by HELEN MASTERSThere is no doubt that since I wrote my last London Briefs column – ‘The AW20 London Lowdown’ – life has changed for us all.
Like everywhere else in the world, the UK entered lockdown at the end of March and is only now tentatively emerging. UK lingerie stores closed their doors for the longest period we have ever known and as I write, have been open less than a month.
So, what will the future hold? This is of course uncharted territory for all of us so the answer to that question does not come easily. One thing though is for sure – life for lingerie businesses will not be the same again.
As a consultant working with many lingerie, swimwear and nightwear brands and retailers globally, I’m in the fortunate position to be able to get the lowdown ‘from the horse’s mouth’ (as we say in Britain) – and that’s exactly what I’ve done.
In the last few weeks, I’ve interviewed British intimate apparel brands and retailers to find out how they are adapting in order to survive, and hopefully thrive, post Covid-19.
Through that process not only have I been able to start to see what the new normal might look like for the lingerie world, but I’ve also been able to hear the top tips for Success post Covid from stores and brands across the UK, and I’ve uncovered some fabulous ‘Ones to Watch’ for my Hot List.
Top Tips to Survive & Thrive Post Covid 19
We all know about the need to socially distance in store, quarantine items tried on and the challenge posed by not being able to offer the normal face to face bra fitting service – but beyond dealing with the ‘hygiene’ issues, how are businesses faring and what are their top tips to rise to the challenges posed by Covid 19? I spoke to a range or intimate apparel brands and retailers across the globe and this is what they said…
THE MANUFACTURER’S PERSPECTIVE
THE GLOBAL LINGERIE BRAND:
(Lise Charmel) “The UK market post-Covid is challenging for all: retailers have to make changes, and we all have to improve/reinforce communication with our customers, plus social distancing is changing our methods of fitting and selling for the foreseeable future. How well we all adapt to this change will define those who manage to stay strong. As a high end global lingerie brand that has traditionally been sold in face to face stores, we have made a conscious decision to embrace the new normal – ensuring we have an even stronger online focus, with excellent imagery with detailed shots and back end support for our stockists, and at the same time working with our retailers who are struggling with cashflow – we see it as a partnership and we know if retailers don’t buy, they won’t sell so we need to find a way through this by talking. All businesses are struggling to a lesser or greater extent and we all need to focus on ways of adapting and strengthening our strong points and often that is our knowledge of our customers. Strong communication is now a must – be that websites, social media, or just making calls and texts in a bespoke manner like a personal shopper would. Boutiques need to have permanent collections on websites so that customers can browse at home then call and buy personally. The boutique owner’s role is now even more personal than before and the role of the website is not impersonal – but a tool to greater sales and a starting point of a lingerie conversation and a business’s service. At the same time, brands need to support their retailers – we are all in this together.” Gwendolen Bridge, UK Sales Manager, Lise Charmel
THE INDIE LINGERIE BRAND
(Lucy Jones Lingerie) “The initial impact of Covid-19 was closed doors – retailers who I reached out to not replying or simply saying ‘no’ – all understandably. But there’s nothing like a closed door to keep me going. I focussed on developing my offering for consumers directly via my website and perfecting my up and coming collection including my bridal Trousseau collection which will go live, along with my fully transactional website, any day. I have also as a result had some positive signs form my retail partners so all in all I am optimistic post Lockdown.” Lucy Jones, Lucy Jones Lingerie – featured in my Hot List below
THE INDIE SWIMWEAR BRAND
(Deakin & Blue Swimwear) “It’s been a really interesting time for us and we’re definitely feeling the benefit of local production (we manufacture everything in East London) and small production runs which allow us to be lean and agile, responding to demand. We’re also 95% B2C so were not impacted by retailers cancelling huge wholesale orders in the way that a number of our competitors were.
Initially we found it didn’t feel quite right to be talking about swimwear back in March when the crisis escalated in the UK and many of our customers and followers were worried about their families, their financial situations and their future plans. And, of course, trips to the local pool or holidays were looking increasingly unlikely. However, as hope returned, we found that planning for a brighter future was a meaningful and inspiring way to re-engage with customers and so we launched our SS20 collection in Mid-April (some 2 months later than initially planned) with a pledge of 10% of all profits going to the NHS.
In early May we recognised that we had spare development and production capacity in our team, and that face masks were quickly becoming a high demand item that our customers would need as they returned to the “new normal” post lockdown. And so, we refocused our efforts on developing a face mask that was aligned with our brand values. The masks feature our hero Liberty London prints, and are sustainable, reusable (machine washable), versatile and comfortable. They’ve been hugely popular since we launched them in Mid-May.
Other than that, in the post-Covid world we are of course taking all due care across our operations – our customer services teams are working remotely and our warehouse teams are using social distancing in the warehouse so that we can still safely pack and dispatch orders to customers.” Rosie Cook, Deakin & Blue Swimwear – featured in my Hot List below
THE INDIE NIGHTWEAR BRAND
(Emma Harris Lingerie) “The early months of 2020 saw new business relationships blooming, with both current and new stockists and my loyal customer base loving my new collections. Then Covid-19 hit.
I’ve always applied a flexible approach to my business, with wholesale, drop ship & direct to client orders so with wholesale orders non-existent, I concentrated on offering drop shipping and website orders; and giving both retailers and consumers an even better deal – knowing that even though that presented me a financial challenge, it would hopefully pay off longer term. Thinking that this may be the time when loungewear that could be worn in furlough as needed, I quickly designed and produced my new Everyday Essential collection – Anais. To my delight, that paid off with a lot of interest from retailers and my loyal customers and increased new orders and I’m pleased to say this is becoming a growth period for my brand.” Claire Emma Harris, Emma Harris Lingerie
THE INDIE HOSIERY BRAND
(Brown Skin Essentials) “Staying nimble and resilient have been key traits to transcending this difficult period for me. My initial offering, skin tone tights, were less in demand as people were forced to stay indoors, so I had to quickly pivot. I’ve now diversified into an area that I had never considered before: face coverings. Within a few weeks, I had a new product launched.” Kumutha Ramanathan, Founder and CEO, Brown Skin Essentials
THE RETAILER’S PERSPECTIVE
THE BRICKS & MORTAR STORE
(Coco Boo Lingerie) “We have managed to adapt by offering fittings by appointment only, allowing only 2 customers in the shop at any one time. All garments are steamed and put away for 24 hours after each customer. This has proven to be a lot of extra work to keep on top of but necessary. Our Fit by sight service means we can keep our distance, wearing masks and ensuring hand sanitiser is used pre, during and after each fitting. Customers have been really positive – they actually love the personal aspect of having the shop closed while they are fitted and just happy that they have somewhere to go while the larger department stores have closed their fitting rooms. We have had positive feedback on our Zoom Virtual fittings, these have customers across the UK.” Coco Boo Lingerie, 49, Rectory Grove, Leigh on Sea. 01702 715115
(Raine and Bea) “There isn’t much change for me regarding numbers of people allowed in the boutique, but I have found hygiene and making the customer feel safe in the boutique is key. We do wear masks and have hand sanitizer available on entry. During a fitting we would wear gloves and a face mask and fit the bra at arms’ length & after the customer has left, we wipe down all surfaces and handles. I have also done a couple of virtual fittings over Zoom.” Raine and Bea, 4 Moor Lane, Castlegate, Clitheroe Lancashire, BB7 1BE. Tel: 01200 538 94
THE ONLINE RETAILER
(KnickerLocker.com) “We have had to move our operations to work from home, but as we are a small company we have adapted really well and have continued to offers our customers deliveries, easy returns and ongoing customer support online and over the phone. Our customer service team have always been on hand to help customers with their bra fitting over the phone, chat online or by email. This hasn’t changed since we launched in 2015. Work hasn’t really stopped for us!” KnickerLocker.com
(BeautifullyUndressed.com) “As an online store c-19 hasn’t impacted us, as we have been able to stay ‘open’. All our packing is done in house, but we are extra vigilant with our process, making sure our packing area is disinfected and packing with gloved hands etc. At the beginning of lock down we posted items once a week, but that has been eased off now that we are more or less going back to normal. We’ve actually had an increase in sales of our soft bras and lounge collections. With everyone working from home, there’s been a desire to be as comfortable as possible!” BeautifullyUndressed.com
THE OWN BRAND MANUFACTURER/RETAILER
(Lucy May Lingerie) “My boutique is now open by appointment only as it is a small boutique so minimises risk if I have only one customer in at any one time. However, I am offering consultation ‘guidance’ via the phone/ email. I have always offered a bra fitting service over the phone and this has increased, plus I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of online messages I have received to ask for advice before purchase. To date online sales have increased and I’ve had no returns.” Lucy May Lingerie, 9 Union Road, Nether Edge, Sheffield S11 9EF
THE HOME STUDIO CONSULTANT
(SoS Lingerie) “I run my business on an appointment basis and since opening up my diary again I have been quite full with bookings. My clients have always had private appointments and their feedback post covid is that they prefer to come to a private studio rather than going into high street shops and like the uninterrupted personal appointment service. I also introduced video Lingerie Consultations, this is a video call where the current bra fit is reviewed, the client is advised of incorrect fitting issues and the recommended changes needed to their size. I do not sell lingerie on the call. There is a small fee, redeemable against purchases if/when the client books in for an appointment.
Maintaining a social media presence during covid has led to new leads coming in once lockdown was lifted, so for me business as usual has continued in terms of presence and I believe this has been key into my diary currently being full.” SoS Lingerie
Helen’s ‘Hot List’
Here’s my round up of the latest ‘Ones to Watch’ in lingerie and swimwear post Covid, plus my Retailer of the Moment:
Hot UK Lingerie Brand: Lucy Jones Lingerie
Established in 1981, this design-led luxury brand rapidly became a must-have label amongst fashionistas of the time; was worn by the world’s top models and graced the covers of Vogue. Now back with the same heritage pieces (check out the iconic Skater dress) that have been updated for the modern lingerie lover, as well as a new collection of bralettes, slips, kimonos and French Knickers – all with the signature aesthetic ‘excluding lace but exuding glamour’ Lucy Jones is making waves again. I have been lucky enough to try her pieces and they are exquisite. Expensive? – Yes. Worth it? Totally! Check it out at www.lucyjoneslingerie.com
Hot UK Swimwear Brand: Deakin & Blue
Launched during a global lockdown, Deakin & Blue’s latest SS20 collection features new reversible styles, tan-friendly cuts and Liberty hero prints as well as all the sculpting, bust-supporting and sustainable qualities customers and fans have come to trust in this highly British, highly ethical swimwear brand. This really is swimwear for everyone and I love the size and style inclusivity, with bikinis and swimsuits in sizes 8-20, and designed in three silhouettes:
The Hepburn: for AA-B cup, The Monroe: for C-E cup and The Hendricks: For F-HH cup
And don’t forget their divine Liberty print facemasks – a must have accessory this summer!
Hot UK Retailer: La Belle Boudoir
Based in Taunton, Somerset, La Belle Boudoir is a place that allows you to browse through exquisite lingerie under the expert care and guidance of Carmela. Carmela is known by her customers as a lady who lives and breathes her philosophy that all women deserve to feel beautiful, and she is ready to share it with you in the form of the perfect bra. A popular choice for her expertise, personal service and beautiful collections, Carmela has recently reopened her store post Covid-19 and also offers a range of services such as Zoom bra fittings for anyone who can’t make it into the store. She has a loyal following of women who will only shop for underwear with her – check her out at LabelleBoudoir.com or make a visit to LA BELLE BOUDOIR, 12 RIVERSIDE PLACE, TAUNTON, SOMERSET, TA1 1JH