think so. The future of fashion looked grim when COVID-19 came to power and forced everyone inside. Many brands were left with products no one wanted, and consumers uncertain of what the future holds. Brand orders were being cancelled by stores. Even beloved brands and stores were forced to close their doors. The industry is still reeling from the downturn, and many are hoping to make enough money to cover expenses, if not to turn a profit, this year. Some fashion brands have managed to achieve success through their creativity and strategic style pivots.

“My mother used to say, ‘Necessity’ is the mother invention.’ I was forced to adjust to this new reality. Tie-dye was back in fashion at the beginning of March. I had a lot inventory, specifically white joggers, so it was a natural choice to adapt. They were custom-made-to-order and she began to tie-dye them.” “Instead creating pieces that I wasn’t sure if anybody would like, or even want to buy, I decided to create something that was so unique to each client, something they would genuinely enjoy.” Zohar reports that softwear sold for $150,000 in tie dye alone. She adds, “It was our rainbow to our stormy cloud.”

smiling girl in pink and green crew neck t-shirt

Cynthia Sakai, Vita Fede’s jewelry designer, didn’t just launch a product to adapt to the pandemic. She also launched a completely new business. Sakai states, “I saw a need for people having access to affordable, simple-to-wear and stylish masks that actually work.” The answer is evolvetogether, an FDA-registered brand of single-use medical masks that have a clean, minimalist look and a matte cloth-like finish.

Even though a medical mask business was set up organically for success in a time of limited PPE, Sakai was surprised at the extent evolvetogether was exposed. The styles were worn by celebrities such as Hailey Bieber, Katie Holmes, Ariana Grande, Vanessa Hudgens, and Hailey Bieber. There was also a 40,000-person waiting list. Sakai states that the reason for our growth has been due to people liking our masks and feeling confident knowing that our masks had been tested and confirmed to work as they claimed. “I didn’t imagine I would make masks, much less waitlisted for celebrities to wear them.”

man in white crew neck shirt wearing black sunglasses

Karen Perez, fashion stylist, also didn’t see face masks being made before 2020. She was compelled to make one when she received requests from clients to find them chic, high-end masks. “I made my own design. She says she wanted a feminine and chic mask. “The chains added an interesting touch.” Second Wind’s facemasks are unique for their linen material (the brand is now offering silk versions), custom fit (something that is still rare), style factor and overall fashion. However, the chains that were attached to them were a novelty during the pandemic. They were different from other cloth mask brands. Second Wind sold more than 10,000 units in just 24 hours during the July pre-sale.

Perez says, “It was so overwhelming, that I had to close the web shop the next day.” “We were a made to order business and this was not something I was prepared for and expected.” The second drop sold in 10 minutes. The second wind also became a headline when WeWoreWhat’s Danielle Bernstein was accused by the media of copying the design for the face mask. She denied the accusations.

Hill House Home was poised for success, even though it didn’t know how much before this year. The home brand’s Nap Dress was a flowing frock with a smocked bodice and was first released in 2019. However, the name was trademarked in January 2020. It was only when spring’s stay at-home orders began that the dress was deemed a fashion trend and was crowned the 2020 Fashion Item of the Year.

The dress was a Hill House Home founder Nell Diamond’s “long-term dream” and she wasn’t certain it would be a hit with her customer. “I wondered if it was a Nell Thing’ – something that only I cared about. Diamond says that when we launched our first Nap Dress Collection, we quickly realized that the combination between comfort, style and price worked.”

She claims that the Nap Dress is currently 50% of the brand’s business. Each new launch – which now comes in six styles and a variety colors – results in the brand’s highest sales day and week. Hill House Home was able to sell one million dollars worth of inventory in just 30 minutes during its October drop. Diamond said that versatility was key to the success of the Nap Dress. The Nap Dress can be worn indoors or out. This is a convenient way to go from bed to work, from a meeting to dinner to errands to dinner without having to change out of your Nap Dress.

The Folklore is an online boutique that sells pieces from designers from Africa and around the world. They didn’t expect the success that 2020 would bring. Amira Rasool was the founder of the Folklore. In March, her sales dropped to the point where she considered getting another job to maintain the business’s viability. Rasool said, “I’m a gogetter, and I’m someone that always perseveres over everything.” However, she was unsure what she would have to give up. Rasool cut all “not super urgent” expenses, which significantly reduced her monthly overhead.

woman in yellow and white floral dress

Many news sites and media outlets expressed support for Black Lives Matter and published lists of Black-owned businesses that they supported (we included this list). Rasool claims that Folklore was prominently mentioned, which led to an increase of sales. “I didn’t think being Black would be something that would benefit me. Rasool says that as Black people, we are so used to Black being something that makes us less safe at home and from getting the job. But after seeing the George Floyd video, there was an overwhelming amount of support. I can remember thinking, Is this what white people feel when they start things? I don’t know how many people have reached out to me, offered resources, or posted about me like this.”

“The Folklore is more than Black-owned. It was established in 2018 with the mission of supporting other Black creatives. It’s more than me being Black. It’s what my company stands for.” She explains that Folklore was created to assist other Black people and peoples from Africa. “These retailers have pledged to stock our products because we already had connections with these Black designers,” she said. Many people tried to find leaders in fashion who had been consistently working with Black-owned businesses and who specifically worked to empower Black designers.

With that in mind, the retailer’s most buzz-worthy moment came last month when it announced an ongoing partnership with retailer giant Farfetch to showcase some of the fashion brands carried on The Folklore. Although The Folklore has been consistently promoting these brands is due to the partnership between their fashion forces, Rasool’s persistence was what landed her this opportunity. While attending Farfetch’s fashion and retail tech accelerator. Dream Assembly, Rasool says she raised her hand during a talk given by Farfetch North America President Jeffery Fowler. I asked Rasool, “What are you doing to include more Black and African designers in your website?” She also asked, “How can you help my company, The Folklore?” It all started there.

The pandemic began with a slowdown in clothing sales due to consumers not having any clothes to wear and uncertain futures. However, recent trends have seen a shift in the way consumers shop. Many have decided to stop buying cheap fashion and instead invest in high-quality, long-lasting items that can last years. Kelsy Parkhouse is the founder of Carleen women’s clothing brand. She has seen this mindset shift firsthand. Despite sales looking “bleak” in spring, she says that the orders from August and beyond not only made up the losses in spring but also outpaced Carleen’s 2019 figures.

“The unique pieces are doing well. She says that people are simply excited to have that special emotional connection with the garment. We don’t get to see our friends as often. We don’t have the same opportunities to travel as we used to, so you won’t get the emotional rush from wearing my clothes. You won’t get this if you buy something from a large retailer. That’s why you should shop directly from the designer, or from a local shop that has a good relationship with all of the designers they work with.”

person holding black textile on brown wooden table

She attributes Carleen’s sales promise to her relationship with clients. “I had an interaction on Instagram with a customer who described the jacket that she received from me as being a lifetime warm, cozy hug.” But she also pointed out quilt outerwear, which is the brand’s specialty, as a fashion trend right now. Parkhouse suggests that Carleen could have experienced this moment and upswing if the world were a little more normal. “This is something we’ve been working towards for quite some time. But I can’t be certain.”

There is no way to know what the future holds for fashion, or what will ensure a fashion company’s success in 2021. We spoke with all brands that said businesses need to keep true to their brand’s vision, and not forget why they were founded. Fashion will need to be able to navigate the new post-pandemic consumer, in addition to navigating the immediate financial challenges facing many businesses. Sakai says that many consumers have seen a shift in their perspective. They realize they can do without a lot and are more careful about what they spend money on. It’s not enough to have a social media moment. Brands must be clear about how they fulfill both functional and emotional needs to remain relevant and successful. She plans to expand evolvetogether’s products to include more “thoughtfully crafted daily essentials”, as the demand for masks is likely to decrease in the future.

Zohar encourages companies to listen to customers now. She has experienced this firsthand when she was creating custom tie-dye pieces for softwear. She says, “Throughout this process I realized that the more customers feel like they have a voice, and the more they feel like they’re laying bricks down with you, then the stronger your relationship with them.” Customer service is the most important thing.

Although The Folklore had a good year, Rasool says it’s still a win for any brand that can make it. “My advice is to find ways to keep your business open. I don’t say you should find ways to increase sales by two weeks. It’s impossible to do that for many industries right now. Just survive and be as financially, mentally, and physically as possible,” she said. “Bring your strength back from the storms.”

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