How Is The UK’s Independent Market Reacting To COVID-19?

London Fashion Week is known worldwide for its wide selection of independent and up-and-coming brands. In fact, London might be one of the only cities welcoming so many innovative labels and designers. 

Last week, a change of direction for London Fashion Week was announced. In fact, for the next 12 months, both womenswear and menswear shows will merge into one gender-neutral platform, which will allow designers greater flexibility. Whilst we don’t know how much and to what level independent brands will be affected by this decision, the current crisis has already made a big impact on those just starting out.

“Emotionally, [the crisis] has brought on a lot of worry as the future is really uncertain. I love my business and it is all I have ever wanted to do so the idea of it being at risk does make me feel very nervous. I keep reminding myself that we are all in the same boat and I am extremely lucky to have my health. Financially, the business has been affected by cancelled orders and cancelled projects,” explains Priya Ahluwalia, founder of the eponymous brand Ahluwalia.

Saul Nash, whose brand was created in 2018, adds: “At first it was a panic. It is not easy, it puts everything at a halt. But I am a firm believer in stopping and reflecting on the situation in order to move forward. I think as a small business you have not a lot but also everything to lose at the same time. for e.g. every penny counts when you are a small business at the same time your overheads are a lot smaller. However, there is uncertainty about how the industry will bounce back, and it is deeply felt by myself and other young designers.”

For bigger and more established brands, cancelled orders might dent their income just ever so slightly but, in an already tough industry such as fashion, this could potentially be the cause of failure for a lot of up-and-coming labels.

“It’s a strange time that we live in and we don’t know when it is going to stop. I am just trying to make the most of what I can do every day,” comments Ancuta Sarca, Romanian-born designer. “Having your own brand means you are not just the creative director, you have a lot of responsibilities in building the whole company, you have to think of how much you are going to sell, where, which countries, what materials. I have a responsibility to make some changes in the work process and make my practice as sustainable as I can for me, for the people that work with me and for the environment,” she adds.

“I didn’t have the growth that I expected to have for the business. It is almost like a step back in time so I have to work with what I have in this situation and push forward to achieve what I had in mind in the next few seasons. I'm also uncertain that the market will pick up right away after the situation so it will be a tough time for young designers when we do not have the same working capital as the bigger establishments. On the flip side, I think this quarantine is teaching me that a lot of things can be done more efficiently and effectively,” explains emerging designer Nensi Dojaka.

Despite the situation, some designers are already thinking ahead. Korean designer Goom Heo thinks that, in a world post-crisis, there will be an increase in e-commerce shopping as well as the launch of new platforms to shop. “I’m planning to make my own platform to sell the collection, to allow myself and my company to be financially viable for the next collection,” she adds.

For Priya Ahluwalia, reducing her outgoings and keep up communication with her brand’s stakeholders is her top priority whereas Ancuta Sarca believes this is a wake-up call for the fashion industry. “I can’t predict how this will affect my brand yet but I can only hope that things need to slow down, we can’t go at the same pace we did until now which is what brought us here,” she explains.

Saul Nash has been trying to plan and put tasks in order of relevance, mostly depended on the resources available at the moment. “Even though an aspect of the business may have become slower doesn't mean I can stop preparing for when/if it will pick up again,” she comments. 

Nensi Dojaka had some very interesting projects coming up for SS21 which, for now, have had to be put on the back burner. “I lost quite a few orders and got a few cancelled which affected the way things were progressing a lot,” she says. “But I stay positive that this is just a step back for the world to heal and hopefully it will all be even better once we start moving forward again.”

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