Working from home is coming to an end for many fashion employees in New York.
As workers head back to Seventh Avenue and other areas of the city, their companies have been making preparations for their safe returns. A few companies surveyed said their employees won’t be coming back until after the New Year, but many said their workers were starting to return.
And what will they be faced with?
Lots of hand sanitizer, face mask requirements, one-way signs, staggered work hours, elevator maximums, temperature checks and conference room maximums are just some of the new measures, and for many, concerns over taking mass transit.
Public Clothing Co. just moved into offices at 151 West 26th Street. The company actually took 30 percent more footage than it needed, but, now with COVID-19 and people spreading out, the space is all filled. Dan Shamdasani, chief executive officer of Public Clothing Co., which owns Derek Lam and ATM Anthony Thomas Melillo, said he’s having the team come back Sept. 8 to prepare for market.
“Not everybody has to show up and leave at a certain time. We’re being flexible in our approach. Our guiding principal is health and safety first,” he said. He explained that when employees come in, there will be temperature checks, they have to wear a mask if they’re not at their desk, and each desk is 6 feet apart. There are about 60 employees.
They are installing Merv 14 filters into the air-conditioning system to reduce impurities by 98 percent, and UV light whose REM-led technology purifies the air. He said his employees will be taking public transportation, driving or biking to work. They will be asked to stay 6 feet apart in common areas and conference rooms, and the restrooms are all individual.
Deirdre Quinn, ceo of Lafayette 148, which is based in Brooklyn, said, “It won’t be business as usual, but we’re starting to rebuild. We don’t have everybody back.” She noted that executives are coming in one day a week, and they’ll build from there, adding another day at the end of September and three days in November. “We’re doing what we have to do. My warehouse is back, the stores are back, you’ve got to make a movement. We have a big enough space for social distancing,” said Quinn.
“We’re very spread out. Luckily for us, you can drive to the Navy Yard and so far, you can park for free,” she said, noting some are carpooling.
She said the pandemic has been an incredible strain on the human resources department. For people who have been furloughed, they are extending their medical benefits through the end of the year.
Quinn said they have rotating schedules, do daily health screenings and temperature checks and there are a limited amount of people per room. “We have [disinfectant] machines that spray the offices every night,” she said. The whole spring market will be virtual, she said, and everybody has to wear a mask all day long.
She plans to bring her field team back on a per-diem basis. “They’re out in the field to support the wholesale business,” she said.
Quinn noted that business in her freestanding stores has been very slow, but they just dropped their August catalogue, so their web business is only down 12 percent from a year ago. She’s hoping to end the year flat in the brand’s web channel, which is their biggest business.
Quinn even managed to launch denim during the pandemic. “We launched it and it sold out,” she said, noting the denim is being manufactured in Los Angeles. “It sold out because of the web site,” she said.
Cynthia Rowley started coming back to her TriBeCa office in June when Phase One began. She had a small crew return and they were wearing masks and social distancing. She said she has a pretty big space, so there was plenty off room. Lately, she’s seen very good business and hired more people.
Now in the second phase, she has employees wearing masks all day, and desks are spread apart. Rowley is on the first floor, so she doesn’t have to worry about elevator capacity. The space also has a lot of ventilation. Two years ago, Rowley’s business pivoted from a licensing and wholesale business to a direct-to-consumer model. It mostly has its own stores, e-commerce, pop-ups and revenue shares and relationships with retailers’ web sites through drop ship, where Rowley controls the inventory. She said her business is up 20 percent from a year ago. She found that super-dressy or dry-cleanable clothes weren’t selling so she shifted production to “casual, cotton, washable, happy joyous things and we have been selling out over and over.”
Jane Siskin, ceo, founder and head designer of Cinq à Sept, said the company reopened its office at 1384 Broadway during Phase Two in June.
“Basically the people who felt they needed to be in the office was the sales team. They so depend on so many different reports, needed two screens and needed to be together and interact. Everyone else is working virtual. I don’t believe the designer manufacturing business is set up to be virtual completely. When we had to, we did.
“Now we’re being incredibly careful. We have the design team coming in one day, the marketing team coming in one day. We’re never more than 12 people in the office, and we’re in 10,000 square feet so it’s not like anybody’s on top of each other. If someone was sharing an office, they’ll go into another office where someone is not back yet. We need to see the sample, know it’s there and put it on a body.
“The truth is, when we’re together, the collaboration is better, the work flow is better. I think we’re more productive. There’s no question about it. This is not a stay-at-home business,” she said.
Cinq à Sept is on the 18th floor. “The elevators are working, there are not that many people in the building,” she said. Also, some people are driving so the schedule is staggered. Several people are taking New Jersey Transit, some are taking the subways. The company has 40 employees and almost everybody is back to work. She laid off a small percentage, and a few are still on furlough.
At the office, employees have to wear masks and socially distance. She has the cleaning service coming twice a day. There’s never more than 10 or 12 people in the office at a time.
As far as how business is faring, she said, “Business is coming back. Certain parts of the country it doesn’t seem to be an issue. The bigger problem has been getting our goods here from China. When they stopped, we stopped. What we’re shipping is doing OK. The dressy stuff is still not what it was. People are definitely going out, and we’re selling it. I think we’re going to sell a lot less of it. Less customers are buying dressy things. We’re pleased with what we’re seeing. It’s positive. When new receipts hit, they do really well. I’m not saying we’re anywhere near where we were, I’m more optimistic based on what I’m seeing,” said Siskin.
Tory Burch is limiting time in the office to work that requires in-person collaboration, and has instituted a number of measures to make this as safe as possible. “It has been working very well,” said a spokeswoman. “We plan to keep this approach through December with employees coming in as needed, and the majority of our corporate team continuing to work from home.
“Flexibility remains essential. We are keeping an eye on COVID-19 rates daily, and will revise our plans if we need to,” she said.
Tory Burch’s New York City and New Jersey locations have been updated in line with the safety standards and guidelines established by the state, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Each floor in the building has a limited capacity to ensure distancing requirements can be met at all times, and they are monitoring carefully to keep occupancy below these thresholds.
In addition, each dedicated entrance has a wall-mounted thermo-camera. If it signals that someone has an elevated temperature (100.3 degrees and higher), a medical technician stationed in the vestibule performs a temperature check with a hand-held thermometer. There is also a personal protective equipment station with masks, gloves, shoe coverings and hand sanitizer.
The elevators are limited to four people at a time, with markets indicating where one can stand at a safe social distance. And, in the office, seating is arranged to ensure there are at least 6 feet between each person, and virtual meetings are still the preference. Conference rooms are limited to five people, and vendor meetings must be conducted virtually or off-site. Only Tory Burch employees and contractors are permitted in the office.
The company has also provided employees with a hotline to anonymously report any concerns or suggestions.
Ralph Lauren said since the onset of the global pandemic, it has been their priority to support and protect its teams. In June, they made the decision to have all office-based employees who could work remotely to do so until at least the end of the calendar year.
For those employees going into an office during the pandemic, the company took a number of proactive measures to maintain a safe and healthy work environment. They have implemented mandatory training and health and safety measures, including enhanced cleaning protocols and signage throughout the offices, including social-distancing arrows to direct movement. They also have PPE and extra cleaning supplies available for employees and require facial coverings and social distancing in their office spaces. They also require self-health checks in advance of any office visit.
While Proenza Schouler’s offices have reopened, the company is minimizing in-office work to only critical functions and creative processes that cannot be performed online. Masks are required in all office spaces, and their team is able to follow distancing measures due to the reduced in-office capacity. All employees entering the office must sign in and respond to New York State’s three-question health assessment, and may not enter the office should their response to any of the questions be “yes.” Their building has enforced distancing protocols in the elevators (limited to three occupants), and has also installed hand-sanitizer stations throughout the building and workspaces. The company is also strictly monitoring and enforcing 14-day quarantine requirements for any employees who have traveled to a restricted state outside of New York.
LaPointe is reopening its SoHo headquarters as of this month at 50 percent, rotating capacity with staggered hours to allow teams to safely conduct in-person work. Office space and procedures have been reorganized in compliance with CDC and NYC guidelines. And all nonessential business travel has been suspended for the balance of the year.
Meanwhile, some fashion company employees can still enjoy #WFH.
PVH Corp., whose divisions include Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Heritage Brands, expects most North American corporate associates will work primarily from home until January, with exceptions for jobs that can’t be performed remotely. The company has found that the majority of associates are able to maintain their productivity and feel most comfortable working from home.
Dave Kozel, chief human resources officer, said, “PVH committed at the beginning of this pandemic — an unbelievable seven months ago — that the health and safety of our associates, consumers and communities would always be our top priorities. To develop our new ways of working, we launched an ongoing dialogue with our North America corporate associates through surveys to inform our new policies and procedures. We wanted to answer real questions with effective solutions that support our business and our teams. For now, in our primary New York and New Jersey office locations, that means most associates will primarily work from home until January.”
Uri Minkoff, ceo of Rebecca Minkoff, said his office is still generally closed, “but there are some who have asked to work in the office on a socially distanced basis, which we have allowed.”
Sign up for WWD’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.