How we prepared a collection during the Coronavirus
Throughout my years in fashion, I’ve learnt that no matter how carefully you plan ahead, something comes along each season to throw you a curve ball (Brexit and GDPR spring to mind, not to mention the Beast from the East!). But never in my wildest imagination could I have predicted a global pandemic.
I’ll never forget the hastily convened team meeting in March, just days before Boris announced the lockdown. One of the team had just heard the worrying news that her son and his fiancée had contracted Covid and there was a growing sense that it was more contagious than initially thought. None of us could have known it at the time but, after everyone was sent home and furloughed on Friday March 20, it would be months before the team would be back together in the office.
As you may have read in my previous blog, John and I immediately made the decision to shelve our Autumn/Winter collection and focus instead, with our children’s help, on sending out orders and converting our stock into cash. But then in April two things happened to give us cause for optimism: the first that the US book had landed and the Americans were shopping; and the second that, according to our marketing agency, people in the UK were starting to buy online. If ever there was a barometer to gauge the national mood it was that the Supersoft Sweatshirt was selling like hot cakes! And thanks to the wonderful Colour Club throwing us a lifeline it seemed like things weren’t so bleak after all. Colour was making everyone’s lives that little bit better.
Those little chinks of light were all the encouragement I needed to quietly put a capsule collection together for Autumn/Winter. Behind the scenes, without John noticing, I returned to measuring and planning the fit and colours for the collection we had started back in November. Once it was clear that online was gaining momentum, I convinced John that we should start putting in modest orders (in fact, ordering little and often is something I will continue to do to stop us feeling ‘exposed’ in terms of stock, so don’t hang around if you see something you like – buy it now!).
Once the samples slowly started coming in from our factories in Turkey and Portugal, the next dilemma was shooting the collection. With our London studio closed, we needed a safe, light and airy alternative – but where? And who to model the clothes? Professional models, members of the Colour Club… me? At the end of the day, though, nobody showcases our clothes better than professional models. They know instinctively how to make our clothes look their best and demonstrate their fit and shape to our customers. Meanwhile, our Colour Club does a wonderful job of showing how they look on ‘real people’.
Having asked our Spring model, Hannah, and Summer Emma if they would be happy to do their own hair and make-up, we headed to a friend’s brand-new converted barn for the shoot – a fabulous light-filled venue with plenty of space for social distancing.
Styling isn’t easy when you’re observing the two-metre rule, so our stylist Keira and I hung back as we issued instructions – sleeves down, hair back, necklace straight – and went around spraying surfaces and making sure everything was safe. For both models, it was their first job since Covid, so they were naturally apprehensive, but we couldn’t have wished for a more relaxed, fun and professional shoot. It was the same when we met up two weeks later for our next shoot, in a beautifully simple location house in Hampshire. With its plain background, simple sofas and plants, it was the perfect backdrop to let the colours pop.
I’ve just signed off on the proofs for the AW20 catalogue, which will be landing on your doorstep at the beginning of September, and I have to say it’s my absolute favourite. You would never guess that it all came together during a global pandemic. I love the location, the feeling of team spirit, the energy, the fact that we pulled off what in March looked like the impossible.
I’d like to share with you a lovely email I received this week from a Kettlewell customer. Not only did it make my day, but it reminded me of what everyone was going through at the height of the pandemic and the power of colour to uplift us when we need it the most…
“I just want to write and thank you for the joy, colour and comfort your clothes have brought – especially over the last few months. I am the head teacher of an inner city primary school which remained open and, as a team, did our best to support and keep our children and their families going throughout lockdown. At times, this was hard, one of the most challenging times I can remember as a leader but... wearing colourful clothes made an incredible difference and lent positive energy to me and, I like to think, to those around me. A resolution I have every intention of maintaining as we venture into the unknown, next term.”