By Richard Vincente:
By the time you read this, most of the people working in the east coast’s lingerie industry will be back at their jobs following a week of anxiety, uncertainty and plenty of scrambling.
I’ve spoken to many lingerie professionals across the tri-state area hit by Hurricane Sandy in the past couple of days, and it’s safe to say that everyone was affected to some degree.
Stores left without power were forced to close, sewers couldn’t get to their factory jobs, and shipping ground to a halt because of suspended postal and parcel service, lost internet connections and downed phone lines.
It’s been a week of hell, and it’ll take some time for this industry and many others to get back to full steam. Luckily, for most people, a week’s worth of business was all they lost.
Still, for almost everyone in this business, the storm couldn’t have hit at a worse time.
Larger brands that have showrooms or offices in the garment district normally would have spent last week prepping for November market, the quarterly sales period when retail buyers come to town to place orders for next season’s collections. But the storm threw this market week into disarray as buyers cancelled hotel bookings and sales agents looked for ways to reschedule appointments.
And with ghoulish irony, Sandy pretty much killed Hallowe’en this year, thus depriving the area’s lingerie shops of a significant secondary revenue stream. Even Greenwich Village’s fabled annual Halloween parade was postponed because the NYPD was anxious about setting a massive crowd of costumed party-goers loose in the darkened village.
Other developments also impacted the flow of commerce across the region, like the cancellation of the New York Marathon, which typically brings hundreds of thousands of runners – and shoppers – into the city for the weekend.
Such disruptions could have a catastrophic impact on any company’s bottom line, especially for the many independent entrepreneurs who should have spent the past week gearing up for Black Friday sales and the Christmas holiday shopping season instead of bailing out their basements. But no one’s really complaining too much; they’re too busy cleaning up.
“It’ll take a lot more than a pesky hurricane to put us out of business,” Lida Orzeck, co-owner of Hanky Panky, told me. The venerable made-in-New-York brand got hit from both sides last week – power went out in its Manhattan offices and at its warehouse operations in Queens, effectively closing the business for most of the week.
“We’re feverishly trying to make up for lost time,” Lida said, noting that the e-commerce backlog is now up to date and the team is catching up on wholesale orders. Their market week appointments were pushed back a week, which means the Hanky Panky crew will have to deal with incoming retail buyers next week at the same time as they are holding a previously announced sample sale.
Despite all the stress, Lida had nothing but praise for her workforce, many of whom have been with the company for much of its 35 years in business. “The staff have been incredible,” she said. “They’re itching to get back to work. They know the company’s health is their health.”
Across the tri-state area, the storm also revealed the human element in shop owners who, let’s face it, have plenty to worry about right now.
In Red Bank, N.J., the Sweetest Sin boutique reopened on Thursday and began collecting donated bras for friends and neighbors who lost everything to Sandy. In Montclair, Johari Lingerie invited townsfolk to visit the shop to stay warm or use its power to charge their electronic devices – and gave shoppers an extra 20% off everything to boot. And in the coastal town of Stone Harbor, Lace Silhouettes – which set up a relief program providing underwear to disaster victims after Hurricane Katrina – offered its space as shelter for local residents displaced by the storm.
Over in Brooklyn, the online hosiery boutique Peek Brooklyn found itself in a bit of a pickle when flooding shut down the Red Hook postal station (photo above) they use for much of their shipping. Peek kept operating, though, and is donating 10% of all sales to support recovery efforts in Red Hook.
Sandy also brought out the creative side in some lingerie entrepreneurs. The e-commerce giant Bare Necessities, for example, was hobbled when its phone lines went down (though online operations were unaffected) in the power outage. Its solution? Reminding its Twitter and Facebook followers that they could still book orders (and fill all that post-Sandy free time) by shopping with their smartphones. They also invited fans to send in ideas for good board games to help them kill time
New Yorkers don’t have to worry about the sexiness shortage lasting much longer, though. Most businesses will be back by this week and Wednesday will bring a surfeit of sexy razzle-dazzle when the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is taped at the Lexington Armory for its Dec. 4 TV broadcast.
And there even might be a silver lining in Sandy for the intimates industry. After people across the east coast huddled together in darkness for much of the week, experts are now predicting a huge spike in the local birth rate come next July.
So, a tip to all you lingerie brands and stores out there – this might be a good time to think about expanding your maternity lines.