Talk to Us: How Has COVID Affected Your Design / Artisan / Cultural Tourism Business?

The 2020 COVID Pandemic is hurting businesses everywhere but, based on our conversations with friends and clients around the world, the impact on small design brands/artisan groups/tourism-related projects has been especially devastating.

We’ve been thinking about ways we can help our community and so we’d like to hear from you about your specific experiences (and needs):

  • How has COVID hurt your business?

  • With physical marketplaces closed, have you been able to make the rapid transition to selling digitally? Any part of that process which was especially difficult?

  • If your business depends on tourism or weekly market sales, are you finding different ways to reach out to customers?

  • What kinds of support do you think you’ll need to keep afloat during this difficult time (Examples: Wholesale purchases, Help setting up for eCommerce, Marketing support)?

  • If you’re based outside the USA / Europe, do you need help reaching and serving customers in those markets (shipping orders to customers, processing returns, publicity, etc.)?

Please share your experiences and ideas below… @Lauren and I are sending you all our very best wishes and we’re looking forward to hearing from you! :v:

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We would love to hear from you!

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Thanks for asking! My brand (Akamae) fits in to all of these categories. We partner with design brands, to connect them with artisans living in refugee situations. And most of our income comes from in-person client services as well as in-person trainings and retreats that we offer.

  1. We have had to cancel all of our upcoming offerings. This impacts our entire business and of course the communities we work together with. Even if travel is allowed in a few months time, we are doubtful that people will be booking ‘design retreats’ in Thailand. The communities we work with are completely shutdown (nothing in or out), so projects / new designs which were underway have come to a halt.

  2. We are already selling digitally. However, understandably, sales are…low.

  3. Insofar as the work we do connecting fashion designers and artisans, we have always offered an option to do so remotely, via video calls. We need to get this message out there!

  4. Yes! Wholesale orders of our existing stock would be a game-changer right now! And, yes, marketing support - connecting with brands interested in booking our services in upcoming months / year.

  5. Yes, publicity!

Thank you so much for curating this community and asking these questions!

Lots of Love,
Cara + Akamae

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Thank you for this thoughtful response, Cara! x x

Hi everyone, and thank you Justin & Lauren for opening up this discussion!

Our brand (Slowstitch Studio) is in the first category of small design brand and this whole covid thing has really been bashing us. However the changes have also forced us to reevaluate our direction and identity as a brand so it’s not all doom and gloom.

At the moment most of our revenue is coming from custom projects for other businesses, bulk dyeing jobs for fashion brands, interior decoration jobs, that kind of thing. Direct-to-customer sales are nearly non-existent. I think people are cautious about high priced non-essential purchases at this time.

There were several articles in Thai news last month saying that offices of non-essential workplaces could be contributing to virus spread. Once we heard that we immediately started preparing for a work-from-home scenario for our staff in case we got shut down completely. Thankfully that hasn’t had to happen yet, but since Thailand hasn’t really even had a first wave of infections it’s still a possibility in the future.

1: (Covid impacts) - The biggest craft fair of the year for us has been cancelled and our shop has been forced to close temporarily as it is a non-essential business. Our retail sales and planned workshop events are basically dead at this point. Even after lockdown is lifted people will most likely not want to congregate together in close proximity at workshops for quite some time. As we are located in Chiang Mai and rely heavily on domestic tourists we expect the rest of 2020 to be pretty rough.

2: (Digital sales transition) - Unfortunately our products (mostly high priced textiles) have always been extremely difficult to sell online for us. In person we do much better. People need to touch and feel the fabric before they buy it. While we appreciate our online fan following the truth is that they rarely convert into sales. We’re working on finding a balance between curating meaningful mini-story-based content on our social media and squeezing some products into the mix without over-crapping our feed into some kind of shopping catalog. Any advice on how to do this tastefully would be awesome.

Also, this is just our own personal observation (and we’d appreciate others’ input on this) but we’ve seen an increasing shift away from purchasing of finished products and more towards customers searching for an experience. Workshops, learning, supplies, etc. To better support customers who are looking for an experience we are now developing some textile dye kits for people to create beautiful naturally dyed scarves at home by themselves or with their kids. If these do well we will start branching out into supplies and resources.

3: (Reaching out to customers) - The main focus for us now is social media and taking this time to build up brand presence. As for our finished textile goodies we’re going to transition towards wholesale orders to get our products physically in front of more people.

4 & 5: (Support and service for USA/EU based customers) - It would be fantastic if we could find somebody to represent our brand to potential clients in USA/EU! It’s been difficult for us. Our past experiences with agents haven’t been great. Seems like a lot of agents are just trying to cash into a trend and use loads of sustainability woowoo buzzwords while not treating handcrafted works any differently from mass produced stuff. However, since Kindcraft has been working closely with the makers from the beginning maybe you might be perfectly positioned to act as a mediator between makers and venues/boutiques/stores?

Looking forward to everyone’s thoughts.

Stay safe!

Serge & Ann

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Such a thoughtful post — really appreciate you sharing what Slowstitch is thinking and doing during this difficult time! (Allow me to give you a brief plug — Readers interested in beautiful, creative shibori should check out THE KINDCRAFT’s profile of Slowstitch Studio and then buy a bunch of their stuff either from their online shop or from our selection at THE KINDCRAFT SHOP)!

I think you’re raising some excellent points about the challenges of eCommerce and, as makers, how to get your goods in front of people where they live if they’re not coming to where you live. We’re definitely wanting to hear from our community and find out exactly what they need right now (hence this thread), and @Lauren and I are already thinking through ways THE KINDCRAFT might provide additional services and support to brands like Slowstitch… stay tuned!

It’s hard to put into words what the long term effects of covid will be on my business, especially because i’m trying to focus my energy right now on slowing down and making fundamental improvements to my business without getting carried away with all my potentially dramatic predictions for the future yet.

  1. HauteCultureFashion.com’s only revenue stream is currently from selling tours. Our Guatemala tour was cancelled one week before it was due to commence and our Mexico, Vietnam and Thailand tours for 2020 are currently on hold. I have no personal income due now for the rest of the year. I pretty much do everything myself so I don’t have to worry about paying staff however I have 2 or 3 groups of artisans that are in desperate need of food and long term food solutions. I am now redistributing the money from my artisan fund (used for textile development) into a new project called Sew & Sow self-sufficient supplementary food gardens.

  2. I have just spent the last week finally streamlining and automating my online booking procedure and invoicing, this was so difficult and i had to hire a few freelancers to help with the very technical stuff but i’m grateful to have used this time to really work on improving the business.

  3. It’s hard to say what kind of support i’ll need in the future, I’m currently in a place of acceptance that I don’t want to make any rash decisions that are money orientated too soon. For me, even if and when the travel restrictions are lifted i have a moral duty to protect the health of my artisans who predominantly live in remote rural areas, just because we might be able to travel, doesn’t mean that we should. In the coming months I think I will start working on my own book and online course to help with my own income stream.

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Thanks for sharing you thoughts, Donna. These are things that I’m thinking about too. I’m particularly worried about our friends who are vulnerable to food shortages and appreciate your efforts to support them. We’ve all been impacted by this pandemic in one way or another and we’re all in it together. If you’re looking for digital tools, we might be able to help there, Donna, just let us know as we’re offering discounted consulting services right now. Sending love and best wishes always x x