Coterie has returned to New York City after being thrown in doubt due to this year’s earlier surge in the COVID-19 Omicron variant. It was a quieter climate for retailers this season, with fewer buyers traveling, but retailers say that tradeshows are coming back in full force, and the industry has pivoted its business models.
Magnolia Pearl, a retail company based in Fredericksburg, Texas, is the brainchild of artist Robin Brown who treats clothes as her canvas. The company has the benefit of being completely seasonless. They also produce very limited quantities and doesn’t do any pre-books.
“Being seasonless is advantageous to us because we sell all around the world,” said Michal Douthit, a wholesale representative for the brand, to FashionUnited. “Because we produce such limited quantities, people know they need to buy it immediately. It’s not unheard of for our sold-out products to get thrown up on eBay for double the price. We’ve had jeans sell out in a day and end up going for twice the price on resale sites.”
Magnolia Pearl produces in India, so they do an extensive amount of handwork, including using the hand block print method. None of the brand’s prints are digital, and they also do sun fading, meaning no two items are ever alike. In the wake of COVID-19, the brand says they have noticed all their stores pivoting toward using social media to sell clothes.
The brand was in a lucky place in that it actually flourished during COVID-19. “Aside from our flagship store having to shut down, our brand was still performing very well,” Douthit said to FashionUnited. “There was no more in-store shopping, but we have made up for that with e-commerce. People are also shopping our brand at the brick-and-mortar stores that carry us again, so we’re in a good place.
COVID-19 also proved to be beneficial to new platforms that acted as the middlemen between buyers and brands. Blanc Fashion is one such platform that launched just a few months before the pandemic and has seen incredible growth due to both being a year-round virtual showroom for buyers and being able to connect buyers with brands at a time when travel is limited.
Blanc Fashion sources brands from the U.S., Europe, and South America. At a time when the fashion industry is more globalized than ever, Blanc Fashion was a lifesaver for brands during COVID-19.
“Brands used to rely on solely in-person connections with buyers and consumers, but now they can do everything digitally,” said Karol Coelho, sales manager of Blanc Fashion, to FashionUnited. “Our platform became beneficial to a lot of buyers because we are pretty much a non-stop showroom since all our brand collections are viewable online. It also makes it easier for buyers to physically come to tradeshows and have an idea of what brands they want to buy already.”
“We’re seeing more buyers asking brands to join digital platforms to make the sales process easier,” said Pusia Chatfield, brand director of Blanc Fashion, to FashionUnited. “So much of the old process was so archaic with the note-taking and paper. It should just be as easy as adding to a cart and checking out.”
Blank London, a U.K.-based brand, was happy to return to Coterie after seeing a strong rebound last year. The brand is transitionary, so many of their buyers focus on obtaining Blank’s transitional season pieces, and now COVID-19 is seemingly having a minimal effect on their sales.
“If people are going to buy it, they are going to buy it,” said Hannah Morris, a showroom representative for the brand, to FashionUnited. “What we’re working on right now is building more personal relationships with the retailers we work with that may not have been able to make it to Coterie this season.”
While many brands are going direct-to-consumer, Blank London is proud that they are all wholesale and sees it as beneficial to their business model. “We’re a company that comes from overseas,” Morris said to FashionUnited. “We don’t want to direct-to-consumer because it would oversaturate the brand, and you don’t want to become oversaturated to the point where your brand is seen everywhere. As an independent brand, we don’t want to become too oversaturated because we don’t have a legacy or household name to bounce back on. For us and the people we sell to, we don’t want to end up in a discount store or off-price retailer.”
She added, “One of the reasons we also don’t want to end up in heavily discounted chains or oversaturated is because we produce in India, and we pay all our employees living wages. Our business model makes it possible for us to own all our factories, keep them in good conditions, and pay our employees fair wages.”
Despite a tumultuous time, due to COVID-19, brands and companies are rebounding at Coterie. Digital has become more essential to brands than ever, and although there is growth in direct-to-consumer, wholesale is still essential to businesses.