Fashion pivots to the essentials

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The pandemic has presented not only pitfalls but also opportunities for major fashion retailers. While reopened stores struggle to make up for the losses of the monthslong closure, retailers like to believe that the past three months didn’t go to waste.

First, they say, it drove them to step back and review their offerings to respond to new needs brought on by the health crisis. It also sped up the implementation of new ways to reach customers and, from a broader view, forced them to rethink the way they make fashion.

Penshoppe, one of the largest homegrown fashion brands, has reopened 90 percent of its stores, and like other brands, has had to adhere to strict health and safety protocols.

“The situation removes the social aspect of shopping, but we have found that opportunities still abound by zooming in on how we can address our markets’ needs at the moment,” Alice Liu, chief marketing officer of Golden ABC, owner of Penshoppe, told Lifestyle in an email.

“We have challenged our teams to diversify offerings and develop concepts we have recently introduced on the market, including our line of protection essentials (masks and shields) and personal hygiene products (hand sanitizers and fabric disinfectants),” she added.

Bench, the homegrown fashion giant that’s turned global with stores in China and other countries, is also banking on sales from core products to buoy them through this period. Of its 516 stores that have reopened, sales have been mainly of its underwear and athleisure wear lines, as well as its expanded line of alcogel disinfectants.

“We are fortunate to have invested early in e-commerce, long before the lockdown. This has allowed us time to hone our efficiencies, understand the market, and expand in other marketplaces,” said Bryan Lim, vice president for business development of Suyen Corp., owner of Bench.

Both Bench and Penshoppe have their respective e-stores and outlets in online marketplaces like Lazada, Zalora and Shopee.

“Even as our stores were shuttered, Penshoppe continued interacting with our market, keeping them engaged with positive messaging to help them through the challenges of isolation,” Liu said. “We believe this has maintained the brand’s strong connection with the market, until the time we can welcome them back into our stores.”

She added, “Our priorities have shifted from market expansion to serving different markets around the country in new ways, to ensure the stability and continuance of our business moving forward.”

Lim sees “deprioritized spending” as the biggest hurdle for fashion retail, apart from operational adjustments “to fulfill the same service with reduced manpower because of our public transportation limitations.” Bench also has to contend with production delays and distribution rescheduling, he added.

Renewable fashion
When the pandemic hit, Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M had to close over 60 percent of its stores globally, including for a time its online store

In June, H&M reopened most of its stores here, except those in Cebu, as the city reverted to lockdown. H&M Philippines also launched its catalog delivery service for those who remain uncomfortable about going out to shop. The catalog is updated on a weekly basis on the H&M Facebook page, said Dan Mejia, H&M Philippines’ head of communications and press.

With fast-fashion producers drawing so much flak for environment and ethical issues, the pandemic only hastened many of H&M’s global initiatives.

“Even before this pandemic, we were already faced with situations directing us to do better for both the people and the planet,” Mejia said. “This pandemic put to light what we need to do now for the industry to continue to thrive. Now that we were forced to pause, it allowed us to step back and see the bigger picture more clearly.”


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