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How fashion retail is coping

Fashion has been classified as nonessential during the pandemic, so fashion retailers face the spectre of closed store the past four months.

Business owners are banking on Filipinos’ sociable nature and need for self-gratification to pull stores out of this difficult period. Retailers are inventing new ways to reach out to consumers.

Many have set up e-stores, curbside pickups and even personal shopper and concierge services because many still do not want to go out.

For Trimark Group (Mango, CH Carolina Herrera, Guess, Aeropostale, Rosa Clara, Vera Wang, among others), most of their stores have reopened, except for branches where “we couldn’t get enough staff to come to work because of public transportation,” according to Obee Ham, business development head.

UnaRosa has also reopened 11 of its 12 boutiques, with stringent health protocols to ensure safety for customers and employees.

Rustan’s has reopened all its five stores, save for Cebu. “We continue to be of service in Cebu through our Personal Shopper on Call program,” says Rustan’s president Donnie Tantoco.

Brands have used the lockdown to refocus their business models. “It forced us to think out of the box, and what normally took us longer to implement, we were able to do it in months and some even weeks,” said Ham, adding they launched the e-stores for Mango (https://shop.mango.com/ph) and Terranova (terranova.ph), as well as a multibrand e-store therail.com.ph (Vans, Toms, K-Swiss, Team Manila, etc.).

“It allowed our team to take a step back, look at our strategies, recalibrate and pivot toward the new market and business dynamics,” says Tantoco.

“We accelerated many of our plans to automate, digitize and grow our e-commerce. It gave us an opportunity to learn how we can achieve leaner, more efficient operations. I think the store closure period was an opportune time to reinvent ourselves, and hopefully we did not let the crisis go to waste.”

UnaRosa turned to social media to reach out to customers, according to CEO and design head Monette Bata Garcia, since they’re still in the process of setting up their website. Customers reached them via Facebook (@unarosafashion) and Instagram (@shopunarosa), and made deliveries via bike riders.

“I think the recovery of fashion depends largely on consumer sentiment,” says Tantoco. “The fashion sector will remain challenged because of dampened consumer spending. It will be very difficult to predict when exactly fashion will recover, but when it does, it be will be a changed sector.

Filipino women will continue to want to feel good and reward themselves, Garcia says. “Our psyche will always long for something beautiful, and fashion will gratify that need instantly,” she adds.

Ham also believes bridal fashion will thrive, even as big gatherings are restricted. “Weddings are essential milestones that will proceed whether you have 10 or 100 guests, and brides know that the photos will last forever, so they would still want to wear the gown of their dreams.”

Tantoco thinks the athleisure sector will be resilient as consumers strive to be more active. “Health is no longer just wealth; health is survival during this period,” he says. “As consumers spend more time at home, cozy and comfortable fashion pieces will be the style du jour. But homey should not always mean frumpy. Fashion pieces that consumers will not be afraid to be seen in while on video calls or on short errands outside will be in higher demand.” Brands who deal with imports also face additional challenges, with delivery delays and higher freight costs, says Ham.

These stores currently follow strict health protocols. Rustan’s tests all employees for COVID-19 before they report for work. Trimark tests its employees every two weeks.

Clothes that are fitted are sanitized via steaming or UV light, depending on each store’s protocols.

“We are allowing the fitting of clothes, except at Rustan’s Gateway, as it is discouraged to do so in Quezon City as listed in their GCQ (general community quarantine) guidelines,” says Tantoco. “For the rest of our locations, all clothes that are fitted will be placed in a ‘For Sanitation’ bin.

These items will be kept for 24 hours, before being steamed and sanitized, and returned to the display.”

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