As coronavirus continues to spread, the bridal industry is grappling with how to move forward.
Not only is the virus putting a damper on weddings and honeymoons (especially those overseas, in areas like Italy) — even making couples question whether or not to cancel their weddings altogether — but it’s also threatening a shortage of wedding gowns for summer weddings. Many dress businesses are experiencing supply chain obstacles, while others are being forced to rethink materials for dresses and even packaging.
“We’re trying to buy deeper inventory of our packaging, but it’s been challenging since nearly all packaging originates in China. If we do have to switch over to non-custom, unbranded packaging for a short period of time, I know our customers will totally understand,” said Molly Kang, co-founder of Floravere. But because the company doesn’t produce its gowns in China, Kang said it hasn’t seen a huge impact.
Companies in the bridal industry that seem to be hardest hit are smaller operations and startups, especially those with bigger ties to China.
Sarah Willersdorf, head of retail, fashion and luxury for Boston Consulting Group, said that, moving forward, fashion and accessories companies in general — but especially those in the bridal space — need to think about diversifying their supply chain.
“If you are relying on a combination of China and Italy to manufacture, and there is no diversification, which may have been done to get better costs and margins, this is leading a lot of people to rethink the supply chain of the future and how agile it needs to be from a sourcing and manufacturing standpoint,” Willersdorf said.
According to Statista, the U.S. wedding dress market was expected to reach $3.23 billion by 2021 and was worth roughly $2.86 billion in 2017. It’s unclear how the coronavirus outbreak will impact these numbers at this stage, but most companies in the space are seeing some negative effects of coronavirus.
Vivian Chan, co-founder of East Meets Dress, a company specializing in Chinese wedding dresses, said her four-person team has had to get creative and scrappy to get customers their custom dresses on time. That has included diversifying the company’s shipping partners after one of East Meets Dress’ main partners in China shut down and quarantined employees. She said the company is also looking into alternative fabric options, as some fabrics like brocades and laces have become harder to get due to the outbreak.
“While the demand is still there from our brides, we are feeling more of the effects on the supply and production side. We’re not in panic mode yet, but if it gets worse in the next few weeks, this could delay our production timeline for late summer weddings. Then we might need to work with those brides to revise their designs or provide alternative dress options,” she said.
Chan said the company was planning to launch extended sizing, on top of new designs, in the coming weeks, but pushed that date back several months in order to focus on existing customers. While the company offers made-to-order gowns and custom designs, East Meets Dress is encouraging brides with wedding dates in the near future to shop the brand’s ship-now collection and to work with local tailors to have any adjustments made to their dress. The company does have some flexibility, as most customers order dresses five to six months ahead of the wedding date, said Chan.
Over the weekend, East Meets Dress held a pop-up event in San Francisco and had booked roughly 100 in-person appointments with brides to try on and get fitted for a dress. The company saw about a 15% cancel rate, attributed to coronavirus fears. Chan also said she has seen an uptick — about 6% — in customers ordering the company’s sample kits: Two dresses are delivered to the bride’s doorstep to try on at home.
For David’s Bridal, on the other hand, it’s business as usual, said Jim Marcum, CEO of David’s Bridal, in a statement emailed to Glossy.
“Because of our proprietary supply chain and broad selection of in-store and distribution center inventory, we aren’t impacted the way other bridal brands are. We have over 300,000 gowns available for our customers to shop and take home today. All of our factories are open for business and none of our employees have been reported ill due to coronavirus,” said Marcum.
While Willersdorf said there aren’t exactly positive effects of the coronavirus, it does require brands to get a bit more creative, in terms of technology and innovation.
“I would hope to see more experimentation with digital channels. This is a moment to really test new things and incorporate them into standard business practices. Companies are being forced to do this, and the bridal industry specifically can afford to push the envelope a little more with technology,” Willersdorf said.