How we prepared a collection during the Coronavirus

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.”


Debbie Olley on Sep 06, 2020 8:18 AM

Hi yes thankyou for managing to produce the a/W catalogue - a real triumph! And yes there is a gap in the market for tall women so longer lengths would be welcome!

Debbie

Chris on Aug 28, 2020 3:54 PM

Well done Melissa and team for producing an AW catalogue. I love wearing your colourful clothes. would you consider more jumpers and cardigans for the colder months. Best wishes to you all.

Maggie Perkins on Aug 19, 2020 7:02 PM

i have an 'Open' wardrobe in my dressing room, and it is 99% full of Kettlewell 'Spring' colours . I live in them. Gorgeous!

Sharon Fullerton on Aug 17, 2020 1:03 PM

I was hooked the moment I found the colour club! So many ladies who appreciate colours. I had definitely slipped into the wrong season colours and the club have helped me to find my best colours again. I found your recent blogospheres be quite emotional! I think you supported us during the darkest days. Thank you for all you’ve done to keep us going. Looking forward to the new season’s catalogue coming soon.

Debs on Aug 17, 2020 8:28 AM

I'm so happy that you have been able to produce an AW collection of your wonderful clothes.

Would you please consider expanding your size range to include a longer length option for us taller ladies. As Long Tall Sally is no longer trading there is a gap in the market waiting to be filled!

fennie on Aug 17, 2020 6:51 AM

Looking forward to your new collection, compliments for the quality, great colours and clear website!

Alison Black on Aug 16, 2020 2:07 PM

Enjoyed Melissa's chat with Tricia Cusden. Delighted to have been introduced to Kettlewell. At 82 yrs, I have spent my life in irritation at the fashion industry's "this season's colours" and the impossibility of getting again a colour found to be perfect. I am autumn which is often a limited choice anyway. Thanks for your wonderful range. I bought a T shirt to EXACTLY matched my tomato summer skirt.

Sandra Forbes on Aug 16, 2020 1:05 PM

So looking forward to a new collection for autumn. Having bought very little over the last few months I'm glad you are able to produce a new collection so I can add a few new pieces. The ones I have a wear so much and they last really well. I always look forward to new ideas and happy you have been able to keep going as you'd be sorely missed sometimes it's the only way of getting a few spring colours in winter.

VibrantAutumn on Aug 15, 2020 7:51 PM

Fascinating post. Thanks for the insight into your Kettlewell Colours world. Thanks for keeping the wearable rainbow going x

Margaret on Aug 15, 2020 2:46 PM

I would like to congratulate you on continuing to run during Covid. I have enjoyed looking at the different clothes and the pictures of the Colour Club models. Well done and keep going.

Maria Levitt on Aug 15, 2020 1:04 PM

You have being a salient rainbow in a gloomy grey sky and continue to be so😊💔🌈

Looking forward to your new collection...

Heather M on Aug 15, 2020 12:21 PM

So glad you didn't call it quits and kept Kettlewell going. I've recently discovered KW and find the quality of the merchandise superior. Plus, I love buying the colours that I like all year round. I have also found your shape filter helpful when choosing items suitable for my figure. Thank you.

Dawn Shuttleworth on Aug 15, 2020 9:57 AM

After having my colours updated by Lesley Burton I came home and gave all my wrong coloured clothing away intending to shop for new ones. Then lockdown no clothes. Kettlewell thank you for saving me from going around naked.

KAREN S WHITTLE on Aug 15, 2020 9:57 AM

I loved this post. Hearing about the inside story of the challenges your business has faced does give a sense of connection. Strange new circumstances gave a need to try something new and it sounds like a wonderful success. You sound so level headed and adaptable. I am really looking forward to seeing the new catalogue and I hope your business and suppliers businesses continues to thrive and prosper.

Jane bennett on Aug 15, 2020 9:31 AM

Fantastic job done by you all .👏👏👏👏👏 . Loving our colour gang and hope it continues for years to come . Enjoying the new normal !!!!! Keep safe xx

Lynn Nadjarian on Aug 15, 2020 8:47 AM

I have been following the club for months (Australia) winter here and been looking with longing at gorgeous summer clothes. I finally ordered n after 30 days it was like Christmas came early. My new summer wardrobe is hanging waiting to be worn, they fit so well, the quality is great. You have a wonderful wonderful business, well done with all the challenges this year!

Christina Holland on Aug 15, 2020 8:11 AM

Dear Kettlewell, I’ve never been a fan of bright colour and have always been a bit afraid of it but the happiness and joy which comes through the pages of your website makes me want to be bolder. You appear to have created a wonderful company with joy at its heart. Well done.

Patricia Knapp-Tabbernor on Aug 15, 2020 2:08 AM

I do love your clothes and have quite a few items, but I would buy even more if you did a petite range, I have to pick and choose which items I think I c1an get away with. I adore the coulers, I’m a spring as I had my colours done about 20 years ago so I was very pleased when I came across your website.

King regards

Patricia Knapp-Tabbernor

Alice Readman on Aug 14, 2020 8:55 PM

good news but can some of the clothes not be manufactured in the uk as manufacturing is so badly needed

Fiona Rescorle on Aug 14, 2020 5:40 PM

What a great blog update, this is exactly the kind of company I want to continue to buy my clothes from. Have enjoyed being a ‘spring’ customer of Kettlewell since you first started, and even more so now that we have the Kettlewell Club, which has been a real tonic during these difficult times. Thank you so much Melissa and John, and all of your great team.

Julie Williams on Aug 14, 2020 5:30 PM

Knowing the difficulties yourselves at Kettlewell and the models have faced, yet still managed to arrange new A/W stock and photograph them is very commendable. Your A/W season will certainly feel quite special this year. Thankyou Kettlewell,

Helen H on Aug 14, 2020 3:57 PM

I think you have done a wonderful job during difficult times. I was very pleased to see that things were continuing to sell but not surprised. Kettlewell clothes move effortlessly from work to lockdown and are so comfortable. I think the cheerful and flattering colours have helped our morale, even when hairstyles were a distant memory! I look forward to the autumn collection with the usual happy anticipation.

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