Our Founder reflects on 2020; what it's like to be a small business during a pandemic, and how she did on her New Year's resolutions

2020 has been a strange year. It started off really well with a factory visit in India at the beginning of February. We had lots of new developments in the pipeline for VILDNIS and were very excited about the coming year. At that time, we had heard about Covid-19, but could still travel around freely and didn’t know how big an impact it would have on everyone’s lives.

BEING A SMALL BUSINESS DURING A PANDEMIC

Soon after though, things began to go south. The first sign of our supply chain being interrupted by Covid-19 was when the Chinese supplier of our recycled polyester fabric remained closed after Chinese New Year (and stayed that way until April/May). Then, in late March, everything started to shut down around us; pop-up shops were cancelled, photoshoots put on hold, fabric mills shut, manufacturers closed due to lock downs and courier costs going through the roof. And to top it off, myself and two of my co-founders ended up contracting Covid-19.

Within a few weeks, our business had been turned upside down and it was like being on a rollercoaster sales-wise. My biggest concern in spring 2020 was the impact that the crisis would have on our supply chain, and in particular the workers at the factories. Thankfully, both of our manufacturers were resilient and have looked well after their employees throughout the crisis. Despite being closed down for 6 weeks during the lock down, being hit with demands of big discounts from their biggest customers and not getting any financial help from their government, our Indian manufacturer managed to pay its employees their average salary even with the factory closed.

By autumn 2020, my biggest concern was how we could keep VILDNIS going. Sales suddenly plummeted as the uncertainty about the future grew amongst consumers, and to top it off, big fast-fashion retailers such as SHEIN started disrupting our digital marketing campaigns by bidding on sustainable fashion keywords despite being anything but sustainable, making it too expensive for us to advertise. (other small independent sustainable fashion brands suffered from this too)

Come mid- November, the future of VILDNIS looked rather bleak, and I cannot express with words how relieved and grateful we were when three national newspapers (The Observer, The Independent and The Guardian) decided to feature our Najac Boiler Suit and Iriomote Dress at our darkest hour. Suddenly the clouds started lifting again. I am incredibly grateful that we managed to pull through and that we are still in business. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to our customers and to the press for your support this year – we literally couldn’t have done this without you!

HOW I DID ON MY 2020 SUSTAINABLE RESOLUTIONS

At the end of each year, I have reflected on my previous sustainable New Year’s resolutions and this year is no different. What IS different, however, are the resolutions I chose last year. Usually, they centre around my lifestyle in general, but this time last year, I decided to make them all about my future fashion purchases.

While it seemed like a great idea at the time, given the year we’ve endured, apart from a handful of new VILDNIS items, I actually ended up adding very few new items to my wardrobe this year - I simply didn’t need to buy anything.
I am now debating with myself whether I can call it success or failure in terms of not fulfilling my resolutions :-) I will let you be the judge.

Below is an account of how I did on my five 2020 resolutions:

1) Getting my hands on a rock’n’roll faux fur coat made from recycled fibres.

I LOVE faux fur coats and finding an eco-friendly version was one of my greatest wishes for 2020, fashion wise. In fact, it was such a big wish that we were planning to add a super cool eco-friendly faux fur to the VILDNIS collection in Autumn 2020, using a sustainable faux fur fabric that had been developed for a well-known luxury brand the year before. Sadly, it turned out that the fabric contained virgin polyester fibres instead of recycled fibres, despite being advertised as such… I will continue working on this project. Somehow, I WILL get my hands on a coat like this – and I hope it will be one with a VILDNIS label at the back neck!

2) Finding a pair of sassy sustainable black high heels.

With all parties and meetings being cancelled in the foreseeable future, and meet ups with friends mostly happening in the park, I suddenly found myself in more need of new trainers than heels. I’m sure the need for a badass pair of heels will emerge again as soon as society reopens, and as we get closer, I will start looking for them again.

3) Buying organic cotton items only whenever I buy something made from cotton.

Hmm. I bought nothing in cotton. Does it count that we launched two new VILDNIS jeans styles in 100% certified organic cotton? Phasing out conventional cotton and making organic cotton the norm is one of my major missions in life, so I will make this new year’s resolution part of my 2021 resolutions as well.

4) Sourcing at least one cool sustainable yoga-wear brand and supporting them whenever my leggings need replacing.

The closure of my yoga classes meant that I found myself doing online yoga classes at home and putting up with my old worn-out yoga leggings for yet another season. I will keep looking for a cool sustainable yoga brand though as new leggings will inevitably end up on my wish list again when I have to flaunt my legs/bottom in a more public setting ;-)

5) Cutting back on my impulse jewellery buys, buying either second hand or supporting ethical brands when I do make a purchase.

Jewellery was one of the few things that I DID actually buy this year. Most of the items were second-hand, including some edgy burnt orange earrings that we used on the latest VILDNIS photoshoot! One set of earrings – I am slightly embarrassed to admit, were, however, from a fast-fashion retailer. I simply had to own them…
I’m telling myself that it won’t happen again. It most likely will though, and it’s ok. I had all these things on my list that I wanted to buy this year, and I had all the time in the world to shop online while staying at home, so I am pretty proud of myself and the fact that I generally resisted impulse buying.

Bottom line, while I didn’t succeed on my resolutions as such this year due to my limited fashion purchases, I definitely succeeded in my overall mission of living a more sustainable lifestyle by slowing my consumption down. I believe that this rings true for many people.

While 2020 has been a tragic year on so many levels, the one good thing that came out of this year has been the increased collective consciousness about how serious climate change is and how we urgently need to change our habits in all areas of life.

And for this reason, I am quite optimistic about the coming year. The snowball has started rolling for real; sustainable fashion WILL become the norm. Now it is just a matter of keeping it rolling.

Personally, I am fired up and readier than ever to fight for changes in the fashion industry. Keep an eye out for my next blog post with inspiration for your 2021 new year’s resolutions.

Ulla

PS: While, I am only carrying one of my resolutions over to 2021, rest assured that the other ones will happen anyway!

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