COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 Update

by Saeed Al-Rubeyi

Story mfg is and has always been radically open and honest. We’re honest and open because we've always been interested in how things are made, who makes them and why. The story is usually fun and exciting as we grow and learn, but we knew there would be times like this where things weren’t so fun.

We are opening up again now because we want you to know what’s been happening and what we are doing.

Our world

Almost all of our income comes from selling our collections to stores. We make a sample collection, shoot a lookbook, present the collection to buyers in Paris and Tokyo showrooms, then take orders from the stores. After we collate all the orders for the season we put it into production and it generally takes about 5-6 months of constant work to get things finished, packed up and ready for delivery (yes, 5-6 months is a very long time - many brands of our size I know have a lead time of 2-6 weeks but our stuff is very labour intensive).

Since Jan 2020 we have shown two collections, AW20 ‘menswear’ and ‘womenswear’, and taken orders that would normally account for about half of our entire year’s turnover. Those orders are almost entirely in production now (menswear is a couple of months in - meaning a lot of stuff is already in some state of completion). We pay our atelier and dye-house 60% of the production cost upfront before they start production (if it comes as a surprise to you that not paying for production up front is something that happens - welcome to the grim world of manufacturing), and the remaining 40% before we ship it to stores.

Stores cancelling their orders with us for next season

You may or may not have seen all the graphs and stories going around naming and shaming high street stores who have cancelled orders with their manufacturers. We assume, I think correctly, that this bleeds down to the most vulnerable in the organisations that supply them, which is devastating for people, families, and communities.

Some of our stockists have already cancelled or reduced their SS20 and AW20 orders with us to minimise their exposure. I understand why (they are trying to protect their businesses) but we can’t ignore that it has a huge impact on us. Because of this, our next step is to work out with our production partners how much we can cancel or reduce the current production without negatively affecting them, and where this can’t be avoided we will pay for orders on behalf of stores that won’t accept their original order and try to absorb the stock for our webshop. We will not put our welfare above the welfare of those whose hard work and skills we champion so much in the good times.

The dye house is shut

India went into lockdown some time ago now and though the plan is for it to be lifted in mid-April, we know from other countries that we have to expect this to be extended. This, of course, delays us immensely, and AW20 will likely arrive later than planned, but we’re confident we'll pull through.

The lockdown in India is very strict, much more strict than we're experiencing here in the UK where people can bend the rules, go outside and still get to work if remote working isn’t an option. Right now the dye house is empty, the atelier is quiet, and even couriers aren’t allowed to visit to collect packages.

We can’t do anything to mitigate this, but we have created a preorder tee - this one - that will hopefully kick start things when the dyers are allowed to return to the vats. We make very little money from t-shirt sales and have often made a loss after paying all costs associated - and this tee will likely be our most labour intensive yet. That’s by design because we need to get vats bubbling, hands moving, plants planted and water flowing as much and as quickly as possible.

We will get by, we will survive

We did not see this coming, but we have always been careful to grow very slowly - even when quick growth was the easier option. We deliberately grow slow because we see our business as a commitment to people. They work hard and now we need to work hard for them. We always thought that if we grew fast, partnered with lots of new people and then got dropped by a big store then we would end up in trouble, so we often turned down big orders and put off lots of opportunities because it was too much of a risk.

This crisis has changed our minds fundamentally about how we want to go forward. We never imagined stores would go back on commitments they made to us because of bad times and it's proved to us that we have been too reliant on selling to stores who can easily drop us. We started Story to be masters of our destiny and we lost sight of that a little, under the flattery of stores wanting to carry our collections.

Going forward we will almost certainly shrink our stockist list drastically and start buying more stock for our site. We’re working in the background now to smooth things out and be better at direct sales - you may be reading this because you got one of our brand spanking new mailouts. We plan to focus less on the large seasonal collections, and instead to go back to 'old story' when we did more frequent, smaller releases that were not made for wholesale. We’re trying to turn this very large negative experience into a positive one, and we hope we’re going to come out of this thing swinging.

Here and now

Right now our priority is to make sure everyone is taken care of. Many of our makers are in high-risk categories, and not all societies are set up for social distancing as well as those in the West. Be gentle with us, and gentle with each other for the time being - we will get through this and everything will be okay again.

Thank yous

Thank you to all our makers and doers who are working so hard right now to keep things on track.

Thank you to our agents who are working (even through illness in some cases) to manage the fallout - even at the expense of their financial welfare

Thank you to the couriers and key workers keeping our website delivering, it’s a lifeline we can’t afford to lose right now.

Thank you to Alice and Emilie who have been working with us through this.

Thank you to everyone on the front line, and a very big thank you to our NHS who have been so special and important for us recently.

And thank you if you have shopped with us over this troubling period. To be completely honest this has been the worst year of our lives for Katy and me for reasons outside of this pandemic, but having our little business has been a huge support and gives us something to be very proud of.