As the UK and countless other countries across the world remain in lockdown and people continue to get accustomed - as much as possible - to the new working-from-home reality, consumer shopping behaviours are changing and the fashion industry is feeling the effects.
Some fashion categories are understandably faring better than others as consumers increasingly look to prioritise comfort and practicality over formalwear while stuck indoors. According to data collected by online search platform Stylight of its 12 million international monthly users, consumer interest in loungewear is surging, with clicks for sweatpants and hoodies up 26.5 percent and 13 percent, respectively, for the last two weeks of March.
On the other side of the scale, categories like formalwear and occasionwear have seen a marked decrease in interest as international lockdowns spell the temporary end of (non-virtual) events and people no longer feel the need to dress up for work.
One such brand is UK formalwear label Kaya Turello. Launched in June 2019, the womenswear power-dressing brand reimagines and modernises the power suit to a working women’s wardrobe.
The label’s prices range from 160-180 pounds for power jackets, 85 pounds for dresses and 70 pounds for trousers.
FashionUnited spoke with the founder of her eponymous label, Kaya Turello, about how Covid-19 has impacted her business up until now, the effect it has had on the design process, and on her positive outlook for the future of her label.
As a formalwear and occasionwear brand, how have you been affected by Covid-19?
Our suits are worn by a wide variety of women for different occasions - from the office to dinners, public events and even on the weekend styled with jeans or shorts. Unfortunately as all of these occasions have recently been limited or made impossible, we have experienced a sharp decline in sales as workwear and loungewear have suddenly become synonymous.
To what extent has the government’s Covid-19 mitigation measures helped the company? Is there more you think they could have done?
As a company still in the start-up phase, we have not qualified for any financial support from the government. The grants are based on business rates, which we are not directly liable for at this stage. Like a lot of small businesses we use flexible offices and warehousing facilities where business rates are included in the monthly price. It gives us the flexibility that we need to scale up or down, however at the same time it means that we are not eligible for financial support and have to self-fund business continuity.
It is commendable how quickly and generously the government responded to support businesses in the UK during the crisis, although as ever it is difficult to capture all that genuinely require help.
We are proud to ensure continuity of our operations given the inherent flexibility of a start-up without being a burden on the taxpayer. Going forward, rather than help to rescue business, we would welcome more support for entrepreneurship in general. Tax breaks and more flexible employment laws are always helpful, and given the difficult time for the economy, it will likely be even more difficult for entrepreneurs to start up self-funded businesses, whilst they are crucial for fuelling the economy.
How is the brand prioritising its time during lockdown?
We are using the time to engage with our customers and the industry through social media and also designing future pieces. As the brand grows we will add more designs and colours (rather than replacing the collection), as such we have the flexibility to phase in new designs over time without a specific schedule of how many and when have to be launched.
Did you have a business continuity plan? If so, did it work as hoped?
In all honesty, as a new brand only entering the market we didn’t have a continuity plan, our plan was to properly launch before thinking how to continue. Luckily, by being new and having relatively low operational costs, we have the flexibility to continuously adjust what we do without having to make difficult decisions unlike our more established competitors with larger workforce or physical premises.
Do you think this will overall change the way you do business? For example, have you implemented strategies that you think you will keep post-lockdown?
We are an online store and as such will continue to invest in that channel. We believe that the current situation will lead to even more women shopping online in the long term. Previously sceptical consumers will grow confidence in the channel and appreciate the convenience.
The concept of the brand is to add new designs and colours, by growing rather than replacing collections. We want our customers to be able to come back for new separates that complement their existing pieces from Kaya Turello, and build out their wardrobe of suits and possibilities of matching rather than buying completely new suits. It is about maximising wear from each piece and investing in your wardrobe - maximum possibilities with minimum wardrobe space.
We feel that in the current conditions, the concept of investment pieces and slow fashion is more relevant than ever, as such we feel well positioned to cater to the emerging customer’s sentiment. As a business it gives us the agility to grow in a sustainable way rather than at a pace imposed by the industry’s schedule.
In terms of the design process, how has that been affected? Are you still designing for the coming season? How will the sampling process be managed?
Yes, we are in the process of designing new pieces and have had a couple planned to launch in June. We always believed in working with manufacturers close to home in order to ensure good fit in the way we work, build lasting relationships and to maintain control over quality. It meant that our sampling process was very easy and would normally take a couple of short-haul flights around Europe, however now it has been extended over many weeks as we rely on samples being couriered back and forth. It is still easier than if we were outsourcing to more remote locations, but slower than we would have liked.
The slower sampling process, coupled with the slow-down in sales means that we may need to delay the launch of at least some of the new pieces. We are however lucky to be working with contractors in Europe who like us are fairly small and therefore flexible enough to adjust ways of working and support each other during those times. Depending on how long the lockdown will last, we may still be able to launch new pieces before summer.
Some people are suggesting the work-from-home culture will be bigger post-lockdown compared to how it was before. Is loungewear or more casual work-from-home wear something you’d consider exploring?
It has been incredible to watch how quickly corporates and traditionally highly regulated - and therefore less flexible - have reacted and ensured business continuity in the process. To an extent, this way of working will be more common post lockdown given financial benefits to companies being able to reduce physical premises.
The comfort of our suits have previously been compared to loungewear, so I think we may be there already in terms of work-from-home collection! For us workwear is about the feeling of extra confidence and empowerment, adding that blazer on top of anything you are wearing can dramatically change the way you feel. On the other hand, wearing the traditional loungewear when ‘on duty’, can be dangerous in blurring the lines between work and home life. We continue to believe in the confidence-boosting power of our suits and the collection still being relevant and appropriate for working - whether that’s in the office or your balcony. All the public events and gatherings that have had to be cancelled as a result of lockdown will also come back, and we wouldn’t like to be seen there wearing ‘trackies’.
Having said that, as the situation develops and new ways of working start to embed themselves in our day to day, we will continue to be inspired by the modern working woman and cater to her changing needs and tastes, and use our flexibility to grow our range accordingly.
Photo credit: Kaya Turello