As the coronavirus continues to soar in the United States, causing a recession and record unemployment, industries at all levels face upheaval. Especially in fashion and footwear, companies are working overtime to tackle challenges, including major supply chain disruptions.
From shipping delays to factory closures, shoe brands have faced a number of production issues this year. And as a result, domestic manufacturing has once again become a priority.
“If there is one bright side to COVID-19, it’s that it has forced industry and society to stop and rethink supply chain issues that too many people were too busy – or even willfully ignorant – to stop and solve, “said Tim Gibb, co-founder of flip-flop brand Tidal New York, which manufactures its product at a low-waste plant in New Rochelle, NY’s supply chain and resulting vulnerabilities. What we are seeing is how unstable an economy devoid of local manufacturing is. “
Additionally, recent reports suggest that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a change in consumer behavior, with more buyers buying locally. More than 65% of consumers said they were more likely to buy products made in the United States during COVID-19, according to a survey by financial technology company Sezzle. And some brands are seeing the impact firsthand.
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“We are absolutely seeing a shift in mindset among consumers,” Gibb said. “However, we believe that this development cannot be fully attributed to COVID-19. On the contrary, the pandemic has accelerated socially conscious trends that were already well underway. The general understanding of local production has shifted from a spirit of nationalism to one of a keen interest in environmentalism and ethical business practices.
Sara Irvani, CEO of Okabashi – which makes its sandals in Buford, Georgia – said she believes transparency is what is now attracting consumers to brands made in America. “People want to support businesses that help their communities,” she said. “This appreciation for made-in-the-USA, I think it’s going to stay, just as I think this community appreciation and support for small, family-owned and value-driven businesses will continue.”
Despite the industry’s overall challenges, Irvani said Okabashi has seen double-digit growth since the start of the year. She attributes this to the ability to make-to-order, as well as its American factor and the fact that the shoes are machine washable.
Rainbow Sandals, based in Southern California, said its America-made products have always resonated with buyers and demand has not slowed due to COVID.
In fact, VP of Marketing Pat Huber said during closings, the brand’s online orders have grown beyond the team’s ability to fulfill them. “All of our wholesale accounts canceled their orders, so once sandal season started, we noticed that our customers still needed our product and could only find it online,” Huber said. “Personally, I have spent the last three months working in the warehouse seven days a week fulfilling these orders. [Now, furloughed workers] are back and accounts have ordered, so we finally have a chance to catch up.
Likewise, Chaco, which makes sandals in Michigan, also reported that the site’s traffic and engagement increased dramatically year over year, although Marketing Director Josh Weichhand credits much of that to the brand’s latest collection, the Chillos Slides, which were marketed for indoor wear. Weichhand said nearly 80% of Chillos buyers are new customers.
“We intentionally positioned Chillos – an ergonomic athletic slide – for lounging, working from home, or as recovery shoes. This message was absolutely connected while most consumers stayed at home, and we were able to take advantage of it, ”he said.
Weichhand added that consumers have also connected to Chaco’s commitments to supporting local communities and first responders with personal protective equipment. In March, the Chaco factory pivoted and turned its production of sandals into production of masks. Customers have answered the call by pre-ordering 8,000 pairs of custom shoes and accessories, he added.