Leading Scottish Textile and Fashion Leaders Share Their Thoughts On How They Are Handling the COVID-19 Crisis

In a short space of time, our world has been turned upside down. Few could have predicted the impact that this virus would have across the world and on our businesses. At XpoNorth we aim to support our creative community in as many ways as possible through this difficult time.

In the last few days we have reached out to a number of textile / fashion businesses of varying sizes asking three core questions and feel it is important to share the feedback with you, our creative community.

We would like to thank the following for their contribution. Simon Cotton, Johnstons of Elgin; David Collinge, John Spencer (Textiles), Yorkshire; Sam Goates, Woven on the Bone; Brian Rennie, Brian Rennie; Siobhan Mackenzie, Siobhan Mackenzie; Clare Campbell, Prickly Thistle, Graham McWilliam, Glencraft Luxury Mattresses and Jamie McGowan, Essence of Harris.


1. We recognise we are in an unplanned crisis and immediate action is required to protect businesses. The government is providing a range of support, as are industry bodies. What is your business doing and what recommendations would you make to other creative businesses at this time?

  • We are completely in hibernation at the moment. Operations are completely closed and we have only a small number of staff working, mostly from home. The government’s support schemes are potentially massive, but they are extremely complex and some of the detail is still uncertain.

Do speak to lots of people for different opinions on how the schemes work and be careful to avoid some of the pitfalls which might result in you not getting the support you need. Business associations and Chambers of Commerce are generally working very well in giving lots of clear information and answering enquiries.

  • Creativity is going to be even more important when this crisis is over. Use the opportunity where there is less day-to-day work going on to develop new ideas.
  • Use this time wisely to re-evaluate your business and if necessary, to refocus. Look at your business from top to bottom and make sure you have a clear, unique message and products that will resonate with the consumers.

Consumers needs have changed. It will be a long time until consumer confidence and spending will get back to some kind of normality so be prepared to adapt accordingly.

  • There will be a lot of creative businesses which aren't fitting into the criteria (to date) to receive government support and are falling through the cracks which will be incredibly worrying. If not done so already, then take the time to familiarise with what support there is and if like many you don't meet the criteria it's important to face up to what the reality looks like for the future of your business and explore how you can survive e.g. finance or pivoting into creating an alternative product range.
  • With such a major impact you can only look at the situation in phases. The next phase is planning for an eventual return to work in order to do it in a safe manner and to meet our commitments to customers. We will then have a recovery period before the end of the year where we expect to be reasonably busy with at once orders. What the situation is which emerges for 2021 and beyond is a little unclear for now but we are looking at the scenarios of what to do if demand remains suppressed or we see significant changes in buying habits. Luckily, we have plenty of time to do that at the moment!
  • It is almost impossible to plan anything at the moment when everything is so uncertain. We are planning for the worst and hoping for the best! Commercially the most important thing in the near future is going to be watch the cash flow.

We must understand our usual clientele aren't in the headspace of buying new luxuries at the moment as some will be unsure of the future of their jobs and still adjusting to this new normal.

2.The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is wide-reaching and it is difficult to plan for an uncertain future. What is your business doing to future proof the business?

  • Nurture your present customers more than ever. Keeping your existing customers is the number one focus, as trying to attract new customers over the next uncertain months will be a huge challenge.
  • Remain positive and optimistic. Historically some of the biggest career breaks have been when people are at the end of their tether. I'm continuing to offer my bespoke design service alongside developing ideas for new products that can be made from home and just continuing to innovate and search for ideas that could work commercially during this. I find a mind map really helps in these situations to brainstorm all possible ways of keeping sales coming in and cash flow healthy. Voucher sales for Browns are a quick and simple way of bringing revenue in also
  • We pride ourselves on the close relationships we build with customers. These relationships keep us in a good place as we like to think that we form an important partner for our customers as they develop their strategies. Customer relationships have never been more important than they are now.
  • Remote working is becoming the new normal and this is likely to continue after the crisis is over. We are hoping that both Government and industry reflect on the supply chains they were using and consider that it might be beneficial to keep a greater portion of their supply from UK manufacturers in future.
  • Businesses with a strong core of regular customers, across different markets will be in a better place when we come out of this.
  • There will be more reliance on online sales for sure for some retailers, however this will be increasingly competitive, so I can only imagine that more supporting digital content to support sales will be important. I am fortunate that those customers who invest in our product because of our ’story’, but also have unique and appealing stories themselves with a loyal customer base.
  • “As I am based in Scotland and HSE24 (where I have a designer collaboration) is based in Munich, I have been working the past 5 years almost totally by WhatsApp and email in developing the collection and this is a very quick and efficient way to work.” Brian Rennie
  • For me in particular as most of my sales are international, I already engage with my clientele remotely and usually via email, therefore I don't predict much of a change in that sense. For the clients I do meet for design appointments I have simply self-measuring guides and can always assist via the likes of Skype. We truly need to be thankful for the wonders of technology it's going to be about finding a new normal for many businesses and just exploring different ways of how we work.
  • We are choosing to follow just a few accredited advisors on this – HMRC and some legal firms mailing lists we are on. In some respect everyone sending the same info is a bit of an overload and perhaps not that effective. So, if bodies have something very specific to them then yes send that – but a little too many signposts can overwhelm many and make for more panic when conflicting sometimes. A difficult one.
  • I would certainly recommend all creative textile businesses remain in touch with UKFT and Textiles Scotland - they have been issuing some very helpful industry specific guidance and credible sources of information. It goes without saying that everyone on a daily basis must read the UK and Scottish Government sites and the Health Protection Scotland site. HSE have been issuing some specific guidance to businesses operating in the current environment which is useful. Avoid social media outside known credible sources of information from reliable industry specific business pages e.g. LinkedIn. HR and specifically legal employment matters are changing and are not completely clear (JRS. etc) - take care and take professional advice before you act in these areas. Record all decisions taken within your business relating to COVID-19, keep in touch as much as possible with your employees, and ensure risk assessments are kept up to date to keep for any employees who are working at this time.

Take a hard and unemotional look at your business and if necessary, make changes that might be hard at the moment, but will in the end make your business stronger and able to survive long term.

3. Our traditional customers are likely to be experiencing hardship at various levels. How do you engage with your customers currently and what changes do you foresee as the impact of this crisis creates different ways of working?

  • We pride ourselves on the close relationships we build with customers. These relationships keep us in a good place as we like to think that we form an important partner for our customers as they develop their strategies. Customer relationships have never been more important than they are now.
  • Remote working is becoming the new normal and this is likely to continue after the crisis is over. We are hoping that both Government and industry reflect on the supply chains they were using and consider that it might be beneficial to keep a greater portion of their supply from UK manufacturers in future.
  • Businesses with a strong core of regular customers, across different markets will be in a better place when we come out of this.
  • There will be more reliance on online sales for sure for some retailers, however this will be increasingly competitive, so I can only imagine that more supporting digital content to support sales will be important. I am fortunate that those customers who invest in our product because of our ’story’, but also have unique and appealing stories themselves with a loyal customer base.
  • “As I am based in Scotland and HSE24 (where I have a designer collaboration) is based in Munich, I have been working the past 5 years almost totally by WhatsApp and email in developing the collection and this is a very quick and efficient way to work.” Brian Rennie
  • For me in particular as most of my sales are international, I already engage with my clientele remotely and usually via email, therefore I don't predict much of a change in that sense. For the clients I do meet for design appointments I have simply self-measuring guides and can always assist via the likes of Skype. We truly need to be thankful for the wonders of technology it's going to be about finding a new normal for many businesses and just exploring different ways of how we work.
  • We are choosing to follow just a few accredited advisors on this – HMRC and some legal firms mailing lists we are on. In some respect everyone sending the same info is a bit of an overload and perhaps not that effective. So, if bodies have something very specific to them then yes send that – but a little too many signposts can overwhelm many and make for more panic when conflicting sometimes. A difficult one.
  • I would certainly recommend all creative textile businesses remain in touch with UKFT and Textiles Scotland - they have been issuing some very helpful industry specific guidance and credible sources of information. It goes without saying that everyone on a daily basis must read the UK and Scottish Government sites and the Health Protection Scotland site. HSE have been issuing some specific guidance to businesses operating in the current environment which is useful. Avoid social media outside known credible sources of information from reliable industry specific business pages e.g. LinkedIn. HR and specifically legal employment matters are changing and are not completely clear (JRS. etc) - take care and take professional advice before you act in these areas. Record all decisions taken within your business relating to COVID-19, keep in touch as much as possible with your employees, and ensure risk assessments are kept up to date to keep for any employees who are working at this time.

The more personal approach will become even more important. People have come to realise that it is not always necessary to travel for meetings and that online now offers fabulous alternatives to keep in touch with your suppliers and consumers that are in fact also more cost effective.


Subscribe

* indicates required

XpoNorth will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at info@xponorth.co.uk. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.