How designer Louise Kennedy is rising to the challenge of coronavirus…
When designer Louise Kennedy returned to Dublin after a very successful week of appointments with clients at the Carlyle Hotel in New York the second week of March, she had as yet no idea what lay ahead, in terms of challenges to her business. But she did know, after 30 years at the top of the luxury fashion business, and having weathered other storms, that come what may, she would need to be resilient and adapt quickly.
As non-essential businesses were forced to close and retail (apart from supermarkets and pharmacies) ground to a halt, Louise and her team made the decision they would work remotely and closed the door to 56 Merrion Square – but not completely. She left it open a chink so that Kevin from An Post could arrive every day of the week at 2.20pm on the dot and take the parcels Louise had wrapped – along with a handwritten note – and deliver to her clients all over Ireland.
Having reinvested in online in 2018, Louise has an efficient and easy-to-navigate website at www.louisekennedy.com where her team of sales associates, working remotely, could use a LiveChat function to stay connected with their clients – many of whom are lifelong fans and loyal clients. Browsing online, talking via LiveChat or on the telephone to the team, clients could make their selection and have their dress, jacket, trousers, blouse, wrap or earrings, wrapped, despatched and delivered within 24 or 48 hours. FedEx was similarly efficient with clients abroad, all over the world, receiving packages within a few days.
“I am currently Head of Despatch”, says Louise, who, along with her postmistress role, is also designing the SS21 collection and plotting a path to AW20, which she anticipates will bring challenges. “It’s not going to be easy but SS20 stock levels will carry us through to delivery of the AW collection which may run a little later than usual.” Brown Thomas Dublin, where Louise Kennedy is also stocked, has yet to announce when it will open, ditto Kildare Village, where Louise also has a store.
Louise was finishing a re-fit of a second fashion room overlooking Merrion Square when she was forced to close. “Phase Two of our first-floor makeover was almost finished when lockdown happened. But I’ve been able to work ahead remotely with our architect on Phase Three which is the ground-floor room. So when we re-open, we will have three beautiful, spacious rooms where clients can feel very comfortable at a distance.”
As every businesswoman across the land is trying to do, Louise is remaining positive and acknowledging that this unprecedented situation is providing time to reflect and make changes. Typically never in one city for more than a week at a time, she is not exactly happy to be grounded in this way but the time this pause affords her has been put to good use. Once she knew Louise Kennedy had, as a company, done everything it could to protect the team, clients and the business, including negotiating, availing of supports, identifying the opportunities to keep the business alive online and via strong personal connection with clients, she began to review, reflect and project forward into an utterly changed autumn retail landscape.
“Our priority remains the health and wellbeing of our team and our clients. We will do everything we can to re-open safely, in line with restrictions and we’re lucky that our premises in Merrion Square, which has always operated mostly on an appointment basis, though not limited to this, is very suited to social distancing.” In London, where staff were “furloughed”, Louise thinks they will be able to operate a “by appointment” service from the beginning of next month after Boris Johnson on Sunday announced the reopening of non-essential shops from early June.
She is also very concerned about the studio she works with in India, where some of her pieces are embroidered. “We are concerned for our colleagues there, as Delhi has been badly affected, however they will return to the studio next week and begin to work on the collection. Our mills in France and Italy were impacted too. As these countries re-open, we are re-establishing contact and making sure everyone is well.”
What does a savvy designer and businesswoman do at a time like this? She cuts her cloth, literally. Reviewing, consolidating and concentrating on slightly smaller collections promotes efficiencies across the manufacturing process and near-total “sell-through”. And taking the temperature of the market is second nature to Louise.
“After 30 years of working with clients, we know what they love to have in their wardrobes and we know that coronavirus will affect their choices. This reality will feed into our thinking and planning.” But while caution may prevail, Louise knows there is always a desire to see and wear beautiful, special things. “We are launching our new Permanent Collection online soon – the special pieces which are not seasonal but are more like works of art. There’s no doubt there will be more focus on online. And Instagram has become a wonderful channel for keeping in touch too – the warmth of the response from our friends and clients has been such a comfort and support.”
At @1louisekennedy, you will find how the new Head of Despatch is coping with lockdown on a personal level, with early morning walks around the city and its parks and squares with sister Caroline Kennedy of Kennedy PR and Brand (and a director of Louise Kennedy) and delighted mini-Schnauzer Paddy.
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