Designs for life: How designers are responding to the Covid-19 crisis

People and their businesses find themselves in an unprecedented moment.
Designs for life: How designers are responding to the Covid-19 crisis

People and their businesses find themselves in an unprecedented moment. Some exploit the opportunity to reconsider who they are and what they stand for, while others find themselves poised for success in an increasingly digitally focused and sustainably minded world. Others face the reality of shallow pockets, emerging businesses attempting to carve themselves a place in an overcrowded industry.

From Ireland to the UK and Germany, we asked members of the Irish fashion industry how they’re responding to Covid-19.

Richard Malone, fashion designer

Although the current situation is awful, it’s probably come at the best time possible as the team and I have been working solidly — having an LFW show, International Woolmark Prize, a Bafta project, and a sculpture show planned for the Irish Museum of Modern Art (which has now, unfortunately, been postponed). Hopefully, this will get the industry to re-evaluate and rebuild.

After something like this, we can’t go back to normal with the pace of the industry before, instead, we need to find value in it. I’m now back to drawing, instead of working on large scales — in-depth pattern cutting, lots of forms and fabric development, and sculpting.

Robyn Lynch, men’s fashion designer

If you’d asked me a year ago my answer would’ve been different. I moved to London seven months ago and I pay rent here, which is a lot different from living in Dublin with my parents where there are fewer overheads. I have five stores who make small orders, making those stores and orders precious, so if one of them cancels an order I can feel the hit.

On a positive note, I always feel like I’m someone who is chasing their tail but now I have time to breathe, to pause, and to think about my business plan and structure instead of following the same six-month cycle as always.

It’s allowed me to focus on identifying the key pieces, the ones that sold the best. Before I would’ve been afraid to pause but now that everyone has it’s kind of nice… if you take the financial side out of it.

Edmund Shanahan, consultant

With the Council of Irish Fashion Designers, we are using conference calls to replace our regular meetings. The same for board meetings. As for workshops and seminars, I am in the process of arranging to deliver these online.

With one-to-one consultancy, I prefer to experience where my mentees work, their environment, and challenges, so this is suspended for the short term.

Eoin Greally, photographer

It’s unnerving to watch all of the work you had planned for the foreseeable future just completely disappear. I’m lucky that I don’t have a mortgage or a larger business to support with my income, so all I can do right now is prepare myself for an even tougher battle once this is over and be optimistic and supportive for those who could be losing so much more than I am.

It’s intensely difficult to plan for a future that is so eerily uncertain but the most powerful thing in the face of adversity is hope. So, all I can urge people to do now is to please support small businesses in whatever way your position right now allows you to and to keep them in mind once this is all over.

Andrea Horan, founder, Tropical Popical

Your morals and beliefs as a business owner hit you fast when a pandemic like coronavirus strikes. We closed on March 14 and as the trauma of what was happening spread through the country, I started questioning all the decisions I’d made as a business owner that meant we weren’t as protected as a business for an extreme crisis.

As the days went on and I’d processed my initial anxiety I realised you can’t live your life waiting for the bad to come by doing what’s not right for you. You will adapt to the situation when it arrives — good or bad — and pivot.

Hannah Ennis, men’s fashion designer

The coronavirus has an impact on all areas of my business. Selling is at a standstill and I don’t know when to expect sales to pick up again as retailers are cancelling orders and everyone is shut. People are also not going to spend money on luxury goods when there is uncertainty about the stability of their income.

Luckily, I am in a situation where my business has not grown to a point yet where I rely on supply chains, but I was planning to launch new products and focus on manufacturing this year which will fall flat and be pushed back at least five to six months.

Aileen Carville, CEO, Founder, SKMMP

SKMMP builds virtual showrooms for fashion brands and multi-brand showrooms centralising wholesale order management online. Essentially the SKMMP virtual showroom is a digital catalogue of all the products in the collection enabling brands and buyers to complete business remotely.

Most fashion houses do not have a digital strategy for wholesale. SKMMP’s existing showroom clients doubled the number of collections they wanted digitised on the platform this season due to the low number of Asian buyers travelling to fashion week. As it transpired there was an increase in 50% of orders transacted via the digital showroom. While this is a terrible risk to society, our innovation is allowing a business to continue.

Mark Quinn, founder, Baluba

Has our world ever changed as swiftly? We are trying to be sensitive yet communicative and remain as alert as possible. Every sector is challenged, obviously, but there are opportunities out there and we are trying to get ready for the bounce back. It will come and it’s very important to stay positive.

We are soon to rebrand and become a much more sustainability-orientated consultancy and this feels more urgent than ever. I fundamentally believe great change, and indeed positivity, will emerge from this dark period.

Rory Parnell Mooney, men’s fashion designer

In terms of business, it’s quite a small impact on me as I work alone and autumn/winter 2020 is finished. I can still work and I’m well enough to get to the studio by walking or on my bike so I can avoid public transport, I think it could make an impact in terms of the overall growth of the brand over the coming six months but there are more important things than that, right?

I’m trying to start a knowledge exchange that will take place in online spaces where we connect students to designers/stylists/editors working in the industry to get feedback and show their work in the way they might in a degree show.

Obviously, the institutions they study at will continue to teach online but I think it’s a nice extra from the industry to step in and say, ‘We have a little bit of time, can we help right?’

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