COVID TIMES – A Talk with Tricia Carey

Continuing our series of talks during our current COVID 19 times, Sandeep Agarwal speaks to Tricia Carey from Lenzing and she shares her thought on how the current situation is evolving and how it is affecting and will affect our industry in the future.

Hi Tricia, Welcome to our Instagram Live, How are you and how is the situation in New York?

​Hi Sandeep, ​I have to say thank you to so many people for reaching out to check and see how we’re doing in New York. How I’m doing​,​ that outpouring and has been amazing.

​W​e have a facility here in the United States which is still running ​and ​all of our factories are still running and so I think overall the company has done a lot on crisis management and what we needed to do so we had different plans​.​ ​Even for the New York office, we have six people ​and​​ we had already started to plan different scenarios of how we would handle it and then it was a little over two weeks ago that we switched into working from home ​to ensure the safety of us and to make sure that our families are also safe during this time​.

​From a business perspective, we’ve seen this change ​,​we went through talking with partners, ​a lot of ​cancelation of orders happening ​due to the shutdowns of retail​ stores​ in the past few weeks ​. We’ve also been very​ ​busy soliciting and dealing with questions that the market has around how to​ ​connect for gowns and masks​.​ ​We’re reaching out to the supply chain and​ ​many of them are also coming to us too, what can we do? Our fibers are used in different nonwovens not necessarily for masks​ but for other nonwoven applications. What fabrics with our fibers could be used for gowns and how we could help with the medical protective wear. That is needed now and this is happening also in Europe because everyone’s looking within​ ​their region on how they can support these products ​.

Sandeep :
What do you think after​ ​looking at all the kind of cancellation in terms of the stores ​are​ closing​ and there are lots ​cancelation coming ​out, how is the supply chain going to be affected by this​.​ I ​am speaking ​to Mills as ​well as ​garment manufacturers​ and​ everybody is in a big mess​.​ 

Tricia :
Yes, It’s a huge mess right now​.​ ​No one can plan​ There’s such uncertainty about when the stores will reopen ​and when orders will start to come ​through again. When I spoke with customers and at first, it was 50%​ ​of their orders were canceled​,​ then 75​%​ and ​now ​it’s up to 90 percent or​ ​completely canceled​, I mean how does someone run a business this way​ ,​ you​ ​just can’t​. ​ I think we all know that there was already an overcapacity of​ ​denim in the market​,​ we had much more capacity than what was really needed. Also as consumers you know we have to look at our consumption factor too ​. So I see this is a chance for us to hit the reset button. I hope collectively this happens​ ​within the industry and other industries too. I feel it’s a chance for the retail industry to change some of their ways.

​We have so much inventory coming into the stores in the United States.​ We have this terrible way of promotion all the time​, you need to have 60% off in order to sell apparel because customers are just trained that way​.​ I wish that the US retailers operated more like some of the European retailers and with sales twice a year and that’s it. Start fresh in some ways​.​
I​t’s a reflection time that we can then reorganize and react in the right way that we need to build a stronger market. This is kind of the time of survival of the fittest​ and​ I really believe that we have this chance now in order to change​.​ ​

If you look at one perspective that even after the recovery from this situation do you think the ​kind of volume​ and​ the kind of business that we ​had experienced​ in the industry​ so far is going to be affected. Do you think so​? 

Yes​, We’ve already seen some of the smaller companies​ struggling and​ there are rumors in the market about some mergers that may happen. What will be the mentality of the consumer coming out of this​?  What does post-pandemic​ look like? I think now we reached a time where we also have our own definition of conscious living​,​ so sustainability will take on a different meaning ​​because we’ve all gone back to basics​.​​

W​e will have this time to re-evaluate and look for clothing which will become more of protection.  Now we look at how we can protect ourselves against getting this virus. Whether that’s masks or other apparel. Also now we look at how our apparel protects us and keeps us safe. This is also a mindset change.

​Do you think post-pandemic, people are going to look at less quantity and higher quality​ products? 

Y​es​, I​ do think ​so. People will return to value ​and also an understanding of the social side of the apparel industry.  We were starting to engage in more of this before Corona who made our clothes​? Where are products coming from? I think that will continue to be questioned​​ because now we have a greater sense of how we are interconnected in the world.  This is where it’s important that the consumers want to know who was involved in making this garment. I think that transparency and the building of the stories around transparency will only continue after Corona because now there’s a heightened awareness​.

​There is some news floating that Americans have to ​wear face masks ​every time they are in public. Now we have three hundred and thirty million people that are going to be buying face masks and we know that not everyone is going to buy disposable masks ​and we’ll see some changes there as well.

So maybe designing ​of ​clothing will be greatly affected​,In terms of as you said towards making protective clothing and ​also industry may look at a different kind of masks​ ​,​different kind of other designs coming up ​, What do you think? 

Yes, and you start to see that already. Now there is creativeness that is happening. As we’ve moved into​ ​this focus on how we can protect ourselves. In the past few weeks, the supply chain has been trying to find materials that currently exist for masks​.​

​I​t’s not about selling a fiber​,​ it’s about how we can support our partners. If there is yarn available or fabric available and we have those connections, we are trying to help. But you already start to see some of the innovation in ​masks​. I had one customer reach out to me that Gerber is using their machines to actually develop a mask and it’s one piece of fabric that then goes behind your ears without the need for elastic. You might have seen on social media​, some of the medical personnel are complaining about wearing the elastic behind their ears and if could they somehow attach it to a headband. I think these are innovations that come out of this time.  That’s where application innovation that can also happen within this segment of the industry and many of our denim mill partners are looking at how they can support providing fabrics for medical applications ​​now​.

Are we going seasonless? ​

Yes, we are. ​In the past two weeks​, people are staying in their workout wear or pajamas all day long with this work from home.

S​o I think we will be back to basics. That​’s​ happening. People will be​ ​again looking for comfort. They will be looking for fabrics that can protect​ ​them, whether it’s antimicrobial or antibacterial finishes. So I think​ ​there will be some changes. I also think knits will increase because there’s a comfort that you get from the knit​s which could be very interesting even for the denim market using indigo ​knits. This was a category that was starting to evolve prior to Corona and I think it will continue​. There’s a comment here about a season less also being long-lasting and this goes back to consumption changes.

​So if we look at the keys now the keywords which are coming out are​-​ one is seasonless ​and the other ​is nearshoring ​.​ Any other keywords which you strongly feel​ are relevant during this time?
Also about sustainability. Of course, your​ ​company has made such a huge contribution towards this cause what we’re trying to achieve but how really sustainability would be affected by this ​co​rana thing positively or negatively ​.​

I would add to that performance. Regional or near sourcing definitely.  Sustainability environmental and social concerns. I think now the two are going to be tied so closely. For Len​zing, we’ve been working around circularity as a part of sustainability with our REFIBRA™.

I think again there is heightened awareness around sustainability. Also a chance to step back and reflect. I also think another key concept out of this time will be more around collaboration. Because we see how we’re interconnected. When you have the forces behind a common​ ​goal and how you can reach them. I think our collaboration will only be​ ​heightened through all of this pandemic. We really need to work together to​ ​make these changes. I’d like to see that all of these forces us to work together faster.

We were going along and we’ve been​ ​talking about sustainability. You know who is greenwashing or now​ ​there’s also ethical washing that is happening. Let’s use​ ​this time for a strong momentum and a real force to make that change​.​ 

I agree with you completely and would globalization be one of the things which would take a backseat. What do you think?​

Yes, we were saying regional​ ​sourcing.  I think we will see also a tightening up of supply chain partners​ ​we had seen this over the years. That will​ ​definitely continue. 

And what do you think of the best positive ​things which will come out post-pandemic and how it affects professionally ​?​

I think​ ​personally​,​ I have a greater strength ​being with ​my family​. ​Now my kids are both​ ​home from school. I was really impressed with how my kids have handled everything​.​ My son is in high school and my daughter came home from college.  She’s studying fashion​, and it is​ easy for me to help her with some of her projects. We do have a greater sense of our family​ ​.

​I think also from a professional standpoint​,​ it’s how we use digital tools more now.  Connecting through video cameras and our team meetings are online​.  Why do we need to be traveling​ ​so much?

I think that will be very interesting to see what we change. Let’s face it​ ​we’re not flipping a switch and suddenly all hopping on an airplane. This is going to take a bit of time for everyone to come back.  We will reassess this kind of hamster wheel we were on constantly going​.

I​ ​know for me it’s strange to have no trade shows planned right now, no flights to board, no physical meetings with customers. Another very strange thing is not having garments telling the story.  To demonstrate that, now we have to come up with new ways of getting details across. I think there’ll be some changes to how we work on a daily basis and​ how designers’ creative process is changing right now. Because​ ​the inspiration no longer comes from immersing themselves and going to a different location.

We will see what changes. It will be interesting to what happens to our ​design and development calendar. If we work more regionally how will that affect us​?

I think we all of us will come out with flying colors in and innovate in our own ways to deal with the situation and we need to all get-together and fight it out​.​ 

We have to stay strong,  stay home, stay healthy, and keep our minds clear. I think this is how we will get through it. Thank you for this opportunity to talk today it’s always great to see your guests.  I look forward to hearing more from your series that you’re doing on Instagram live thanks so much Sandeep!

Sandeep ​Thank You Tri​cia, thank you so much​.​ 

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