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Cushnie Shutters, Citing Covid-19 Economic Challenges

The New York-based womenswear label, led by Carly Cushnie, will close after 12 years in business. While many independent designer labels are struggling right now, few have decided to fully shut down.
Designer Carly Cushnie, center, with models backstage at her runway show in February 2019 | Source: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for TRESemme

New York, UNITED STATES — Cushnie, the designer women’s label known for its minimalist and sensual eveningwear, is shutting down after 12 years, Creative Director and Chief Executive Carly Cushnie said in a statement. The designer cited the economic challenges of the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the closure.

“While my brand has persevered through unending headwinds, the effects of Covid-19 have hurt my business beyond repair, and it is with great sadness that I share Cushnie will be closing its doors,” she said.

Independent designer businesses had no shortages of challenges before the pandemic, facing competition from European luxury conglomerates and digital brands while department stores and other retailers they counted on for support languished or filed for bankruptcy.

But the coronavirus — which has brought with it consumer spending cutbacks, store closures and order cancellations — has forced many independent designer labels to downsize their operations, cut staff or rethink their business models. Few have fully closed, however, with exceptions including the New York label Sies Marjan, which said it would shut down in June.

In August, Cushnie was part of a cohort of fashion executives who founded a not-for-profit group called RaiseFashion that offers free consulting for Black-owned brands and industry professionals seeking advice on everything from supply chain to marketing.

In her statement, Cushnie thanked her team and said she will “continue to create.” She also acknowledged her position as one of the few prominent Black-female designers in the industry and to show the New York Fashion Week calendar.

“While there are many achievements I am so proud of, it would be neglectful not to acknowledge having to fight much harder than my male peers to be afforded the same opportunities,” she said. “One of the great ironies of the fashion industry is that while it caters to and profits from women, it has never felt like an industry that supports them. This is especially true for women of colour.”

Cushnie co-founded the label, previously known as Cushnie et Ochs, with Parsons classmate and designer Michelle Ochs in 2008. Bergdorf Goodman signed on as the first retail partner. The designers were named finalists and nominees for industry awards and frequently dressed celebrities, including Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez. The designers also regularly worked with celebrity stylist Kate Young to style their shows.

In 2015, private equity firm Farol Asset Management acquired a minority stake in the business and brought in Chief Executive Peter Arnold. (Gary Wassner, the chief executive of factoring services firm Hilldun, also invested at this time.) A year later, the label set up an e-commerce business. In 2018, Ochs exited the business, as did Farol Asset Management and Arnold, and Cushnie relaunched under her name and as both creative director and chief executive officer, expanding to denim and bridal and collaborating with Target in May 2020.

"Against so many odds [Cushnie] built this brand into an iconic piece of the fabric of New York fashion and the global fashion world," Wassner said in an e-mail. "The pandemic has wreaked havoc on all but the most casual of collections. It's impossible to sell event and statement dressing in the age of Covid. But Carly is an incredibly strong and talented woman, so don't be foolish enough to count her out just yet."

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