Southerners fight. We have grit. We have determination. We are resilient. After all, we beat the heat every summer, don’t we? We are hardwired to face any problem head-on, and we do so with grace. Well, 2020 has proved to be a challenging year, and fashion companies have been among those hardest hit during this time. From manufacturing delays to changes in sales, many of these brands have managed to pull through, and they’ve looked good doing it. We caught up with the founders of four Southern fashion brands to chat about resiliency, how they have pivoted during the pandemic, and why their futures look brighter than ever before.
As the pandemic became more and more a part of our daily lives, savvy fashion brands reached within their own offerings to add functional fashion to their repertoire. Case in point: Bespoke face masks. Women’s fashion brand Ann Mashburn and parent company, Sid Mashburn, both released custom-made face masks using the same Italian yarn-dyed fabrics that have become synonymous with the Mashburn brand. The men’s store offers masks in classic shirting patterns such as pinstripes and gingham while the women’s store sells punchy Liberty®-printed florals. Florence, Alabama, clothier Billy Reid also introduced facemasks to its arsenal. The company’s custom jacquard prints, typically used for women’s trousers and other items, suddenly became ideal for face masks. The fabric is as fashionable as it is luxe — it’s woven in France.
The founders of Savannah, GA-based LAKE Pajamas found themselves in a fairly good position amid the pandemic. After all, there were plenty of days where many of us didn’t change out of our pajamas at all. But they did experience a few bumps, but still managed to forge ahead. “Our biggest challenge during the pandemic has been factory closings, which have caused production timelines to be pushed back by several months,” says LAKE co-founder Anne Read Lattimore. “However, we’ve reworked launch dates and promotional plans for the year and are making it work. We’re so thankful to be selling products people want and need right now.”
While handling various factory impacts has been difficult, LAKE’s founders continue to think positively, especially as the holiday season nears. “Even though people have been going out less, they still want to feel and experience the excitement of the season. We do our best to deliver on that,” explains LAKE’s other co-founder Cassandra Cannon.
It goes without saying that we experienced lackluster resort, spring and summer shopping seasons, watching with trepidation as our favorite boutiques stocked their shelves with Easter dresses and their summer best. Instead of donning our frocks and fashions, many of us instead sank into the comforts of home, including loungewear. For brands like Atlanta-based Weezie Towels, this shift ended up being a blessing in disguise. The brand launched its cozy women’s robes in winter and was astonished by the success of the launch. “With many people stuck at home, robes went from being weekend loungewear to all-day fashion,” says Weezie Towels CEO and co-founder Lindsey Johnson. “Consequently, we have doubled down in the category, introducing fresh new colors and patterns.”
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Let’s face it: There’s no planning for an event of a pandemic’s magnitude. While we couldn’t plan for the pandemic before it struck, we can use its impact to plan what comes next. For TJ Callaway, CEO and founder of Onward Reserve, that means versatility. “We’ve paid close attention to our customers’ needs and concentrated on more meaningful products that provide both comfort and style for the changing times,” TJ says. “Products with weekday to weekend versatility as well as special design details and casual sophistication are part of our overall development to keep our brand and line authentic to our core.”
As TJ looks ahead to spring 2021 — when hopefully the pandemic is behind us — he says to expect colorways and patterns to reflect satisfaction and general happiness: “You’ll see lots of breezy blues, natural greens and a few punch colors that lift spirits for everyday life!”
Chloe Kristyn’s Bettina Benson started imagining a different path for her women’s clothing company last year, but the pandemic kicked her plans into high gear. “Personally, the pause [caused by the pandemic] was more therapeutic than jarring,” says Bettina. “I took the pause as an opportunity to step back and re-evaluate my strategy. What I determined is that I was ahead of the curve and on the right track with the direct sales strategy that I’d been piloting for 12 months and that I should focus on this strategy as a way to scale my business.”
The rest is history. This fall, Bettina launched her direct sales program with two sales development directors and 20 experienced brand stylists. Each stylist, armed with a collection of Chloe Kristyn pieces, can host their own trunk shows, take on styling clients or even partner for larger, in-home shopping events. “I believe that the traditional fashion calendar is out of the window, and there will be more ‘see now, buy now’ collections, especially for independent brands and designers,” says Bettina.
Bravo to these brands for not only keeping us on-trend but keeping us ahead of it, even in the midst of crisis.
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