Republished from Vogue.com
The office is closed. All of the teams are working from home, but staying in close communications. We are taking the safety of our team very seriously. The coronavirus is impacting us all, and it’s really got me thinking about how the industry does business, and how I want my brand to grow from this experience.
Around a year ago, I started to take a look at my business and see how I could make changes to operate at the most efficient level. Now, our spring and resort collections are 100% shipped and have been doing really well. As a matter of fact, this is the first time in our brand history where we’ve had three gowns with 100% sell-through. That said, the industry will continue to be rocked by the coronavirus, and to survive this particular moment we really, really need to look at how we do business. What needs to happen right now is the retailers, the designers, the vendors—everyone needs to work together in finding pragmatic solutions. How do we come together? This situation will not be fixed by a sale.
I have a board at home where I’ve outlined immediate issues, a middle section, and long-term problems. I then have a space for potential solutions. In these challenging times I think we must slow down, and think about innovation. How do we become more inventive and, for lack of better words, how do we hustle? I think about what consumers will want to wear once this is over. Are they going to be buying exuberant pieces, or are they going to be more understated and practical? I’ve always believed in clothes to bring joy, but what does joy look like in this particular moment? These are the questions that are on my board and on my mind. I think about how we can evolve in this situation, and what the immediate needs of society and culture are, and how we can fill them.
Tackling an issue of this magnitude requires unity. We have to reach across departmental and industry lines to pull in help from a global braintrust of brilliant creatives and business leaders. I’ve been doing live chats on Instagram with Kelly Rowland, Tina Craig from The Bag Snob, and Phillip Lim. We discuss the things that are really troubling us, whether it be about our businesses, or things that are more personal, emotional, or spiritual.
I find myself particularly consumed by the human issues surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. During crisis and stressful times, we get to see human behavior in its truest form: greed, compassion, altruism, empathy, fear, strength, and xenophobia. All the positive and negative sides come out, and they are two sides of the same coin. I am so distraught over the hateful acts of racism and xenophobia I have seen towards Asians during this time. From people feeding into racist tropes on Instagram, to the leader of this country, President Trump, dubbing this “the Chinese virus” — I am disheartened to see these instances of fear and ignorance winning over compassion.
Everyone must remember that this virus knows no race, gender, or sexual orientation. Ultimately, we are stronger together, or as I like to say “stronger in color.” It is my belief that the only absolute truth in this life is the impermanence of it. We all have to leave this world at some point. So what will we do to make an impact in this life, and what will we leave behind? This is a pivotal moment for introspection. I urge the industry, and everyone, to think about what they want their legacy to be, and how can we help each other get there.
Before all this, my team was trying to think about how we can make social and environmental responsibility a priority for our brand. We’ve been doing this since the brand’s inception, but we wanted to make this our main focus. Also, very importantly, how do we create an environment that is considerate to the mental health of those in the industry? In so many ways, coronavirus was the final straw that finally made me sit back and really think about our current definition of success, and what we were willing to sacrifice to get there.
I always say this: In New York, as independent designers, we are the soul of the industry. We are in a unique position to change the tides. Whether it is about race, size, or age; the conversation starts here. We can also start the conversation about levels of support in the industry. How can we continue to foster young designers, but also support the designers in the middle, who’ve paid their dues for 10 or 12 or 15 years? Right now, what we need in fashion are leaders who are unafraid to have these conversations, and to really break the patterns that have in so many ways gotten us to this unhealthy place. America stands for change, America stands for guts. We have the power to set the tone of how we function going forward.
Internally I started talking to my team about the need for invention. I have so many talented people with incredible ideas around me. So we opened lines of communication on a company-wide brainstorm about how we can improve across all departments. I think it is important to validate their fears, validate their anxiety, remind them that they are not are alone, and that they should feel comfortable sharing. My main goal right now is to make everyone feel seen and heard. After all, we share everything, and we work so hard spending so many hours together — my team is like my family.