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How to launch and grow a fashion brand during a pandemic

Brands must put purpose at the heart of what they do and strengthen its values, and invest in their employees 

In this age of cancel culture, it is imperative to keep delivering the right message while taking a stand.
In this age of cancel culture, it is imperative to keep delivering the right message while taking a stand. (Unsplash)

It is safe to say that 2020 was a year like no other and that we are not going back to the old normal in the future. Entire ecosystems have changed. As entrepreneurs think about developing and growing brands, it is important to understand the changes and learn from the failures and successes. 

OOKIOH, a bootstrapped brand for swimwear that I launched in 2018, grew during the pandemic. Here are a few key learnings from how we managed to grow without spending on marketing. 

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Firstly, it is crucial to ensure that the organisation runs like a well-oiled machine. It is vital that the employees, freelancers and contractors are all in sync with each other and working towards a common goal of growing the brand. And, for that, it is important that they feel safe, happy, and motivated. 

I have realised that recognising, praising and appreciating your team members' dedication, effort, and work keeps them motivated even when the whole world seems to be crumbling. We are all unique, and your employees may have different family and socioeconomic dynamics and even capacities to handle stress and fatigue. And showing an understanding of their needs and preferences for getting the work done helps them achieve their goals and builds loyalty. It's a win-win. 

As uncertainty and stress looms, employees appreciate including them in group discussion, encouraging them to share their thoughts on the company, and giving their inputs due importance. They feel trusted and needed, and their work contributions increase. Employees feel empowered when given new responsibilities, even when they know that the company is scrambling to meet the challenges. It may seem counterintuitive but giving them more duties without overburdening them makes them work harder towards the company's growth. It is a leap of faith but one that is worth taking. 

Once the house is in order, it is important to focus all the energy on the customers and grow and retain them. At OOKIOH, we saw a big increase in new customers last year. It was an exhilarating and unnerving experience. The growth potential seemed enormous but consistently delivering the right message to our ever-increasing community seemed challenging. In this age of cancel culture, it is imperative to keep delivering the right message while taking a stand. Some of my key understandings from this wave of growth was: 

While quality, convenience, and price matter to consumers, factors like sustainability, trust, ethical sourcing, and social responsibility are becoming germane to consumer's selection process. Brands must put purpose at the heart of what they do and strengthen its values, not just to make the world a better place. It is vital not to be silent and play it out. People are listening and watching what you do and what you don't say. As the world becomes more polarised, brands will gain authentic relationships and customers by standing by their values.

It is a great time to take advantage of the global business ecosystems in place to mitigate risk and grow. Time to get creative and think beyond the silos.

We started as a DTC brand, but a culmination of demand from retailers and the pandemic led us to adopt an omnichannel model. 

A business always relies on its customers to grow, but the pandemic has made it even more essential to maintain those core customers. Times have changed, and our communications need to change with them. We need to be intentional and adaptable. We need to take a hard look at how a message will be received before putting it out. The messaging should not be bleak but also must not make light of the crisis. It should be transparent, hopeful, and optimistic while acknowledging the reality. And we need to be prepared always to respond to a rapidly changing situation. 

Money matters

In an economic downturn, every pound matters. Now, more than ever, marketing decisions need to be targeted and data-driven to return the best results. Use technology that integrates with all your channels so that you can track which strategy is working, how your customers are responding, and use that information to drive your decision-making. And once you are able to assess which efforts are leading to the desired results, double down on them. 

It is equally important to put numbers to the values to quantify it, and it doesn't seem like lip service. Brands should align themselves with organisations that share a similar ethos and focus more on ones that resonate with their customers. Brands need to give back to customers as well. 

The journey towards a healthy bottom line doesn't have to only be about selling to the customers. Instead of a transactional relationship, it should be nurturing. It can be easily done by developing a relationship that is not focused on selling the customers but giving them more, educating and entertaining them. It always pays off in the long term as retaining customers is much cheaper than acquiring new ones. 

The time to act is now. It is the perfect moment in time to gain attention, convince new customers of your value, and develop a community that will stand by you during the next crisis or downturn. Innovation and creative thinking will enable brands to sustain and grow even when standing at the edge of a precipice.

Vivek Agarwal is founder of OOKIOH.

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