When the pandemic hit, and businesses began to close their doors, a lot of uncertainty was in the air—and there still is that feeling. However, many creative heads have taken the time to implement strategies to try and plan for what’s next in all industries, including retail.
In a new series, “Looking Ahead,” Metro chats with a local few businesses who have taken the time to plan exactly what should be happening next, because when the unknown is all you see, you have to be prepared for anything.
Gayatri Chopra, is the Creative Head for Simitri, a local company that specializes in handmade bags and accessories, some of which have even been seen on the red carpet. In the wake of everything that has gone on, Chopra has had to pivot her designs to focus on products that are a little more useful at this time. Instead of focusing on her typical chich clutch designs, Chopra has taken the time to also now design bags that are useful for running errands and even has taken the time to begin to start the process of designing some masks and more accessories—things that can be deemed as more ‘essential.’
What have the past few months looked like for your business? What did you do to help survive?
Before the pandemic shut everything down, we had participated in the COTERIE trade show in New York in February, had orders from our current stockists, and had also received orders from new stores that we had been targeting. All the orders had [a] delivery due in April and May. Our production cycle is based on orders, as all of our products are handmade and time-consuming. Significant work had already been put into getting these orders ready for shipment, but by mid-March, stores began shutting down because of the lockdown, so 60% of our ready orders have been put on hold. Stores are 70% of our business, and all our stockists having to temporarily close down has impacted our business tremendously.
Given that our bags are handmade, we employ a team of artisans that have been working with us for more than a year, and some for several years. We believe that it is important for us to continue to support our team as much as we are able in this time of uncertainty, especially since a number of our artisans rely fully on their wages from Simitri. So, we have tried to increase online sales by introducing new deals every week. We have offered gift cards at a 50% discount (without an expiration date) and launched a “$125 and under” collection. We also pivoted and introduced a line of headbands, which has been received very well, since these are the only accessory women can wear for Facetime and Zoom calls.
What kind of planning went into place to anticipate opening back up?
While our clientele resides in the U.S., our business is dependent on our manufacturing which takes place in India. India has imposed a significantly more stringent lockdown nationwide, which has resulted in a complete stoppage of any production activity. Currently, we have only been able to maintain contact with our workers (some of whom were forced to return to their families in their respective villages due to a lack of income) to assure them that their jobs are safe, and that Simitri is eagerly awaiting their safe return. As all production was on hold, we used this time to redesign our website to make it more user-friendly, since online shopping might just be the best way to reach our customers now and in the future.
What will you be doing differently after opening post-coronavirus?
We are reviewing our design process and the need of our customers even more closely now since we feel that it’s going to take some time before people will want to start going out to social gatherings. Thus, we plan to incorporate newer accessories like everyday bags, headbands and maybe even some hand-embroidered masks, while still maintaining the handmade exclusivity and the whimsical style and design of a Simitri accessory. We also plan to keep the $125 and Under collection a permanent feature on our website. We will be focusing on online sales more than trunk shows and trade shows.
What else do you want people to know about your business and what you’re doing to maneuver through this precarious time?
We are trying to use this time to understand what our customers need and to create more products that might be more useful post-corona. Apart from that, we just participated in a live Zoom trunk show hosted by Philadelphia Trunk Show, which was a great success.
Are there any specific ways that people can help support your business?
As mentioned above, our brand has a symbiotic relationship with our artisans — we want to continue to support them during this time, so we encourage you to buy our 50% off gift cards, and take advantage of the free shipping deal through our website. We encourage our customers to write reviews, follow us on social media to know more about our story and our slow fashion mission.
For more information, visit simitri.shop