In an effort to understand the needs and challenges facing our communities of soonlyweds and wedding professionals, and to be a source of insights across the industry, we’ve launched a COVID-19 Interview Series. Our CEO & Founder, Rachel Jo Silver is having candid conversations with the fashion designers and brands we work with to learn about the challenges their facing and how they’re solving problems across their businesses. We’ll be publishing them here to share them with you.
In the first installment Rachel interviewed Shawne Jacobs, President of Anne Barge.
1. How is COVID19 impacting your supply chain? Where are your dresses made? Are you experiencing delays and/or do you anticipate to experience delays? What are your biggest concerns relating to production and fulfillment?
Each day, as the virus spreads, it is certainly presenting us with a new set of challenges. We are staying on our toes and continuously assessing and implementing new plans of action as government guidelines change.
At Anne Barge, we pride ourselves in creating gowns from quality with globally sourced materials from all over the world. Our Mikado fabrics come from Italy, our Anne Barge laces come from France and our hand embroideries are made in India. We work with two factories that make our wedding gowns. The Anne Barge collection has always been made in mainland China since inception in 1999. It is something we have always been extremely proud of. Anne Barge was actually one of the first US luxury bridal designers to begin working in mainland China. Our current Chinese factory is small and has 38 highly skilled workers. We have been working with this factory since 2007 and are very thankful that the workers and their families have not been affected by COVID-19. Our opening price point collection, Blue Willow Bride is produced in Vietnam. We are continuing to monitor all of the COVID-19 updates coming from here as the virus continues to spread.
At the moment, we have been extremely fortunate not to have experienced any delays with delivering gowns to our retailers for their bride. With the most recent shutdown of India, we are revising and adjusting our production for hand embroideries and beading on the back end to best ensure that the delays will not be felt by our brides. We are continuously monitoring schedules and dates set-up with each of our global vendors in efforts to best support them during these difficult times, while also strategically moving forward with all production as long as safety measures and guidelines allow.
During this time, the main concerns are not necessarily not being able to fulfill an order or continue with production, but instead the end game of the physical order. With many retailers having to temporarily close their doors, this creates a bottleneck like effect that will be felt throughout the entire production chain. For our customers affected by "shelter in place" mandates, we have allowed a two-week extension on the delivery date. We are clear with our stores that this is only to be requested when absolutely necessary. Given these unprecedented times, our number one concern is to ensure the safety of our employees, retailers, factories and of course our beautiful brides!
2. How is COVID19 impacting your sales. Are different channels being impacted unevenly i.e. online vs. offline?
The COVID-19 virus has impacted our sales for March. We are currently 13% down from March 2019. Last year, we re-developed our website to accommodate brides who wanted to shop online. We noticed companies entering this space and we wanted to assist our retail stores in addressing this market. We have not yet seen a huge number of brides that are purchasing wedding gowns online at our price point. Our brides definitely still want to have the full experience. Though, we may see this change if our retailers are forced to stay closed for an extended period of time. We have also developed a system to provide virtual appointments with brides and retailers during this time when in store shopping is limited.
3. What questions / concerns are you hearing from brides? Are they worried about their dress arriving on time? Worried about fittings? Are they postponing dress shopping due to uncertainty around their wedding dates? What are your brides asking / telling you?
Our current brides, who have purchased their gowns, are concerned as to when their dress will arrive and if we are experiencing any delays with gowns coming in on time and as scheduled. When the virus first hit China, we fielded a few phone calls from brides concerned of touching their gown for the fear of contacting COVID-19 because it was manufactured in China. With the virus worldwide now, this question could be asked about merchandise purchased from anywhere in the world, even the USA.
Brides are asking questions about other brides having to postpone their weddings. All of the April brides that we have heard from have postponed their weddings. Early May brides are beginning to postpone and the mid to end of May brides seem to still be holding out in hopes that the situation improves. A few June and July brides have rescheduled their weddings to the fall, or next year. Our stores are handling two very different types of customers right now… the stressed-out bride who is supposed to be getting married soon and the bride that is trying to plan her future wedding.
The majority of brides have postponed wedding dress shopping in brick and mortar stores. Most of our retail store's appointment time slots for May are filled up already. Brides who had appointments in March and early April moved their appointments to May. Brides are very eager for this to be over and keep asking our stores when they will reopen. Everything at this point is still unknown. I think it is important to recognize that this crisis will eventually end and that together we will overcome this!
Brides are concerned about the ability to complete alterations before their weddings if the restrictions are lifted. Will the seamstresses begin charging a rush fee? Will I have to incur any additional costs that I have not already budgeted for because of the shutdown?
4. What questions / concerns are you hearing from your bridal salons? Are they trying to launch online shopping / virtual try-ons or other digital solutions? What are their biggest concerns right now?
We just launched Wedding Wine Wednesday at ANNE BARGE! We hosted our first Zoom virtual meeting with our retailers to discuss the current state of the bridal industry. One of their biggest concerns is once they reopen, will designers have the inventory sitting ready to ship or will they be able to fulfil orders fast enough. Our retailers are prioritizing appointments for the remaining 2020 brides who do not have a wedding dress yet.
Our stores that do not currently offer e-commerce are certainly thinking about it now, though, many are not sure how to execute it. We do have a store in Denver, CO that is offering virtual measurement appointments for brides who have visited them in the past and are now ready to move forward with a dress. There have actually been a handful of brides that have done this. We have a few stores implementing a "virtual concierge service" for local brides. This entails a virtual appointment in store where six gowns are chosen, and a consultant will then deliver the chosen samples to the bride's home (doorstep) with a bottle of champagne. The consultant will then conduct a virtual appointment from their car for 60 minutes with the bride and their family/friends. They will instruct them through the measuring process, and then pick up the gowns from the doorstep once the appointment is completed. Although, I am sure some brides will question if the gowns have been sanitized in between virtual appointments.
5. What do you want brides to know?
Remember to breathe!
For the brides who have had to cancel or postpone their wedding… we are especially thinking of you. We know the decision was not an easy one to make. We will get through this and you will still get married and have your dream wedding! Love never dies and remember to be thankful, you found the one.
For the brides who have a 2020 wedding date and still need a dress, many of our retailers are holding sample sales or virtual bridal appointments. We encourage you to buy a dress soon and learn what your options are.
6. What do you want dress salons to know?
We know you are worried about your employees and business cash flow. We are all in this together and we will navigate this storm together. This will definitely be a trying few months, but our hope is that we can all weather this crisis with our personal and business health intact. Focus on staying engaged with your existing and potential customers on social media.
7. What are your plans for April in lieu of a physical show or presentation for NYBFW?
At first, when we learned that April Bridal Market was cancelled, I immediately switched gears to thinking how we would implement a virtual market for our retailers. I was really excited about this! However, as the virus continues to affect more people and our retail stores closing for an uncertain amount of time, I knew in my heart, that the last thing any of our retailers needed was for designers and manufacturers to ask them to invest in a new collection or threaten to pull the line if they didn't buy. They will definitely need some breathing room to recover. Our retailers cash flow will be severely damaged if this is asked of them, and it will take many stores months to get back on track. We are doing our part to help the industry even if it means our company will take a hit.
During this difficult time, it is important to get creative and make the most of the situation at hand. Although, we have decided to hold the collection designed for April Bridal Market and show the entire 2021 collection in October, we are brainstorming fun ways to shoot a few key photos of the Spring 2021 gowns for press and retailers to get excited about. Whether this be from the comfort of my backyard or the streets of Atlanta, we are still hopeful to present a sneak peek of the new collection. We are all in need of a little extra inspiration as we face this crisis head on!
The European bridal markets already do this… Milan and Barcelona only show once a year. I think with all that is going on, it is really time for us to slow down and start thinking about the fashion industry's carbon footprint and how we can do our part to improve it.
8. What would you like to know from your peers? What questions do you have for other dress designers or the wedding industry as a whole?
I would like to know how they are weathering the storm. Are they experiencing fabric delays from Italy? Will they join with me and show their new collections in October for the greater good of retailer survival?
9. What would you like to see media companies like Love Stories TV do to support you at this time?
I had a retailer call me very upset from Pittsburgh, PA last week. He was listening to CBS and a spokesperson from The Knot was a guest answering questions for brides on what to do if their wedding is canceled or postponed. The guest told brides to ask for their money back and if the retailer doesn't do so, then they should get a lawyer. I didn't personally hear this, but I can certainly understand that this type of advice is very damaging to our industry. We don't allow any of our stores to cancel a gown once it has been cut. Most if not all designers at our price point do not have gowns hanging in inventory. We only cut a gown once we have an order for it. We as designers incur our costs many months before the retailer does. The retailer is responsible for completing their obligation to the designer once the gown is ready to ship. Every retailer is very concerned for all of their brides that have to postpone or cancel their weddings. As most retail stores are small businesses, this type of practice would put them under if they allowed brides to return their wedding gown.
We need media companies to support the retailers and designers… not just the brides!