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NEW YORK, United States — It’s been such a quicksand sort of moment. After so many years of big headlines, when a pandemic comes into play, at first you’re reading about it, but you’re not really processing. When we had our first board meeting [since the start of the crisis], I was worried we were cutting our budget too much — we have very controlled growth — but then it was like, “Well, forget about any growth!” Then a few days later, we were making sure we wouldn’t need to fire any employees. That’s where the landscape is, but at the same time I have a lot of gratitude because our company was built with sustainability and the long-term in mind.
I grew up on a ranch in Uruguay with those values. We went through so many things, from droughts to foot and mouth disease, and we’ve always managed to learn from crises and adapt and think long-term. It’s a mentality that we apply. Today, I’m so grateful to have a team of 40 instead of 80. Circumstances like these mean you are in some way on firmer ground for going at a slower pace, even if everything else is shaking.
Overall the team is adapting. If you have smart, dedicated people you can go through these things. It’s the entrepreneur's life. Transparency and communication are really important. I had a retail meeting with our London team and it was such a vibrant meeting because they were so motivated, doing exercises to keep each other together and bring themselves closer to the product and potential customers, creating mood boards. But communicating with our customers online has always been a challenge because you really don’t understand a Gabriela Hearst product until you touch it.
I think it’s going to be a fragile time for a while, but I really do hope that we become more human again.
When it comes to the new design process, let’s put it this way: I’m getting a lot of packages at home. I'm doing all my men’s fittings on my stepson, who happens to fit model size, so there’s a little bit of luck on my side there. There’s also a local pattern maker, a supplier of ours, who is taking materials to each worker’s home. It’s very short-circuit and, of course, protected. Humans are very resourceful, so we always find ways to continue. Creatively speaking, the ideas keep on flowing (just the other day I had a dream about my mother and she was wearing a dress. I thought “Oh, that would be a beautiful piece for spring!”). So I tell my team. I sketch for them.
Our decisions have to work for us, but also our retailers and suppliers. We work with some of the best suppliers in the world; these are artisanal, family-owned businesses. It’s an organism; we all have to stay healthy and help each other through this. The factories in Italy are closed until April 3, so pattern makers have taken pieces home to work on. It’s also about them keeping a routine, which is important for mental health.
There are two pathways for the industry coming out of this. I hope it will be the path where quality and well-crafted things matter more, without being ostentatious. People are also asking to move deliveries later, so they are more in sync with the real seasons and this makes sense. This will benefit the consumer and the brands. Also, I think there’s an opportunity to change our approach to markdowns. I’ve always felt that in America, people move to markdowns too quickly in the season. I hope that we change. I hope we learn from this. I think it’s going to be a fragile time for a while, but I really do hope that we become more human again. It’s the future we create for ourselves.
For other businesses facing this crisis, I would always say what you learn when riding horses: you go slowly through the stones, you don’t gallop fast where there’s stony ground. You just need to go really slow right now and look for opportunities. And don’t panic — really, don’t panic — because when panic sets in you cannot think properly and you may do things you regret because you made the decision when you were scared. It’s the number one rule of survival: don’t panic in a dangerous situation.
As told to Rachel Deeley.
Gabriela Hearst is the founder of her namesake luxury women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and accessories line.
The views expressed in ‘From The Community’ notes are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.