READY AND WAITING Richie Needham from mens clothing store Unit 7 on Main Street in Castlebar. Pic: John Moylette
Clothing industry hit hard by cancelling of birthday celebrations and church ceremonies
THE Christmas planning for the fashion industry is already well underway and when Richie Needham of Unit 7 in Castlebar spoke to The Mayo News last week, he was right in the middle of it.
“I’m actually placing my jeans order for Christmas as we speak,” he said. “I would have had it done before now and had a preliminary order put in a month ago before lockdown came - but that was then scrapped.”
It’s coming up to a vital period in the fashion industry and for the popular menswear outlet on Main Street in Castlebar, the uncertainty and lockdown have made forecasts more difficult.
“We have shaved probably 25 percent off our buy-in orders,” he stated. “I’m lucky in the sense that I can do that with some of my suppliers, while others I haven’t been able to, so obviously we’re going to have a surplus of stock, which in one way is a good thing.
“We like to run out of stock towards Christmas as it leaves us less for sales, but this time around I think it should be good for the customer because here at Unit 7 we like to keep high stock levels all the time.
“So getting orders probably hasn’t been more difficult, but choosing the quantities of what we need has been an absolute mind melt because we’re not sure what to expect when we open.”
The biggest difficulty for business in mens fashion during these times, Richie says, is how aligned they are to the events business. And with Covid measures ensuring celebrations and gatherings are seriously limited or not taking place at all, demand for clobber is much less.
“It’s difficult in our industry to be open if people aren’t buying lots of going-out clothing,” he admitted. “We are in the events business, whether you like it or not. On any given Saturday here, we could be kitting lads out for weddings, stag parties, christenings, 21sts, 40ths, 50ths, you name it. But now every single one of those events have been wiped and occasion wear has taken an awful hit.”
Church ceremonies important
“Funnily enough, we found that when the churches were closed at the start of this, we didn’t realise what emphasis people put on those celebrations. I’m not an overly religious man, but when weddings, christenings, funerals are restricted, so is business.”
Business in Unit 7 recovered from the hit of the first lockdown to the point where Richie says he was ‘happy’ with their business in the typical busy months of July and August.
However, when the second lockdown arrived, like most businesses, Unit 7 was caught on the hop and wasn’t prepared to have to shut their doors with little to no advanced warning.
“I thought it was very badly handled,” he said. “There were murmurs on the Friday of it being introduced and then leaks over the weekend before it was announced.
“That’s hard when you have staff. We have three full-time and three part-time and on the Saturday before the second lockdown I was doing the rota for the following week and saying to them, ‘Jesus, I don’t know if I’m going to need you on Monday morning’.
“That was my biggest concern. It’s very hard to turn around and tell your staff that you might not have work for them, especially when it’s through no fault of your own. In fairness, my staff have been more than understanding, but it’s definitely one of the harder aspects.”
For now, they’re preparing and hopeful for a busy Christmas period, one which will ensure they don’t have a surplus of stock they can’t shift when the new season comes around.
Richie’s message to customers this Christmas period is to shop local.
“We’re hoping the online shopping doesn’t kill us,” he said. “It’s the elephant in the room in one way. We’re hoping there’s a lot of goodwill towards local businesses. That’s just a hope, but I’d be optimistic that might be the case and so are my staff, because we’re all buzzing to get back.”