IRW: How would you describe the past couple of months at Shona Joy?
SJ: It’s been a whirlwind. A month ago, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to talk but in the last few weeks, it’s been so fast-changing – especially with the 90-day lockdown in NSW – it’s made it vastly different to how it first felt. A few weeks ago, when we were still in the office, in the space of three days, we had millions of dollars of product cancelled by our biggest retail partners.
We had worked really hard on our collections and getting our goods in after Chinese New Year and air-freighted them at a huge expense – then they were rejected in-transit or even at some of the retailers’ doors in the last hour. We were receiving emails saying orders had been rejected or refused. It was hugely disappointing after everyone’s hard work. Essentially, our April delivery didn’t go out, and we’ve had goods for the next three months – all fully or partly made – on a boat, in air and in transit that we just couldn’t put a stop to.
IRW: What are the next steps that you’re currently working on?
SJ: We are currently working through scenarios on how to move our current stock. We’re rephasing the next few months, knowing it’s going to be extremely quiet in retail. Because we planned so far ahead, our deliveries were scheduled all the way up to September, so we had to go back, reforecast and rework all those collections. We had millions of orders cancelled but equally, a million dollars’ worth of product placed before all this hit. So now, from a conservative perspective, we’ve just chopped it by more than half, because we expect retailers won’t get back on their feet in the next six months. We can’t really take that risk by producing some of those goods. Sadly, we’ve had to rephase our collections that we’d already sold and we have to reassort what it looks like.
IRW: What does rephasing involve?
SJ: Essentially, for the May-June deliveries that were meant to come in, we’re pushing them out to June-July and we’ve cancelled some styles and stories in those collections that we feel seasonally won’t have the lifetime going into July-August. We don’t want our stockists sitting on dead stock or stock that’s not seasonally right. It’s something we’ve had to wear in terms of production costs because we’d already purchased fabrics.
We’ve been working under the assumption that once restrictions are over, our stockists and customers will still feel the impact, so we’re planning as far as we can to cover ourselves as much as possible. We’re definitely looking at the next six months still being an issue for us and even further out than that.
IRW: How would you describe the sentiment in the fashion industry right now?
SJ: From talking to colleagues in the industry, sales agents and other retailers, a lot of brands are rephasing, they’re pushing out deliveries and they’re reworking their collections to eliminate risk. We had a sequin story for April and then we realised no one would be buying sequin dresses. Unfortunately, the thing about our brand is we’re mostly occasion-wear and it’s something that’s not needed right now.
IRW: How is the team designing for the future right now?
SJ: We already had a few things in the works and we’re looking at other categories to expand into. We’re just about to launch a new basics capsule. Luckily, that was already in the works, so that’s great for us for the current climate and what the consumer needs right now. We’re already organically expanding into categories outside occasion-wear based on feedback we’ve been receiving and how well our lifestyle product is being received, so it’s been a natural progression in a way.
IRW: What are some of the challenges in the fashion industry right now?
SJ: I’d say selling the next collection and how it will be done in the current conditions. We’ve had showings, but we can’t do photo shoots. We’re reading everything we can possibly get our hands on and looking outside the box. Maybe we’ll do virtual showrooms; everything will be digital. Gone are the days of flying to fashion week and showings in New York. It will be a completely different 12 months in terms of getting our collections in front of buyers and also figuring out which retailers are around and who will want to purchase.
Because fashion works so far out, the forecasting and planning side of things is really going to be a challenge. The positive thing is that it’s making the world feel smaller. People will be able to see everyone’s collection digitally, rather than traipsing around fashion showrooms.
IRW: A lot of brands are now focusing on e-commerce. Is that where you’re at right now?
SJ: One hundred per cent. It’s definitely our vision and it has been for the past couple of years because we don’t have a bricks-and-mortar store. Our customer experience and service is always at the forefront and we’re building a new site and plan to launch it in May. It’s really exciting for us because it’s going to be a far better experience for the customer and we’re going to be able to showcase all our different edits, our different capsules and we’ll have more areas to display.
Not having a store always frustrated us in a way because we’re limited in how we showcase our collections. It’s hard to tell a story when you’re slotted into stores with a small assortment of what you’ve put together, rather than the full cohesive range. We wanted to house more content on our site so we could tell those stories and really give the customer the proper experience that we can’t physically.
The wedding edit is a large part of the business and we always have several different collections at any one time. We constantly get great feedback from our stockists that our campaign imagery is so beautiful, and this way we’ll be able to showcase it all on our site.
IRW: You’re celebrating 20 years in business this year. What has that been like for you?
SJ: I hate to use the word ‘journey’, but I think the first half of those 20 years were personally very hard because I worked with a tiny, tiny team. I’m so proud of the team, what we’ve built together and the collections we’ve been putting out.
We’re in some prestigious retailers like Harrods, Nordstrom, Revolve – it just takes you aback a bit. We’ve been with DJs for at least 15 years, too. It’s been an evolution.
IRW: You would have gone through the GFC then. What was that like?
SJ: I had about four employees then. I remember how challenging it was. It was a tough year, although this is nothing like that from my perspective.
IRW: What have been some of the highlights of the past 20 years?
SJ: Definitely getting into those international boutiques and seeing my pieces hanging in-store. I would say that it’s getting to the point where we’re now really marching to the beat of our own drum. I feel like we’re in charge and producing the collections that we want, rather than feeling like we need to tick boxes and fit into a mould to get into stores.
I’m really proud of how our bridesmaid or wedding edit has evolved for the real fashion girl. I feel there was always a gap between that ready-to-wear fashion girl and the wedding customer historically. The girl who comes to us for the wedding edit is modern and she wants to wear a formal dress, but she still wants to look fashionable and she wants her bridesmaids to look individual and not in traditional cupcake-style dresses. She wants them to feel comfortable and have a dress that suits her personality and individual look.
Watching the bridal market shift and become a bit cooler has been exciting. It’s given us a new opportunity to offer slightly more edgy or minimal styles that we love. I feel the gap has become smaller – there really isn’t a gap any more with ready-to-wear fashion.
I think the word ‘bridesmaid’ was almost a dirty word because of [the stereotypes] attached. Most brides are allergic to that word and the connotations that come with it and lately, they’ve really gone against the grain and the traditional notion of a wedding. Our fashion collections are the perfect answer to that and [so customers can have a] cocktail dress that translates easily to bridal. Brides are giving their bridesmaids a lot more say in the process, it’s a less dictatorial experience, it’s something everyone’s starting to enjoy a lot more.
IRW: What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve had to face in business?
SJ: In the current climate, our biggest challenge is just getting through the next six months and trying to service our stockists with limited risk to us and everyone else in these unknown times. This pandemic is the biggest challenge we’ve had in the last 20 years, for sure.
We’ve been thrust into this new environment with no warning. We’ve had to create a survival plan in the space of a couple of days. We’ve had to understand legal jargon, we’re talking to workplace lawyers to understand our employees’ rights so that we can do the right thing by everyone and to also juggle our finances, we’re trying to get our supply chain to agree to payment terms so we have a better cashflow. It’s been very challenging. It’s thrown every other challenge out the window – they all seem petty now.
I think at the beginning we thought it would just affect one month’s delivery and we could surpass this because we’re solid and successful and have been around for a long time. But it just started snowballing – after two weeks, it became four, then it quickly became 90 days and it’s now six months after that. It’s really scary to know how much to further invest; it’s all about how much risk you can endure. I’m trying to keep my staff as the main focus and our core business and stockists – I want to maintain those relationships, but it’s very difficult to have all those things.
I just had to quickly learn a lot of things in a small space, make decisions with no time to question myself, although I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights worrying about it all.
IRW: How would you describe the Australian fashion industry right now?
SJ: I would describe it at the forefront of fashion. I feel like when I go overseas and I’m in a showroom in Paris or New York, it’s really cutting-edge. It’s very ‘now’ and I feel like if you simply look at social media and Instagram, a lot of the coolest influencers are wearing Aussie brands. I think that says tremendous things about the fashion industry.
I’d say social media has played the biggest part, because it’s made our fashion seen by the rest of the world. When I go to our showroom in New York, girls will say, ‘I know that brand, I saw it on Instagram’, which is really cool. They would never have known about those brands without social media.
Previously, you would have needed a store to get in people’s faces, but now you can do it digitally. People are making conscious decisions about what they’re buying and why. We’ve seen that recently – people are asking questions around who they’re buying from and they’re being thoughtful of what they purchase as they move away from fast fashion.
IRW: What are some of your other plans for Shona Joy?
SJ: We’re working hard on sustainable packaging and doing something in that space. That’s our pet project. The silver lining is we’ve got time now to pause, reflect and look at the things we’ve been wanting to do for a while, and that’s at the top of the list.
We’ve also made a decision to sea-freight our goods instead of air-freight to reduce carbon emissions. I think this space and quiet time will give us more time to look down and look at where we can make improvements and better choices. We don’t normally have that space in this industry.
We’re also looking for ways to communicate that with customers. We’ve always been thoughtful in our decisions and had ethics and sustainability front of mind, but perhaps we haven’t communicated those decisions to our customer. We’ve been working hard to put together an ethical roadmap and promote sustainability to our customers. Our new website will be able to get that message across as well.
IRW: Tell me about the ethical roadmap and what it will involve.
SJ: We started looking at our overall processes from a top-down perspective and we’re tackling each one, so we’re looking at what we’re doing now and what we could be doing – like what eco-friendly materials we could be using. Then we’re prioritising them and seeing which changes we can make immediately, which ones we can make from a design perspective, from an office perspective and a manufacturing perspective. It’s an overwhelming thought because there’s so much you can be doing, and so many different ways you can tackle things.
I feel like in some areas, where you think might be sustainable in one area, you could be undoing the work in another area, so it’s really important to look at it holistically from the start.
IRW: What’s it like catering to brides? I can imagine it must be quite an emotional journey.
SJ: It’s obviously the most exciting time in a person’s life, but it can equally be the most stressful time. There can be challenges with the expectations or the demands of a bride, but then equally, it’s pretty amazing to see the photos from brides and real-life weddings shared on Instagram.
It’s lovely to come to work and see dozens of weddings and parties over a space of three or four days from the weekend and seeing a flood of Shona Joy dresses. [The wedding edit] is almost like a different business, because it does involve a lot of investment. It’s not a seasonable collection you bring in and then just disappears. You have to be quite thoughtful when you design it, knowing that it’s an investment.
The wedding customer’s decision-making process takes a lot longer than a fashion purchase, and there are no seasonal trends when she buys her bridesmaid’s dresses, either. She might buy it a year out from the wedding, or she might buy it the week before. You can’t really predict the highs and lows of it.
When we entered the space, we definitely thought there would be seasons, then we realised there aren’t. Some brides are very organised, and some aren’t that way inclined.