Sustainable brand Svenklas adapts to the ‘new normal’
Sustainable fashion and lifestyle brand Svenklas has adapted to the easing lockdown and ‘new normal’ by focusing on its workers and diversifying its strategy, to pursue new markets and focus on customer relations.
New Delhi-based Svenklas manufactures and retails a range of sustainability produced bags and accessories with styles ranging from casual to formal. The brand has used the pan-India lockdown as a catalyst to seek out new markets in which to sell its products, co-founders Nischal Sharma and Nikhil Sharma tell FashionNetwork.com in an exclusive interview.
FashionNetwork.com: How has the lockdown affected Svenklas’ business?
Nikhil Sharma: The lockdown for past couple of months led to a shutdown of our manufacturing units along with logistics operations. This was a time of uncertainty for us at Svenklas but we learnt to navigate it by continuing to take orders from customers to sustain our operational costs. This has led to an improvement in communication between us and our customers who were willing to wait for few months to get their orders delivered to them. During and post lockdown, we are seeing cautious buying by customers which has led to an increase in customer acquisition cost for us. However, we have not cancelled the purchase of our completed orders with our manufacturers as we realise this can have a devastating effect on workers and artisans working in the factories.
FNW: Have you had to change your plans due to lockdown and, if so, how?
NS: We had to direct our digital marketing spends to countries which are less affected by Covid-19 and we are glad that Svenklas products have been well received in these countries. We had to pivot to a strategy by diversifying our geographical spread to countries where we were not selling earlier and this has worked well for us. The lockdown has made us realise the importance of efficient inventory management. We had to adjust our planning and postpone product launches after working closely in consultation with our suppliers and manufacturers. Due to closure of our manufacturing units in the lockdown period, we deployed a social safety net for our corporate staff and facility workers in terms of providing them with continued salary. We also made adequate transport arrangements for those who wanted to go back to their native places.
FNW: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
NS: The factory shutdowns have resulted in severe consequences from which the entire fashion industry is struggling to come back. We plan to work closely with our supply chain partners to understand how to manage inventory basis fluctuation in demand. We plan to keep a tight check on our balance sheet and the safety of Svenklas corporate and facility workers also remain our key focus area. In terms of business sustenance, we are looking at ways to optimise working capital, maintain cash flow and managing our costs to reduce short-term financial stress. We will continue to invest in our environmental programs while defending business core assets in this downturn.
FNW: How do you think lockdown will affect demand for sustainable products?
NS: There will definitely be an increase in demand for great products that are made sustainably as customers will seek more transparency in all aspects of supply chain of a fashion business. Customers will prioritise trust and purpose more and will further evaluate companies how they manage environmental concerns and worker safety post lockdown. Customers will be thinking more about different aspects of sustainability; from micro-plastics, end of life, use of renewable energy in manufacturing processes, fair trade labor, residual waste management, carbon reduction, circular economy and how fashion companies are tackling these issues in a transparent manner and not just greenwashing. This will be a driving force behind purchasing decisions going forward and a clear link will be established between sustainable products and continued commercial success.
FNW: How do you think lockdown will affect which products are in demand?
NS: There is a shift in consumer preference towards athleisure, athletics and beauty items vis-a-vis occasional wear, accessories and luggage. But brands who develop consumer relationships that move beyond transactions and instead showcase how they are acting on purpose during this time will drive demands for their products. Effective consumer engagement will require brands to provide more transparency to customers with regards to non-fuel based material usage, working environment, ethical production and fair wages. This will be hugely influential and a deciding factor as to which products remain in demand at this time of economic uncertainty. The trends suggest to us that the current health crisis will increase overall demand for products associated with quality, durability, trust, well-being and collective good.
FNW: Have you restarted production and if so, how is it different to before lockdown?
NS: Yes, we have restarted production at Svenklas and are taking significant preventive measures in our production facilities. This includes social distancing norms and adequate sanitisation of our facility. We are also providing food facilities inside the factory premises so workers and artisans don’t have to go out in the day. To ensure safety of workers who come from far areas, we have allocated accommodation facilities to avoid risk of infection. Since the start of the pandemic we have focused on addressing the social needs of our workers. We have also been gearing up our manufacturing facilities with the health and safety requirements that are now necessary.
FNW: How is your future strategy changing as a result of the lockdown?
NS: At Svenklas, the health and safety of our workers and everyone involved in the supply chain will be our utmost priority as we strategise our product roadmap and operational capabilities. In terms of customer engagement, our marketing and communications will be more aligned to sustain trust in our consumers. We will also be looking closely at changes in product and market segments as well as shift in category preferences. As consumers spend money more consciously, prioritising environmental sustainability, social responsibility, giving back to communities in need, fair working conditions and ethical action within supply chains will become absolute necessary and we remain focused to continue implementing these in our business operations.
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