Pilot and Powell

How Indie Fashion Brands Are Fighting Coronavirus Despite The Financial Risks

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COVID-19's catastrophic effects have spurred the fashion industry to pump the brakes on ordinary business and engage with pandemic relief efforts in creative ways. To date, there have been some extraordinary actions taken by key figures ranging from the launch of the CFDA's A Common Thread fund to Ralph Lauren's generous $10 million contribution back in March. And while the list of corporations and big-name designers getting involved continues to grow, smaller indie fashion brands are also aiding with Coronavirus relief, albeit with less wide-reaching attention than their conglomerate counterparts.

Despite the uncertainties that come with operating a small business — production constraints and tight profit margins included — there are many indie labels and retailers who are still figuring out ways to contribute to the pandemic recovery. It makes sense that these businesses are poised to operate empathetically — small businesses are highly involved with their customer and therefore have the ability to forge a more intimate connection with individuals. It's a natural progression that small brands, undeterred by the financial risks, are using their resources to fight Coronavirus and help on a granular level. Ahead, hear from three fashion businesses how they're handling closures and changes in revenue while also getting involved.

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Indie Brand Relief Efforts: Inventory Donations

"At the end of the day, we have this inventory that's just sitting there and we'd like to do some good with it," Coeli Hilferty Boron, the co-founder of New Orleans boutique Pilot and Powell tells TZR. She and her business partner Kathryn Bullock Joyner launched the multi-brand store back in 2016, bringing cult-favorite labels like Rejina Pyo and Totême to the city's beloved Magazine Street.

"We don’t have the resources to offer food donations but we have a store full of clothing that's sitting here," Joyner says. Their initiative is called Fabric of the Front Line and is a giveaway aimed to thank and empower women in Louisiana who are currently on the front lines of fighting COVID-19. "We are giving away $2000 gift cards to thirty women," Boron explains. "People are able to nominate themselves or others and the winners will be chosen randomly."

The giveaway is open to females in the community who are serving on the front lines, including grocery store attendants, mail carriers, and health care workers. "It's not just the people who receive the majority of the recognition like doctors and nurses (who are also irreplaceable)," Joyner adds. "But we also need the person who's changing the bed linens at hospitals, taking the trash out, delivering supplies — we wanted to make sure it covered all backgrounds."

Indie Brand Relief Efforts: Teaming Up

Another approach indie brands are taking to fight Coronavirus is teaming up with fellow small businesses. Brooklyn-based SVNR founder Christina Tung partnered with over a dozen other independent fundraisers to organize a coalition and help cut out competition or confusion over supplies. "We're able to streamline our COVID-19 relief efforts," she explains to TZR. "Together, we crowdsource and vet suppliers, increase our purchasing power, de-crowd the market, and utilize other helpful resources such as RETI, a 501c3 non-profit, and the local chapters of Last Mile, a group of volunteers who verify health care workers and distribute PPE."

Tung explains that in the early stages of her efforts, she launched a fundraising campaign to purchase and donate PPE to hospitals, but quickly learned that though SVNR's intentions were good, they were becoming part of the problem.

"Independently bidding for PPE and flooding the marketplace with short-term buyers very quickly inflated prices," she explains. "Surgical grade N95 masks were being priced upwards of $5 each while they had cost only a fraction of that just a few months ago." Once this reality became clear, she reached out to other independent fundraisers to "consolidate efforts and piggyback onto larger orders already in the works." Because of this, they've been able to facilitate over $500,000 dollars worth of PPE to go towards cities, states, and medical centers nationwide.

Indie Brand Relief Efforts: Mask Production

Perhaps the most common way smaller brands are getting involved is through the production of non-surgical masks. Numerous indie labels have pivoted their production to include making face masks for not only their customers but also for donations. "We are making about 500 to 1000 masks a week," Mr. Larkin Founder Casey Larkin Blond shares with TZR. The brand started off by using fabrics from previous collections but has quickly run through their supply. "We have used most of our leftover fabrics so we are now buying fabrics that our factory has in stock from canceled orders from other brands," she says. At the start of their efforts, Mr. Larkin followed Masks for Heroes and sent sewn masks to hospitals that were accepting them. "We are now focusing on non-profits with frontline workers helping vulnerable communities like God's Love We Deliver and Salud Para La Gente," Blond says.

She, like countless other small businesses, are feeling the effects of the pandemic. "From an economic perspective, it's been challenging... We were dealing with issues from Covid-19 back in January with production delays for our collection due to the closure of Chinese factories. Our Polish and Portuguese factories were waiting on specific trims that are only produced in China. We have had to jump hurdle after hurdle to finally have our collection deliver," she shares. "Now the impact is mostly on the retail side but it's difficult to say exactly how affected we will be because we are still so much in it. I don't think any of us will know how severe it is until Fall."

In spite of the economic uncertainties, Blond sees the situation as an opportunity to rethink their business. "The way we give back, the way we source, produce, and engage with our communities and customers. We are reevaluating everything and trying to look forward to the positive change we hope this will bring."

We are shining a spotlight on some of the millions of small businesses now challenged by COVID-19. This is part of an ongoing commitment our parent company, Bustle Digital Group, is making to support small businesses throughout the entire month of May. Tell us about your favorite small business on social media using #SmallBusinessSalutes.