7 independent Suffolk fashion shops to support in lockdown
- Credit: Archant
Shop owners from Ipswich, Hadleigh, Kersey and Monks Eleigh say they are still open for business and ready to help you fill your spring wardrobe.
While the Government’s current Coronavirus lockdown has meant that all shops deemed non-essentials were to shut their doors as of March 23, some are still operating behind the scenes, moving their wares online to ensure they can still trade in a safe capacity.
Seven independent fashion retailers across Suffolk explain how they’re coping, and how quickly they’ve managed to adapt the way they operate during such strange circumstances.
From vintage fashion, to high-end boutiques, and everything in between, these business owners are working tirelessly to make sure that their customers don’t forget about them.
If anything from any of the shops featured throughout catches your eye, why not make a purchase from them to help support an independent retailer in Suffolk?
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Fiona Coe, of Coes in Ipswich said: “Our first reaction was to protect our staff and customers. We had seen a slow decline in footfall in the previous weeks so knew that a lockdown was coming. Initially, we proposed limited opening hours, but within 24 hours we had decided to close completely, with the lockdown happening 48 hours later.”
She added: “Most of our staff has been furloughed, but there is a small team in who are working on keeping our website business going, and a core team planning for when we re-open.”
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With online business increasing threefold for the department store however, Fiona is pleased that customers are still making purchases over the internet. She said: “We are seeing lots of orders from local people who would have traditionally visited the store. Although there is no comparison to being open, we are finding that generally people are delighted they can still shop with us.”
Sales have been varied, with people indulging in items including running shoes, birthday gifts such as jewellery and scarves, and basics such as socks and underwear.
With lockdown not having an official end date in sight yet, Coes will be adapting their online strategy further in order to cope with the current situation. “We will be launching our new website in the next few weeks and offering live video link shopping for those who are unable to get out, and want the one-to-one service they usually have in-store,” Fiona said.
“We are confident that we can give the same fantastic service that people expect from us, albeit in a slightly different way.”
Coes are especially grateful that customers are still choosing to shop locally, and in turn supporting Suffolk businesses. “We have been so grateful for the support of so many people during this time. Retail isn’t an easy industry to be part of at the moment, but I do think that this may help people see how important local communities, shops and cafés are to them,” Fiona said. “If we don’t use them, we lose them and our towns and villages and the people within them would be much worse off without them. Let’s hope there is a reassurance to shop independent and support local businesses who create jobs and income that stays in the local economy.”
To find out more, visit Coes’ website.
Over in Monks Eleigh is PDP Vintage & Fashion, a boutique that specialises in vintage fashion and wares. Run by Jackie Slade, she has been running as an online business for seven years, and has had her Bridge Farm Barns shop for just over a year.
“We actually made the decision to close on March 22, the day before the lockdown was enforced, as we felt it was the safest thing to do, to do our bit to help fight the virus,” Jackie said. “We predicted that was going to happen anyway, so took the decision and advised all of our customers ahead of the Government decision. It is a sad thing to have to close your door to your customers, many of whom we consider to be friends, too.”
Having been established as an online business for some time now, Jackie has been able to act swiftly and adjust her practices accordingly. She said: “The key has been to adapt to what customers want in this unprecedented situation, even if that isn’t our original direction. We are lucky in that we already sold online, and have a good existing customer base, so we were able to react quite quickly. I go into the shop two to three times a week, alone, to pack orders and send parcels. All deliveries now come to our house in the short term, and most of my admin is done on my computer at home, often in the evenings.”
Jackie added: “We do have some ladies who wear vintage every day without fail, and still do even in the current circumstances, so some of our long-standing customers and regulars are still purchasing dresses.” Overall however, clothing and petticoat sales have slowed. “Understandably, as many of our customers purchase these because they have a wedding or occasion to go to. With all events cancelled and most people in lockdown, there is less need now.”
With less clothing sales being made, this has meant Jackie has had to come up with something else to offer her customers in the meantime.
“We decided to expand the home and gift side of our business to make up for this, and quickly adapted to extend our range of bath bombs, candles and decorative home items. This has proven successful, and all of our orders are gift wrapped as standard,” she explained.
“I also decided to offer Pamper Parcels,” she added. “It’s a small box of scented treats such as a bath bomb, wax melts and a small burner, which customers could order for themselves, or to send to a loved one, key worker or friend to let them know they are being thought of. Each parcel is giftwrapped by me and includes a postcard which encourages the recipient to ‘take a moment of calm and relax’. We write a personal message on the card, and send it directly to the recipient. These have been particularly popular to send to NHS staff and key workers on the frontline.”
Visit PDP Vintage & Fashion on Facebook to find out more.
Based in Hadleigh is Kitty & Em, a boutique that has taken to social media to help shift some of their stock, all while keeping the women of Suffolk well-dressed.
Emma Harris, one half of Kitty & Em, said: “At first we worked on how we could keep the business alive. Keeping in touch with our customers, we closed as soon as we were advised we should and spent the first few weeks worrying about all our lovely helpers and customers, and hoped they were all okay.”
“We have used social media to keep our followers updated about how we are, what we are doing and to wish them all well. We have also in recent weeks began selling through these platforms as our customers want to keep buying from us.”
Items for sale range from dresses and tunics to high-waisted trousers. “It seems people want to treat themselves – we have sold lots of elasticated waist trousers and comfy clothes,” said Emma.
“It’s interesting for us, being as our business is very much about the relationships we make with the people we meet, and face-to-face sales,” she continued. “But we have been overwhelmed with how much support we have received and the encouragement to keep sharing our stock.”
Posting out orders daily, the duo have been making sure to give their parcels extra care and attention. “We have received lots of customers feedback about how lovely the parcels have been and how receiving them has been like getting a present, as we wrap them with tissue paper and ribbon,” Emma said.
Kitty & Em is soldering on, with the two behind the boutique remaining flexible during this unpredictable climate we find ourselves in. “We plan to carry on as we are now and just adapt to whatever the environment is when that happens,” Emma said. “What we have learnt is that people buy from people and no matter how we are trading, those people are so loyal to us. We just know we will be okay.” Check out Kitty & Em on Facebook for further information.
Cake & Catwalk, situated in Ipswich’s St Peter’s Street, is run by Lynn Turner. Shocked by the news and the effects that the lockdown has had, she said: “It all happened so quickly. I did not grasp the whole emergency, until we had locked up and gone home.”
However, quickly adapting to the situation at hand, Lynn tasked herself with getting her stock uploaded onto her existing website, all while promoting her business and engaging with her customers. She said: “I have Natalie Chaplin from Grow my Small Business who has helped me, and I could not have done this without her knowledge.” Lynn’s biggest online seller during lockdown has been loungewear, although she has sold a couple of pieces of jewellery, as well as Ipanema sandals and flip flops.
Looking towards the future, she added: “It’s going to be slow and cautious. If I can hold out for the long term, it will be a miracle as rents and insurances have to be paid, and if we don’t get the footfall, we can’t last indefinitely. But I’m still hopeful as I am a very positive person, but also realistic.” Click here to find out more about Cake & Catwalk.
Another independent clothing retailer who quickly decided to photograph their stock in order to trade online is Zoe Robinson from Zor Boutique. The Kersey Mill shop closed immediately due to the lockdown, operating on an online-only basis.
“We normally just trade mainly in store,” Zoe explained. “However, we have managed to photograph over 350 products which are now all available online.”
“In the days leading up to the lockdown, my shop had become quieter due to people not wanting to go out and people having less reasons to be buying items,” she added. “I am finding that people are treating themselves to accessories more than clothing, especially the jewellery. I have also had some orders where the delivery address is the customers’ friend who is being sent a birthday gift, as we are able to put messages in with the orders. One item that is selling well for us is our ponchos, which people seem to be buying both for themselves and as presents. I think these are selling well as a little treat because they are under the £20 bracket.”
Zoe added: “My hope for my business after lock down is that all of my customers have stayed safe and well, and that their continued support remains. I am also wanting my website to become a successful part of my business, to run nicely alongside the shop at Kersey Mill.” Visit Zor Boutique’s website to find out more.
Jo Salter, of Ipswich, runs Where Does It Come From?, an ethical and sustainable fashion brand. “We run as an online business selling direct to retail customers as well as through physical shops that we don’t own,” she explained. “Sales through both channels had already dropped off significantly before lockdown, so it wasn’t a huge surprise or change when the lockdown was formalised. Personally, I was more concerned about safety at that point – buying new clothes was just not a priority for anyone, compared with the need to protect our population, especially the most vulnerable.”
With the physical shops that Jo usually retails through now shut for the foreseeable future, she remains purely an online business, with added reassurances for her customers. She said: “We pack orders with plastic gloves on, and do post office drops as part of trips to buy food, so we are not undertaking any unnecessary travel. We’ve tried to keep chatty on our social media channels and emails so that customers will know that we are still here and plan to still be here when this is all over.”
Jo has seen one item in particular fly off the shelves from her brand. “Our best sellers over the past month or so has been our handwoven cotton scarves,” she explained. “We have around 20 different unique handprinted designs, and feedback suggests that scarves are a great way to look fabulous in a video meeting – you can pop one on over your pyjamas if you like. Our ‘mindfulness’ scarf, printed with positive words such as ‘kindness’ and ‘love’ has been a popular choice, as people are looking for something a bit more meaningful.”Head to Where Does It Come From?’s website to see the full range of sustainable clothing
Other retailers, however, are taking a different approach by focusing on gift vouchers, with the hopes of giving customers something to look forward to once lockdown is over.
Mandy Errington, owner of DJV Boutique in Ipswich, said: “When it came about that we had to close our shop doors temporarily, it was only natural for us to review our retail offer. As a call to action we decided to take a different approach by focusing on e-gift vouchers with the hope of providing customers something they can spend online in the interim, or later on in-store once lockdown is over.”
She added: “The nature of what we sell may not be at the forefront of people’s minds at the present time, hence why we introduced vouchers to our online shop. This caters for the social distancing measures while providing a safe and convenient shopping solution. The individual sets their budget and can forward the voucher to someone by email, or use it themselves.
“Some customers have invested in this option by means of continuing to support us at the crucial time. Such help is a vital contribution to the success of our future, and at this moment in time it’s really important that we as independents find ways of sustaining trade,” Mandy added.
Understandably, Mandy has noticed that there’s less of a need for fashion lines during lockdown, with shoppers making purchases elsewhere. “People might be gearing towards the DIY side of things more than clothes, for instance, but we’re still encouraging support.”
Running a boutique in the town, Mandy understands that part of DJV’s appeal is not just what you can buy, but visiting the shop itself. She said: “The nature of what we do is a bit more individual – as it’s a boutique, people enjoy calling in for the experience, hence why we also provide a series of complementary services to extend our retail offer”
Still keeping in touch with customers by newsletters, running competitions and regular updates over social media, Mandy and DJV have big plans for when they can return. “We are 100% hosting a big social event to celebrate re-opening when we return,” Mandy said. “We host a series of events anyway through the year, it’s another one of our signatures at DJV. We had an event pending before we closed, which was a themed evening with a fashion show. This will still take place later in the year once lifestyles are back to normal. It will be a celebration of everything, including DJV’s eighth birthday which we also celebrate this year.”
Head to DJV’s website to see its online range or to order a gift voucher.