From fashion to benefits, the economic recovery from COVID brings change

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CENTRAL TEXAS AND THE BRAZOS VALLEY — There’s an old saying that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. If that’s true, then Doug Phillips of Conscious Clothing is both lucky and good.

His company’s designs took off as the pandemic locked us up at home.

“We’ve been doing this for 18 years. So it’s kind of now everyone’s catching up,” said Phillips, Chief Financial Officer at the clothing designer and manufacturer, based in Rockford, Michigan.

Conscious always had a focus on ethically made clothing. The biggest challenge the company faced was the huge increase in online sales and demand for loungewear.

“Our biggest challenge has been just keeping up with all the extra orders from everyone ordering online. It’s been busy,” he added.

The fashion industry either follows trends or creates them, so it’s very good at keeping up with change, but not even the most creative industry in the world had prepared for the impact of the coronavirus.

“Already in March and April (of 2020), people were talking about how this was going to hit the fashion industry, so hard,” explained Lori Falconer, Fashion Studies Chair and Associate Professor at Kendall College of Art and Design.

Fashion faced challenges like the rest of the world, as people lost interest in buying clothes, because, let’s face it, lots of us only dressed from the waist up anyway.

“So the things that we’re wearing at home, have really have increased in sales. And the more professional attire has decreased. So people switched to eCommerce, they were already moving in that direction but this was just a bigger push,” said Falconer.

That caused online sales to boom, while companies heavily invested in brick and mortar stores, close up, laid-off workers and filed for bankruptcy. It happened to some of the biggest names in the business.

Forbes magazine reports revenue in the fashion business dropped by more than one-third in 2020. Making for about $640 billion in lost sales.

Another report showed online retail increased nearly 50 percent compared to 2019.

“So, this pandemic has really pushed on the fashion industry to move forward and to move faster. So increasing the digital reliance of the industry and everyone in the industry,” said Falconer.

Lots of brands stopped working with overseas manufacturers because it got too expensive, which inspired consumers to buy more consciously.

High fashion, which sometimes focuses on anything but comfort, took the biggest hit so “Fashion Week” went online.

Celebrity designer R.C. Caylan hosted his most recent show for Arab fashion week, after a tough year caused by the pandemic.

Caylan has worked for Carrie Underwood, Tyra Banks and many other well-known celebrities.

He says, with the pandemic locking us away, we had no reason to dress up, leaving him with a business headed down fast.

“The whole entire revenue of the year was gone. And because most of my clients, they’re, you know, events, or the dresses that they already have the castle for me or the wedding dresses, they were like postponed or canceled,” said the designer.

Experts say they don’t think in-person stores will go away, they say brands big in brick and mortar will have a bigger online presence.

Fashion leaders say change for the good has already begun.

Caylan says thanks to the vaccine and declining COVID numbers, events have begun to pick up again. Women need gowns.

Manufacturers like Conscious Clothing remain busy filling their orders, anticipating this way of business will stay strong. That leads fashion experts to believe we have a fashion resurgence just around the corner.

“I think we’ll see a huge resurgence in fashion because it’s fun, and fashion is a way to express yourself. and what we’re missing, especially out in public, when you get out in public. The face is covered up. You’re not really showing things off you’re trying to get here to there, right, we’re not spending a lot of time outside. So I think, I think we will I think it’ll probably be bigger than what we saw in the roaring 20s I think people will just go wild with fashion and I hope they do,” Falconer predicted.

Even if you don’t you can still look stylish and comfortable thanks to the success of Doug Philips and company.

“The trend is here for loungewear and comfortable clothing. I think everybody likes to feel comfortable,” said Phillips.

BENEFITS:

We recently showed you how signing bonuses have become more common, not just in cities looking for good police officers, but in companies looking for the best workers.

Now some employers have begun using another tool at their disposal, one they rarely pull out because of the negative effect it can have on the bottom line.

Alyssa Romero’s second day on the job at Whole Sol, an organic eatery was training day.

“So many bananas. There’s not usually this many bananas” she said.

Her new job means a chance at a fresh start and a better start.

“It’s a big change,” she laughed.

“At the hotel that I worked at last summer they kind of would put me in these positions I was uncomfortable with. They’d be like hey can you stay a little later, or I had to work two positions at one time,” she explained.

Because of the service worker shortage in our country, many employees have had to take on extra duties at work without any extra pay.

“I felt that a lot and I feel like these days the drive up there was expending a lot more resources each and every day,” said Vince Castillo.

He felt it too. Before working at Whole Sol Castillo worked at a grocery store and concert venue. He says he’d take on extra shifts fearing he might lose his job or benefits if he said no.

“I have stepped into the role sort of putting my back against the wall throughout the semester.“I have stepped into the role sort of putting my back against the wall throughout the semester,” said the young man.

He described the jobs as taxing, exhausting, something Vince hasn’t really felt since coming to Whole Sol.

“It’s paying off to make all that investment in the employees because after all, it’s our team that’s front-facing with the customer,” said Phil Dumontet, Whole Sol Co-Founder.

Since opening Whole Sol a few years ago, Phil Dumontet has found company morale, a key to success, and never more important than during the pandemic.

“So it starts, obviously, with a good strong wage so we did a 10% across the board for our employees. We also increased our benefits so one thing we offered from day 1 is what’s called the 50 and 50. It’s a $50 a month wellness stipend that can be used for anything related to your physical or mental health,” said Dumontet.

That means a gym membership or massage, it can also go towards seeing a therapist. Outside of that, the company recently offered its employees full healthcare benefits as well as a $1,000 retention bonus after working for more than 6 months. Pile on unlimited PTO for managers and automatic approval for employees and it’s created a space where the team feels more fulfilled.

“Those are the kinds of things we’re balancing so people don’t get burned out in the restaurant industry,” said Dumontet.

The moves have cost more, a lot more for a business that endured many of the hardships others have as well, but here it’s allowed the staff to feel better both on the clock and off it.

“I really feel like it makes me feel like I’m cared about and in more of a wholesome view when looking at my life outside of work as well,” said Castillo.

When Alyssa compares her job to those her friends have? “It’s a big change” she laughed again.

A change some experts predict won’t look so big down the post-pandemic road, as competition for good workers forces businesses to “get creative” to get them and keep them.

Rules? or No Rules? experts already studying government response to COVID.

There are still many hurdles, experts say, to getting our lives and the economy to their more robust, “pre-pandemic” state.

So those experts have begun studying how our leaders handled the disaster for clues on better dealing with the next crisis.

A while back, few of us thought alcohol to go would ever happen in Texas but the Pandemic forced a lot of us into tough decisions, and so it was, with Texas and alcohol.

It kept Linsey Castiollo’s restaurant going.

“Absolutely it’s helped us stay in business,” said the manager of Waco’s “La Fiesta”. Her special “purple margaritas” help her stand out, and bring in business. And that’s the point.

Governors did everything they could to keep their economies from collapsing, with some experts saying we may never know how close we came to the brink of calamity.

So now, California and Florida have become case studies on how to handle the pandemic differently.

Over the last six months, California has had more stringent mask policies and business restrictions, something Florida’s governor likes to emphasize.

“I look if you look around the country. We’re a free state, many of these states are not free states, unfortunately,” said Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

But when you look at the two states economies by gross domestic product, California did better in 2020 and UCLA economist Jerry Nickelsburg, says that pattern played out across the country.

“The restrictions that the states that had more stringent interventions had better health outcomes and better economic outcomes,” explained Jerry Nickelsburg, with the Anderson Forecast at the University of California at Los Angeles.

He says every state lost GDP in 2020 The question is how much.

Nikelsburg looked at states with populations of at least 5 million, assess their pandemic policies using a score created by Oxford University, and compare their decline in GDP.

He found Washington State’s economy suffered the fewest losses, despite stringent pandemic rules.

California’s economy ranked eighth, ahead of states that opened up fast, like Florida, Indiana, and Texas.

In fact, Texas ranked last, losing the most GDP of the states studied, but on par with the country as a whole.

And it wasn’t just in the United States. He says the same thing happened in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway stricter policies yielded better infection rates and better economic results in 2020.

“There’s also research that suggests that’s what happened in the 1918 influenza pandemic. So this is not a fluke,” he stated.

Nikelsburg says certain sectors like restaurants and bars did better in states like Florida than strict states like California, that’s one reason Florida’s unemployment rate is lower than California’s.

Nikelsburg stresses his study compares the overall economic picture, and he says, broadly speaking, keeping people healthy, is good for business.

“When more people are ill, absenteeism is higher economic output is, is less,” he said.

As things begin to open up, UCLA’s Anderson Forecast predicts California’s economy will bounce back faster than the national average.

Why does Texas care? Because competition for business and investment has become tougher, and Texas remains a fierce competitor with California.

Now we lured Elon Musk and Tesla Motors here. We suspect he didn’t come for the margaritas, but it sure didn’t hurt.

“We have a huge market for margaritas at La Fiesta and so once we were able to sell margaritas to go, it gave people the incentive to come get dinner and get to take their favorite drink home.”

And here’s another take home, a quicker recovery in California means Texas will have to step up its game to keep pace.



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