For Small Business Saturdays, Vogue will be spotlighting an independent fashion business every weekend—and the brilliant finds you can shop to support their bottom lines.
When it comes to ensuring the fashion industry receives the support it needs to survive the COVID-19 crisis, much of the focus has been on initiatives for emerging designers. Less so, perhaps, for the retailers that stock them, many of whom are also independent businesses operating with equally slight profit margins. So what are the challenges for someone like Maryam Nassir Zadeh, who is balancing both? Zadeh first made waves in 2008 with the organic following she grew after opening her downtown boutique; four years later, she launched her own line of offbeat wardrobe staples to sit alongside the beloved brands she already stocked, which now has a cult fanbase all of its own.
When it comes to explaining how to navigate this tricky high-wire act in tougher times, however, Zadeh is both candid and surprisingly upbeat. “This experience of being under lockdown has been challenging, but also positive for myself and my team,” says Zadeh. “We have been having a conversation over the last year about how we can become more focused as a brand. This pause in everyday routine, as well as new financial setbacks, has enabled us to further those conversations, and reinforce them, as we question our priorities so that we can feel more clear in moving forward.”
On the design front, Zadeh is working remotely with her team to produce their resort collection, which was already well underway before lockdown, while also beginning the initial stages of planning a spring 2021 collection. Although it’s unlikely they will be able to show their collection in September as normal, Zadeh is keen to emphasize the importance of honest and open communication. “We are being very patient and understanding that this situation is unprecedented and completely unpredictable—none of us can control this,” she says. “We understand that retailers need more time to make payments and are aware of delays in every part of the industry. We want our longstanding partnerships to continue, but we also don’t want to push retailers to do anything they’re not confident and comfortable with.”
For her own store, which already has a thriving online customer base, the solutions are a little more straightforward. “We have a store fully stocked with beautiful merchandise for spring, but business is slow right now, of course, as it is for all retailers,” she says. “At the same time, we are being proactive with sales, continuing to push our new merchandise via Instagram and email.” Retaining a sense of community, and recognizing that everyone is in the same boat, is something that Zadeh is reminding herself of constantly. “We will get through this,” she says, firmly. “Our industry is so interconnected, we all depend on each other for our livelihoods. It will be different, and it will take time. We just need to have faith that we will survive this, and it will open up to a more positive chapter than what came before.”
On a personal level, Zadeh believes that fashion can offer something more than just joy or escapism right now—our relationship with the clothes that hang in our wardrobe can have an uplifting effect thanks to their sentimental significance, reminding us of the good times. “When I play with clothes and try stuff on it really relaxes me,” she says. “It also gives me joy to put things on that I associate with people I love or places I’ve been.”
“Clothing is so rooted in memories for me,” she continues. “It’s also refreshing to feel what I’m gravitating towards at this moment in time, a time we will always remember—I think it will inform future ways of dressing.” After all, if there’s anything that will see Zadeh weather the current storm, it’s her distinctive and timeless take on style, which was shaped by her love of vintage long before she ever made her first foray into the world of fashion. It’s this ability to take eclectic, forward-thinking references and translate them into something laid-back and wearable that has become the backbone of both her brand and store; instincts that will be more important than ever when navigating the impending era of pragmatism for the fashion industry.
For Zadeh, this extends further than design, and all the way to stripping things back to the essence of why she became interested in fashion in the first place. “My advice is to pare down everything to what is most meaningful, and what satisfies your goals for the integrity of your brand,” she says. “It’s not a time to expand and take risks, it’s a time to pull back and reflect on what is most important, and to do that step by step. We need a lot of patience and positivity to create a beautiful new vision.” If there’s a silver lining to the uncertainty of our current moment, you can be sure Zadeh will be the first to find it.