From the source: Jonathon Yeo, Zanerobe

As uncertainty around the pandemic continues, with added global events thrown into the mix, continuing a meaningful relationship with customers is a challenge. But for the team at streetwear brand Zanerobe, it’s all about having an open conversation and providing customers with support. Co-founder Jonathan Yeo shares with us what the past few months have been like for the business.

Inside Retail Weekly: It’s been a couple of months since the pandemic first hit. Where are you guys in that whole process right now?

Jonathon Yeo: We’ve been extremely fortunate and thankful that the work invested in our direct-to-consumer business is running efficiently to not only deliver clothing to those that need it, but cover inevitable downturns in the wholesale sector. The million-dollar question will be which retail partners survive the shutdown and which operators have run lean over the years to overcome what has been a catastrophic health and economic disaster. We’ve invested heavily in our wholesale partners – as they have done with us – so we will do everything we can to support them during the next phase.

IRW: How would you describe the Zanerobe customer and how has he changed since the pandemic?

JY: He’s the same but confused as anyone is at the moment – there are a bunch of unknowns, as we can all attest. Generally, he’s looking for positivity and responding well to our unifying messaging of support between the pandemic and what’s been an extremely tumultuous Black Lives Matter movement in the US. Our guy appreciates we can use our platform to express the thoughts, prayers, opinions and support for everything that is going on right now. The DM conversations with our crew are certainly sobering, with the uncertainty of employment being discussed a lot.

IRW: What is he now looking for from brands and retail and what kind of product categories is he most interested in right now?

JY: I think he’s wearing comfy-at-home fleece and jersey is slowly moving towards back-to-work or socialising styles. To be honest, we’re conversing with our customers more broadly, not just about what to wear, but how to get back to normality.

IRW: One of the big predictions about fashion post-pandemic is that seasons will drop by the wayside. What are your thoughts on that? How has the pandemic impacted the way that your business might run moving forward?

JY: Who knows? It really depends on how your sales channels are set up or were impacted pre- and post-pandemic. If you concentrate sales to online-only, then yes, you could design and drop more frequently, rather than present a collection that suits broader channels. We’ve already adjusted parts of our business to this new process and it’s exciting to design and drop more targeted and relevant product, plus have the ability to try a few experimental pieces that test everyone’s appetite. It’s early days though, but we think the change definitely suits our online offering and customer.

IRW: Before the pandemic hit, how would you describe the past year for the business and post-pandemic, what are you focusing on in the business?

JY: We were doing well pre-pandemic, sharpening our offering and doing a lot of work behind the scenes to be a more efficient business, shifting many processes to being more sustainable with fewer environmental externalities. I don’t think those core practices should ever diminish.

 There’s obviously been a concerted focus on the welfare of our team, trying to retain everyone as certain sectors of the business take a sabbatical. Supporting our customers and being positive for them has definitely taken a priority too.

IRW: Lately, a lot of traditionally wholesale brands have been focusing more on their e-commerce and going direct-to-consumer, especially now due to the pandemic. Is that something you guys are focused on?

JY: D2C is a forced-focus but we’re grateful for the work conducted in this area over many years. Standalone stores? Not sure. Let’s wait and see where it all lands. If it benefits those in the neighbourhood, then it’s worth investing in.

IRW: Collaborations are now pretty common in fashion. How do they help build your brand and how do you choose who to collaborate with?

JY: Collabs need to be a natural partnership with equitable benefits in order to work. An existing relationship over a period of time with a mutual understanding. When you have that, it’s helpful. Without it, it’s not worth pursuing.

IRW: I thought the one you did with Top Dawg Entertainment was a pretty interesting partnership.

JY: Top Dawg was a great little collab, supporting a bunch of talented rappers and producers on the precipice of making a name for themselves. Now they’re Spotify and Tidal stars, so we’re lucky to join them side of stage when and where we can.

IRW: Last year, you guys collaborated with Target. What did that involve and where are you at right now in the partnership? Will there be more womenswear from Zanerobe in the future?

JY: Designing ZxZanerobe, a diffusion line exclusive to Target, has been both productive and challenging over the first 12 months. It’s been productive because we’re excited by the opportunity to make the brand more accessible and it’s challenging in terms of delivering on price and quality, but so far so good. It’s still early days but the signs are positive. There are no plans for mainline Zanerobe womenswear as we’re concentrating on growing our Cools Club brand in that space.

IRW: I feel like menswear and streetwear have both evolved quite a bit in the past few years. What are your thoughts on how it’s been progressing lately?

JY: I think menswear and streetwear have evolved remarkably over the last decade and continue to do so at a rapid pace.

We believe a greater proportion of progression needs to occur in the investment of sustainable practices, ever increasing business and manufacturing efficiencies with the lowest possible environmental impact. I believe if your brand has strong handwriting, trust that design DNA has viable longevity and work to find other areas of your business, that makes a significant difference.

Yes, it’s still a competitive landscape out there, but we’re fortunate to have the design history and credibility over many years to be able to progressively evolve while sticking to our lane. Positive externalities from sustainable practices or positive cultural messaging via your platform is the baseline method of operation for brands, so you need to adapt now or you’ll struggle to catch up.

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