Post-pandemic Spending Slows Down, but Boutiques at D&A Order Novel Brands to Attract Shoppers

Shoppers’ post-pandemic splurging has cooled for many boutiques, but retailers remained relatively buoyant at the latest edition of the D&A show in New York.

Fall was the focus at three-day event that wound down on Feb. 20 at the Starrett-Lehigh building in New York. Attendees checked out apparel, footwear and accessories from 219 brands, including newcomers like Monday12, Peppino Peppino, Mes Demoiselles Paris, Reinhard Plank and Lowercase NYC.

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Kelly Wang, owner of Rue Saint Paul, a Brooklyn boutique in Carroll Gardens, was undeterred, despite the fact that the spending boom of a few years ago has slowed down. Two months into this year, her company’s sales are more than 25 percent ahead of the same selling period last year, she said. The fact that the holiday shopping season now starts in September for some Rue Saint Paul shoppers has resulted in holiday fatigue by the start of the year, which leads many to start buying things for themselves again. In addition, fashion has somewhat “normalized” with people casting aside COVID-19-friendly sweats and getting more dressed up for leisure, going to the office, travel and social occasions, Wang said.

The sustainability-centered Rue Saint Paul offers new styles, rentals and pre-owned items. At D&A, Wang was looking for brands — old and new — that align with the store’s values of circularity, fair trade and organic materials. Muse, an offshoot of (Another) Archive, whose Spanish designer Cristina Fernandez now lives in Brooklyn, was a find. “Her pieces are just very different and really beautiful,” Wong said.

Rue Saint Paul shoppers are increasingly spending “to feel good about themselves” and for travel, which customers are doing more of, Wang said. Rentals are popular for that especially when weddings and vacations are involved, and demand for pre-owned is so strong that the retailer’s next store will probably focus on that, she said.

Showing her Muse collection at D&A for the first time, Fernandez said that the U.S. presents the largest growth opportunity for the Barcelona-grown brand. An architect by trade, she designs everything to be three-dimensional with an eye on composition, volume, dimensions and proportions. Fernandez also has a cantilevered approach to business — styling artists, Grammy winners and other VIPs, as well as friends and followers in her Brooklyn loft with (Another) Archive designs, as well as hosting trunk shows and selling wholesale to Dover Street Market and other multibrand stores. In its third season, Muse is also seeing steady growth from one season to the next, Fernandez said.

“What we want to do is reinforce the personality of each woman so that she feels like herself in a powerful way. It’s not about age. My mom wears this brand, I wear this brand and my 13-year-old daughter is looking forward to wearing this brand. It’s for all different ages and personalities,” she said.

Trying to determine what shoppers will be looking for six months in advance is the biggest challenge for Wood & Rose’s Wendy Vaughan. Like several others, she was on the lookout for brands that aren’t available in most stores. Color and whimsy appeal to shoppers in her Austin store. Metallic socks by Maria La Rosa (which Vaughan was sporting) are a favorite item. Jewelry, knitwear, shoes, accessories and other clothes were also on her checklist. The Paris-based Hannoh Wessel is another popular brand with shoppers, as is Dr. Bloom for knitwear.

“We really don’t follow trends. A lot of my brands have a very strong point of view and they do what they do. It’s not dictated by celebrities, musicians or what magazines are telling us what is in right now,” she said. “I just buy what I think is amazing. I always think that if I wouldn’t rock it, then it would be hard for me to sell.”

Monday12 founder Sunita Linde said she picked up 11 new accounts on the first day alone. Her Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based company started out online 18 months ago but she later switched gears. “Meta made me almost want to jump off a bridge with the paid ads and everything. As a new small business, it was just a horrible experience and so expensive. Yes, you get orders. But it was almost as though the more orders you got, the more money you spent being penalized for not posting appropriately or doing this right [or that right.]“ she said. “It also ended up taking up so much time that I couldn’t design anymore.”

A dropped-shoulder sweater shirt T-shirt was Monday12’s bestseller at D&A.

Six months ago she regrouped and relaunched with a focus now solely on wholesale, “which was way more enjoyable,” she said. While building relationships with retailers is key now, she plans to return to online at some point. Wholesale prices ranging from $61 to $261 for a fully lined coat made of raw recycled Italian wool from Italy. The collection is cut, sewn and dyed in Los Angeles and it features American, Japanese and Italian fabrics. A short-sleeved sweatshirt with a dropped shoulder was on every show order, and button-down shirts and Italian viscose foil shirts were also popular, Linde said.

Cinammon Boutique owner Emily Helfrich was in search of shoes and jewelry for her Chicago store to enhance some of the apparel lines that she has offered for years. She’s had her store for 18 years, and said social media has introduced shoppers to so many more brands than what can typically be found in a department store. “I don’t know that they are spending more or spending less. They are just looking for unique items,” Helfrich said.

Although the post-COVID-19 shopping boom has slowed — as she and a few other buyers stated at D&A — this year’s spending seems more in line with the past.

With two Yarid’s stores in Charleston, W.V. and Roanoke, Va., as well as resort locations at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., and in Colorado Springs, Colo., sisters Emilie Couch and Katherine Juker were looking for unusual accessories like fun socks and jewelry, as well as a little bit of clothing. Third-generation merchants, they are continuing on in what is a 103-year-old operation. In addition, Coclico shoes, Kempton & Co. handbags, Inoui scarves and Maria La Rosa socks are key items. Although “business has definitely slowed down post-COVID,” Juker said, “We have very loyal customers.” Couch added, “We’re doing well.”

Scouting D&A for upscale lines that are not over-commercialized for her new 1,600-square-foot store Isabel, which is slated to open in August in Sarasota, Fla., Isabel Lacy said she is “open to anything,” and looking for brands that transcend trends and seasons. While social media outreach will be “huge” in terms of driving traffic, she also plans to host trunk shows and other events and is designing the space to be inviting as opposed to a typical store, said the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising graduate, who studied fashion marketing. Striving for an airiness and warmth, the interior has wooden accents, couches, chairs and a modernistic sensibility. “I want to create a space that has an atmosphere for shopping. It’s not just going to be about the brands. But the place is really meant to feel like a home for people so that they feel comfortable and welcome to shop,” Lacy said.

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