Read Interview on LoveStories TV Here
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 they are facing and how they are solving problems across their businesses. We’ll be publishing them here to share them with you.
In this second installment of the series Rachel Silver interviews Jessica Brown, Managing Director & Designer of IVY & ASTER
1. How is COVID19 impacting your supply chain? Where are your dresses made? Are you experiencing delays and/or do you anticipate experiencing delays? What are your biggest concerns relating to production and fulfillment?
When the initial outbreak of Covid-19 was mainly in China we were concerned. Our suppliers are mostly in China. I’ve been going there for over 20 years and have developed an amazing relationship with the factories we work with and the mills that provide fabrics. They are like extended family to me. My first concern was for their health and well being. Once Chinese New Year was ‘over’ and their quarantine was extended, I was a little worried about delays. 80%-90% of silk comes from China! That impacts a lot of designers. Unfortunately, a few other brands (as I was informed by my retail stores) were told there would be delays until December 2020. That really shook up stores and caused a lot of unnecessary worry and panic with brides too. We were 2-3 weeks late on some dresses but are now on time for all orders that are for brides. All Ivy & Aster dresses are all made to order so we don’t hold inventory. It also took some time for fabric manufacturers to come back online and get caught up with making fabrics & lace. We are fortunate to be able to stock at least enough fabric for our dresses in case of emergencies. I was also prepared to have dresses cut in our factories and sewn here in the US in case the production lines were backed up when they reopened. We really didn’t have to do that. We did reprioritized orders for brides vs stock as many stores cannot take their stock right now. I’m holding dresses as long as I can for stores who are not able to take them or to pay. We had a lot of new stores purchase stock after October into January so now these stores are closed and unable to take pieces. Stores and brides have to realize we need to pay our suppliers too. Everyone on the supply chain is impacted in some way or another by this. For a small company like ours we rely on deposits and balances to cover our manufacturing costs. Suppliers are concerned about the situation in the US and they are tightening up on payment terms and rightfully so.
Ivy & Aster does make some items here in Atlanta, for example, our Juliette skirt which has hand-applied feathers- so these will be made ‘in house’, literally! I have my studio & office in my home and we are small enough to adapt to what our stores need. Many people may not know I sew, but I do, and have been since I was about 6! It’s actually been nice to focus on this at such a stressful time. I find sewing to be relaxing in some ways.
Depending on how long we are impacted I am concerned for our stores’ in terms of staying open and operational. That will have a huge impact on us as well as we are a small company. Remaining positive and planning is the best thing for us to do. Everyone depends on a certain amount of income per month to pay not even themselves, but their staff and to keep the lights on. I can include myself in this as we’re having to float income over an extended time and there is not much money coming in right now. I want to help as much as I can but we also have to take care of ourselves and our families in the process. It is a delicate balance for sure but these are unprecedented times and a lot of uncertainty is to be expected until we start to come out of this crisis.
2. How is COVID19 impacting your sales? Are different channels being impacted unevenly i.e. online vs. offline?
To be honest, our sales are way down. With almost all of our stores being closed, most orders we are getting are for accessories or for brides who perhaps tried on prior to the shelter in place but have made a decision about their dresses. With stores being closed, I don’t feel that we can ‘force’ anyone to take dresses that they are not being paid for, such as stock. Most stores are able to take their bride’s orders and we are shipping them to their homes instead of their stores. We sell to one large online e-tailer (accessories only) and they have pushed almost all stock orders to Q3. This is our only online channel at the moment so it does impact our revenue. It will have a huge impact on our cash flow the longer the pandemic continues and we are trying to find other ways to help our stores bring in income. We also need this to move forward and stay in business. We are going to roll out ‘home try ons’ in the next few weeks with our stores as our partners. I think most brides, if they have not had the opportunity to try on, will wait until they are able. If they have already started the process, many are able to make a decision. Most of our sales, excluding accessories, happen offline. We are planning on offering more online soon, but as a very small company, we only have so much time and resources to devote to setting this up.
When the US was initially impacted by COVID-19, my mind immediately went to alternatives to bridal. Within a few weeks, local mask making groups started to form. I’ve been sewing for my local Atlanta group making masks for medical workers. This is done on a volunteer basis with all of our materials being donated. Now that the CDC has implemented new guidelines for mask wearing in public, we’ve also geared up to offer masks to anyone who might want to purchase. I spent some time researching the best solutions for masks worn for non-medical purposes and I feel we found a great, affordable option we are able to offer. Yesterday we started offering masks at cost to our retail partners who want to offer something to their brides and we will launch this online soon. We are keeping costs as low as possible, but we are investing personal time and funds to this so we are charging for them. I am still making medical masks on a voluntary basis and am finding ways to streamline the two.
3. What questions or 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?
Most brides are less worried about their dresses arriving on time if they’ve ordered and more worried about how their plans will be affected. Many weddings in April and May have been put on hold. Some brides were able to roll with the situation and are having zoom weddings or getting married in their backyard. Kudos to them! We think it’s great and support this 100%. Others may have no choice but to wait as they may be directly impacted- maybe they are sick or a loved one is battling this disease and the timing may not be right for them. My heart breaks for these families. We empathize with everyone that is going through this. But it is really cool to see what some brides are doing as alternatives to holding a traditional wedding. Love is not postponed and neither is creativity!
I know the local seamstresses in our area (Atlanta) are closed and everything is being pushed back for brides that have dresses and were in this stage of planning. I think brides who were just starting to shop or perhaps just looking, are still planning and looking at options online but will wait until they are able to shop in person. As a brand and a company we want to encourage brides to continue this process, however different it may look. Planning a wedding is something to look forward to and it’s a form of hope for the future. We have to be hopeful and we have to think of the future in a positive light. There is no reason to have any guilt about shopping or planning. Focusing on yourself and what you need at this time is key for everyone. We need our immune systems strong and a key component to that is practicing self care, keeping stress levels down and taking care of mental and physical health. As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, we have to do what we can to remain positive. It is not only beneficial to ourselves but to family and loved ones that rely on us for support. Self-care will look different to each individual. For me, my son, my family and close friends, sewing and music are my lifelines right now!
Ivy & Aster plans on hosting an Instagram Live soon to get more feedback from actual brides. Because we are a wholesaler we don’t get an opportunity to interact with brides as much as we do stores. As we hear more information, we plan on sharing with our stores and followers via social media.
4. What questions and concerns are you hearing from your retailers? Are they trying to launch online shopping / virtual try-ons or other digital solutions? What are their biggest concerns right now?
Retailers are doing what they can to survive. It is very different for a store that has been in business for some years, versus new stores that are small and may not have anything to fall back on or are not even open yet. I see many stores remaining connected to their brides, reaching out, and making themselves available as best they can through technology. Home try-ons are one way we see retailers shifting. Another is ‘virtual appointments’ or ‘virtual accessory appointments’ for those who have already purchased. I’ve seen store stylists at home trying on dresses (we see you The Sentimentalist in Atlanta!) to show brides and even styling their own hair or their roommate’s hair…We’re here for all of it! Any way to strengthen the connection between stores and brides is amazing!
I know stores are concerned about sales & cash flow but we’re also hearing they are preparing for a surge of business once the shelter in place orders start to lift. We are hearing talk of the need for quick rush orders and immediate deliveries. We’re putting plans into motion to help our stores with this in any way we can.
5. What do you want brides to know?
We want brides to know it is OK to continue their wedding planning, however it may look. All the vendors we know are doing everything they can to help continue their planning process so that weddings can continue. We want brides to know there is hope and we will be there for them in any way we can. We want them to know that Ivy & Aster’s values are not just about making money but also supporting small businesses, women in businesses and the people we employ around the globe that rely on us to support their own families. We are not a faceless corporation- we are real, caring people that are in this together with them.
6. What do you want dress salons to know?
We want our stores to know they can rely on us to get dresses in on time for their customers. We want them to know we have similar concerns and obstacles, and we are problem solving right there with them. Our suppliers and factories are also very concerned and are donating masks they are able to buy and with each box I receive, I’ve been getting kind notes and packs of masks! These are being donated to medical professionals. We want stores to know we all need to survive and make a living, but there is a human element to all of this that is more important and will be more important than ever when we resume our daily routines. Our health and wellbeing is important, and we want our stores to feel that is essential in our business and in our brand above all else. More than ever we are here for them- we want to strengthen our personal connections and we are here to listen, even if it is not about a dress order! Any of my stores can call me at any time to talk, to cry, to vent, to connect with someone who can understand their challenges.
7. What are your plans for April in lieu of a physical show or presentation for NYBFW?
We made the decision last year to only show once a year in October. We joined The Fringe Collective last year and really loved the community that we felt showing with a smaller group of designers. We planned on being in NYC for NYBFW this year, but we were going to show our existing collection on diverse models of different sizes. Marteal from Loulette Bride had graciously offered Ivy & Aster the opportunity to show alongside her collection in her showroom in Brooklyn. We had planned a cocktail party and a day of appointments in a hotel suite for stores that missed seeing us in October or wanted to revisit the collection. We also were almost finished with a line of bridal accessories to expand our current offerings of bridal cover-ups. Toward the end of 2019, our accessory sales had almost doubled. This is still a plan, but we hit pause as we focus on our existing orders and as we started our mask-making efforts. Once we are able to we will put the new items online and circulate a curated selection of accessories to our stores for orders or immediate purchases. We were already doing mini pop-ups with both dresses and accessories so we will continue to do this as conditions improve for all of us. We don’t feel the time is right to try and force stores into purchasing minimums or anything that will strain their resources and not be a benefit to them or to their customers.
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 am thankful to have a strong relationship with other designers and brands. I talk to Shawne Jacobs from Anne Barge often as she is a dear friend and also was my coworker at Anne Barge for over 10 years. Their business is very different from Ivy & Aster, but just being able to talk things out, hear what they are doing, brainstorming, and hear what they are experiencing is comforting to me and is so helpful in our ‘plan and pivot’ process. We need to share our difficulties as much as we do our successes. Personal relationships are essential to the wedding industry and I think this will change a lot of ways the industry moves forward. It is not the time to ‘one up’ your competitor, it is a time for cooperation and collaboration where we can. It’s time to look at Ivy & Aster’s brand identity and really be clear on what we stand for, what we represent and how we market our products. It’s time to increase our creative processes. I think it’s so true that necessity is the mother of invention and I fully expect to see a burst of creativity in all areas of the wedding industry when we pull through this time. I don’t think brides or stores will have time for brands or products that are no longer ‘helpful’ or are ‘difficult’ to work with, which we do hear. Stores will support designers that feel good/right to support. The best way we can do this is through constant connection and networking in the industry.
9. Anything else you want to share?
Be patient with yourself. Every person has a different challenge right now. It may be business, it may be health, it may be becoming a teacher to your child that is not in school. It’s hard and we are all adjusting. Give yourself the time you need, when you need it. It is not realistic to expect your day to be the same as it was before the pandemic. And that is OK. If you are in a position to help others, reach out to your community and find ways to do this. The benefit you get from helping others cannot be monetized. We hope that brides will reach out to Ivy & Aster and will engage more with us as we roll out more online options. We want to help. We still want to sell dresses but if we can sell a mask and that helps someone too, then that makes us feel like we’ve done more than just make a sale.
In October, Ivy & Aster will be celebrating our 10th year in business and we hope that we are celebrating it with all of our existing customers but also with new friends and followers. Most of all, we are praying for everyone. I don’t know anyone that is not impacted by this right now. Please remember you are stronger than you know, you are resilient, we are all better together, and most of all you are loved.