But it’s not all champagne celebrations for these small brands (well, maybe a glass or two) as scaling up in a year like this one – when manufacturers are under pressure, warehousing space is scarce and transport is more difficult than ever – is complicated to say the least.
“Depending on how the supply chain was configured, a brand’s ability to respond quickly to such a swift change in sales can be difficult,” says Antia Balchandani, a partner at McKinsey for fashion and luxury. “Businesses that are able to go from design to site in days not months, with strong supplier partnerships and greater share of near shore production are better geared up for speed and responsiveness, while ones with longer lead times can struggle to respond in a timely fashion.”
Hence why it is the smaller brands that have largely been able to react quickly and make the products the public is demanding. Unlike bigger retailers such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, their manufacturing partners are more likely to be British and therefore able to respond with fewer pandemic-related delays.
“I don’t think anyone was really prepared for this year but we took a chance and as a small business, we were able to act quickly,” says Joel Jeffrey, the co-founder of cotton pyjama brand Desmond & Dempsey, launched with his wife in 2014.
“Our size means we’re still nimble and able to react much quicker than larger businesses, many of whom just had to hit pause on their marketing and cancelled orders, which left an opportunity for us. As a brand we have taken time to build our supply chain for flexibility, which enables us to reduce waste and make smarter buying decisions; we buy our seasonal collections to sell out, so we weren’t worried about overstock.”
Nimble as they were, even the best-prepared brands went into the first lockdown unsure of how their customers would respond to the pandemic – and how they as a team could work and produce goods in a shut-down country. But retail experts like Balchandani say that agility and the ability to respond immediately to a change in demand will be a key skill for fashion brands in the years ahead.