‘Manufacturers and designers must support each other’ says MAES London
Diana Kakkar and Joshua Rosario run MAES London, a high-end garment manufacturer based in East London. They discuss the steps they are taking to ensure safe working, the impact of Coronavirus on their business and why they hope the crisis leads to stronger relationships between designers and manufacturers, as well as a greater appreciation of a local supply chain.
Here at MAES London, we’ve been operational in some form throughout the pandemic and managing everything as best we can. At first, we won a few bits of business off the back of the lockdowns in China and Italy but eventually, we started to feel the effects here and by the time the UK went into lockdown we had to pause. A few machinists offered to work from home so we tried this but it was quite difficult and costly to manage and we had concerns that we may not be able to maintain a consistently high quality standard.
In the end, we put most of our team on furlough and tried to manage what we could with a skeleton staff that lived nearby and didn’t have to brave the London Underground. We had hired someone who started with us in mid-March just before the lockdown. She didn’t qualify for the furlough scheme but thankfully we had enough work for her and it helped that she had an easy journey into work.
During this time we have had regular Zoom calls with staff as we navigated through the government announcements. UKFT’s updates have been great in ensuring we have the latest information. We’ve also been helping the Emergency Designer Network (EDN) to make scrubs for the NHS.
Now that work has started to pick up again we are slowly bringing our staff back. We had acquired a new space in our building before the Coronavirus outbreak to help us expand but now this space will be used to help us with social distancing as we will move some staff and operations here. This week is officially the first in our new space.
We were considering shift work but now that we have the additional space we’re offering flexible working instead. We’ve consulted with our team as to when they feel they can safely travel to and from work. The safety of our team is paramount and it is important that no one is forced to travel on busy trains and buses at peak times so some staff members have opted to start earlier and others are starting later. This isn’t the most efficient way to work but we feel that although we can’t control what happens outside of the studio, we should do our best to accommodate within.
We’re following the government guidance on social distancing at work and as mentioned, the new space will make this a lot easier. We’ve appointed a member of staff to be our dedicated Coronavirus representative. We want everyone to feel comfortable requesting anything they need to make them feel safe at work and having them do so to another member of staff rather than the directors helps to remove any barriers.
The furlough scheme has been fantastic in many ways but it would have been helpful if there was more flexibility from the outset. Work was very patchy until recently with a number of missed deliveries and no guarantees as to when materials would arrive so asking staff to come back from furlough for three weeks at a time didn’t work for us.
We applied for a ‘Bounce Back Loan’ on the first day it opened. It took a few days before they came back with the application process but once that happened we had the funds within 48 hours, which was great.
We now seem to be getting back to some semblance of normality but all of the projections we had have gone out of the window. We’re now looking a month or so ahead rather than six months.
Our clients are all at slightly different stages. Some of our primary contacts are still on furlough but many, including a few nearby, have been very active. It does feel like it is getting easier now and there are definitely more people about.
We are still working through orders placed before the lockdown. We are also working on a few smaller orders with relatively short lead times and it is likely to stay this way for some time.
So far we are seeing significantly reduced orders, which are smaller and more frequent, but this plays to our strengths because we are nimble and can react quickly. Hopefully this will favour UK manufacturing as a whole and not just us.
As far as we can tell, there are still question marks around the various fashion weeks. The discussion around aligning the seasons better is welcome news. This, along with a reduction in the number of drops, will definitely help the industry adapt to the inevitable changes brought about by the pandemic. There are positive conversations around discounting too; for luxury designers, it is important to keep prices stable as this helps the entire supply chain.
What we are going through right now as a society is challenging but we hope people are using their time to reflect about what is important to them and how they can use this as an opportunity to create a positive change in their life, maybe even the world.
The Emergency Designer Network is a fantastic example of this, bringing designers and manufacturers together to pool their resources for good. It feels like a community and a partnership. We really hope that this community spirit continues to resonate after we come out of this. We’re all invested in this industry that we love and whether you are a manufacturer or designer, it is more important than ever that we support each other.
UKFT is great at bringing the community together and lobbying the government. Whether it’s Brexit or the pandemic, we must work together to keep London as the epicentre of fashion. It’s easy to say that fashion isn’t important right now but it’s the UK’s largest creative industry employing nearly a billion people and that alone more than justifies its importance.
UKFT is in constant dialogue with the government and is outlining the latest support available for businesses on our website. We will update the details as and when the situation changes.