The disappointment and suffering in the business community is palpable
It was March 19, 2020 that we made the decision to close our boutique. For weeks there had been no clear directive from the state government for retailers to shut. Many shops were still trading to a ghost street out of hope and confusion despite being "non essential".
For the safety and wellbeing of my staff and clients, we closed, despite having received our full delivery of the autumn/winter collection a few days earlier: 1500 pieces of seasonally sensitive Melbourne-made stock, valued at nearly $500,000.
Lockdown bites: An empty Flinders Lane.Credit:Getty
That is when the fear and anxiety set in. How would I generate turnover from a closed store? What about staff? How would I pay rent? Was this the end of a 37-year-old brand?
A sense of relief came with the federal government's swiftly announced initiatives of JobKeeper and The Business Support Fund. These have been vital in keeping my brand above water.
Fashion designer Lisa Barron.Credit:Craig Sillitoe
Then, after extensive deliberation by the Victorian government, a state rent moratorium was introduced. This is one of the most important measures to assist small business in the negotiations with landlords. Without the moratorium, the likelihood of landlords reducing rent in line with turnover drop would have been unlikely.
While in lockdown we set to work adapting and evolving a brand that usually flourishes with face to face, sensory experiences to an online presence only. A couple of friends/clients had the brilliant idea of hosting a virtual autumn/winter runway launch.
So my team set to work bringing this idea to life whilst faced with huge limitations due to the pandemic. The show was finally streamed with commentary to our clients on Zoom. The sales that ensued were helpful to keep us going until we came out of lockdown in the following few weeks. We were full of optimism, looking to the future. Thinking the worst was over, I invested in the next collection for summer.
Then the hotel quarantine outbreak started. It was like reliving the first shock all over again. All of the easing of restrictions tightened back up. People who had started to venture out retreated again.
So, again, we went into survival mode. We reached out to our customers in new ways. We were raw and honest, sharing stories of the brand and its life behind closed doors. The creative process of putting an Australian made collection together, the fabric sourcing, the design timeline, the love, the passion and the reason the label exists.
And with the response to our marketing, on September 23 (nearly eight weeks after the second lockdown ) we were able to host our second online show, to double the number of guests.
So once more we were filled with anticipation for lockdown release for the retail sector on October 2; it was extended to October 19, now extended again to November 2. The disappointment and suffering in the business community is palpable. There needs to be prudent planning, compensation and extensions of support if such decisions are made.
The financial aid thus far has been essential in our survival, but we are still faced with the the rent moratorium ending on December 31 and full pre-COVID-19 rents will begin again. The streets and the economy will definitely not be back to pre-COVID-19 buoyancy.
The Victorian government needs to urgently extend the current rent moratorium to March 2021 in line with the JobKeeper to give us a fighting chance.
It is now more important than ever for the public to consciously buy local and support your favourite suppliers, restaurants, designers, musicians and artists. We will have a very boring world if we lose our artisans. Victoria was a proud and fertile ground for entrepreneurs; we need to keep it that way.
Lisa Barron is a fashion designer, retailer and manufacturer.
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