Much has already been written about the need to support independent businesses as we negotiate through the economic disruption wrought by COVID-19, and I’m not in the habit of adding to the noise.
That said, I would like to acknowledge the response of some businesses to this crisis. It’s easy at a time like this for ‘luxury’ brands to make grand, sweeping gestures, presenting themselves as moral saviours in the name of good PR – and many have. Crises like this also reveal all-too quickly those businesses which have been poorly managed for extended periods of time. These two kinds of companies tend to get all the attention; some making hand sanitiser or PPE, and others filing for bankruptcy have dominated the headlines of late.
With stories like these pasted across the newsfeeds of every newspaper’s business section, it’s also easy to forget that a company’s first responsibility is to its staff. To ensure that its employees, whether four or 400-strong, have a company to return to when the economy shifts from initial shock to processing the longer-term fallout.
This brings us to the unsung heroes of COVID-19: family run businesses. The best thing about any family business is that it sees the wisdom in long-term thinking. Familial units leading companies tend to always be planning for the future with the phrase 'long-termism' often bounded around the boardroom; they learn the value of planning for long-term security as the business passes down the generations and are not solely focused on unsustainable growth. Now, three months into lockdown with many menswear brands unable to trade, those brands that have always kept an eye on the future are the most secure – and the most positive.
Ask anyone on the management team at Crockett & Jones and they’ll say the same thing: “Things are tough right now, but our priority is to our staff.” Environments like this reveal a company’s true colours, and to hear brands like C&J confirm the duty of care they have to over 400 livelihoods and countless suppliers is heartening. Though, unfortunately, this doesn’t make for a terribly dramatic headline.
This message of staff over sales isn’t unique to C&J, either. Similar family-run manufacturers making outerwear, textiles and even jeans in the UK have all expressed the same viewpoint to me. They are committed to the welfare of their extended family, ensuring their staff’s safety and job-security in both the short and longer term. Now, more than ever, our society needs companies like these; manufacturers and brands with a moral backbone who don’t prioritise shareholder profit or short-term market gains above all else. As consumers, we need to thank these brands when the economic taps are turned back on (Thanks Aleks, we also gratefully thank the incredible support we have had from customers and suppliers alike).
From crowdfunding to covering excessively high shop rents, to fundraisers for staff wages, the renewed interest ‘shopping local’ over the past two months has been staggering, across all sectors of our economy. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that when things recover we don’t slip back into our old ways – buying too much, with too little thought for who made our consumer goods and what a company’s priorities are. My motto is to buy less but invest in higher quality items that tick all of my moral check boxes.
Manufacturers and retailers have been kinder and more thoughtful in the past eight weeks than at any point since World War 2. I hope consumers see the value of this long-term thinking and can see the difference between an Instagram post and real life.