Roll out of bed, fire up the computer, log onto Zoom, spend the day squinting through blue light glasses, go to sleep and repeat. Lately, this is a typical day for many Coloradans working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the business attire and fancy garments in our closets are sporting a layer of dust.
One can only long for the day where a fancy dress or a dapper suit will be a staple fashion piece again. The impact of COVID-19 on the Denver fashion scene is great, and many retailers are facing changes in their operations. Inventory aligns with casual trends now and those once offering pieces perfect for a cocktail party, business meeting or wedding are altering their ways.
Luckily, the transition from high-end fashion to streetwear is manageable. For Icon Suit, a Denver-based shop offering custom suits tailored to individual needs, the change in fashion trends has been difficult, but doable.
“I think we can adapt a little bit more than say most other shops within the area,” said Angelo Tatsu Ogata, Regional Director at Icon Suit U.S. “The only reason I say that is because we are fully custom in making garments and our attire, there’s no real overhead that we have to worry about … so we were able to kind of keep ourselves afloat in that regard and it’s a lot easier than I would say most other shops in this industry would be able to do.”
Numerous issues arose in navigating this interesting time for the businesswear industry. The pandemic rolled in without warning; therefore, Icon Suit is facing more backstock than ever before. Items stocking inventory before the pandemic are yet to sell due to seasonal changes and the lack of in-person shopping, especially for business attire.
“It definitely took all of us, as far as business owners or entrepreneurs or people who are in this industry who are into fashion of any kind … by a curveball for sure and we all had to figure out what was the next move because of the situation,” Tatsu Ogata said.
Operations at Icon Suit look similar to before the pandemic due to the nature of their offerings. Appointments last between one and two hours and allow shoppers to work one-on-one with an Icon Suit team member to customize garments fit to their specific needs or wants. This establishes a sense of comfort for clients when it comes to taking COVID-19 precautions. Though typical appointments such as custom fittings for a wedding are sparse, the store continues to provide services for men in Denver looking for the perfect fit.
While Icon Suit is known for custom suits and tuxedos, the store offers custom Italian jeans, polo shirts, dress shoes, sneakers and more as well. Though business meetings conducted via Zoom don’t require the full ensemble when it comes to looks, custom clothing fit to changing trends allows individuals to express themselves fashionably.
“Even if you’re not dressing up for a business meeting then you can still at least dress in something if it’s a nice pair of jeans or sneakers, great shirts, and still look as fashionable as ever without having to go the full nine yards in putting on the full suit and jacket and all that,” said Tatsu Ogata.
Garbarini, a women’s clothing boutique in Cherry Creek featuring designer apparel and accessories, is facing similar challenges. Following the store’s initial closure at the start of the pandemic, their e-commerce site launched to continue to serve customers. However, adapting to business at this time was not an easy feat.
“Nobody needed clothes, they wanted clothes but they felt like you know, ‘I don’t feel right shopping when I don’t need anything.’ I think it certainly hurt stores and I think a lot of people were stuck at home so they just shopped online because there wasn’t anything else to do,” said Terri Garbarini, owner of the shop.
In the midst of the virus, Garbarini significantly cut down on selling fancier items. While half of the store has always featured stylish denim and streetwear pieces, the customers attuned to that section of the store continued to shop like normal. However, for business attire and other less casual items it was a different story. “If it wasn’t jeans or it wasn’t a track pant, people didn’t really want it … I don’t know when that’s ever going to come back really,” Garbarini recalled.
The biggest surprise to Garbarini was a massive increase in coat sales. While business was down, coat sales skyrocketed and Garbarini noted that this past year marked the most coat sales in the history of the store. Due to outdoor dining and increased time outside to follow social distancing measures and avoid contracting the virus, coats became a staple in the average fashionable Coloradoan’s closet.
“People bought really beautiful coats from me … we sold out of coats early,” Garbarini said. “It was because, for one thing, I think people were eating outside. And it was something they could throw over their jeans to be beautiful – something beautiful that’s wearable.”
In addition to coats, Garbarini began selling fashionable masks. Therefore, adapting to the pandemic was an interesting task for the shop but the transition was smoother than expected. All Garbarini Shop employees were paid during the closure and the store has effectively adapted to accommodate health protocols. The store is large, offering plenty of space for shoppers in addition to increased cleaning measures to keep customers safe.
The experience of shopping at Garbarini Shop itself is irreplaceable. Team members assist customers one-on-one to help create functional outfits, wardrobe pieces, and accessories fit for the individual shopper. “When you’re a regular customer of Garbarini and you come in, you’re used to having good service and having professional salespeople that know the product and can guide you … it’s so much better of an end when you shop that way instead of just shopping here and there [online],” Garbarini said.
The future for businesses like Icon Suit and Garbarini is unknown. However, both retailers hold a positive mindset and are grateful to their loyal customers and the Denver community for keeping their businesses afloat.
“We probably won’t fully understand the impact it really had until later on, but we’re just trying to each day hope for the best and hope that things don’t get worse and try to keep ourselves as positive as possible so we can keep building ourselves as much as we have,” said Tatsu Ogata.
For now, Denver retailers will continue to power through the hardships introduced by the pandemic. As vaccine rollout continues and enters different phases of eligibility, the end feels closer than ever.
“Everyone is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, which is really nice,” Garbarini said. “It’s kind of like everyone has been so depressed because everything was depressing, you know?” That light at the end of the tunnel may be all [it] takes to understand the pandemic’s impact on high-end fashion.
After all, the roaring ‘20s emerged following the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Sparkles, twinkling lights, bubbly drinks and up-scale fashion defined the decade. Who knows, maybe history will repeat itself.