This year has been one full of disruptions and challenges, funnily enough a lot of the things we had planned for some time came to fruition and felt like pivotal and really positive steps, like the shift of our Flagship store, selling our brand to overseas stockists and shifting production outside of New Zealand.
While I feel highly confident sourcing our manufacturing overseas was undeniably the right move, we started down that path just as the global supply chain was totally broken. Despite our best intentions to plan our collections carefully, the learning curve of manufacturing offshore was steep, coupled with the global disruptions being felt from COVID – different countries and regions going in and out of lockdowns at different times and a lack of flights causing a spike in freight costs and major delays.
The only real comforting thing in this is coming to find that within the clothing industry, or any product sector, everyone is feeling the impact of this from the largest brands and businesses to the smallest. I’ve come to realise the best thing we can do is get out in front of it and work to longer lead times and just allow extra time in the process for disruptions.
It sort of falls in line with a bit of a strategy shift in how we release product, going from a weekly Thursday delivery schedule, to something more sporadic with no distinct cadence and favouring larger semi-frequent deliveries that could be a couple of times a month. The idea being to create a bit more of an event out of these deliveries and bring some surprise factor, along with larger drops that may include four to six products rather than only a couple. So when we wind up having a two or three week delay in one delivery it kind of adds to the ‘random-ness’ of our release plan – as much as it makes me want to pull my hair out some times!
The world has become even more digital throughout the pandemic as people are at home or avoiding going out and getting their needs met online, so we also want to create reasons to visit us physically as we still believe the best way to experience Checks is in person. There’s only so much you can see and feel over Instagram. So I hope having larger deliveries of products hitting the retail store at unexpected times will cause more reason to visit. Events are another way we stimulate connection with our wider audience and give a reason to pop by beyond new items.
When it comes to importing clothing, there are two methods of shipping goods, either air freight or sea freight. In normal times air freight would generally take under a week, at present we’ve had this wind up being more like a month and costing two to three times what it typically would. As we work to short lead times we don’t have the time frame built in to accommodate sea freight which takes around a month, but has been less impacted by the pandemic.
The same goes for when we send samples to factories or labels to be sewn into garments, a five day courier service turns into three weeks. At a certain point you’ve kind of got to let it rock and deal with things as they fall. I think we’re starting to get out ahead of it, this disruption happened while we were figuring out the right production partners for us, trying manufacturing in different regions. Hopefully having stronger relationships in the future means we’re less impacted by outside factors. We’re also working on lots of exciting processes with regards to new products, but we’ve found these take time to develop.
Things will be pretty fractured for a while and we’ll do our best to navigate it, next month we start our Summer collection. A time of year that is really important for retail as you expect to do a big chunk of your trading within that busy festive season and we’re gearing up for a big couple of months. Who could really say what’s going to happen but hopefully there’ll be some hot products sprinkled within there!