Sign of the times? Boutiques and the Recession.

Early in the year while waiting on samples for the Alpha Collection, I prepared a list of boutiques to query, writing down boutique names, addresses, contact information, and as much as I could gather about each boutique’s point of view, so I could make a statement or two on why that boutique and Taryn Zhang were a fit. I’d say this was around March 2010. As of March 2010, all of these boutiques were open for business. I had even called these stores to make sure someone answered on the other line.

Then everything happened all at once with regard to the samples and by late summer I was ready to send out queries to these boutiques. Due to my busy schedule (and I’ll admit, some mild laziness), I didn’t re-confirm the status of these boutiques. I mean, as of March 2010, they were all still open and running. It was only August of the same year. What are the chances? So I sent my queries to boutiques out in August based on my March research.

Last week 5 packages came back with the above Return To Sender sticker on it, 1 came back with the handwritten phrase “Out of business!” With the exclamation mark. Oh my.

Thinking maybe some of the 5 packages were returned as a result of an oversight on my end, I went back to look up those 5 boutiques. Sure enough, all 5 boutiques are now closed.

A few months back, an established designer friend told me that business for her this year was the worst it’s been since she started her line 6 or 7 years ago. Every month at least one of her accounts has declared bankruptcy or shut down. Half of her accounts receivable have been in default for almost a year, and she doesn’t have the energy or resources to aggressively go after them and collect. Yikes. This is what I have to look forward to?

I’ve also been warned to prepare for consignment deals rather than wholesale orders. A lot of boutiques are taking new inventory from up-and-coming designers by consignment only, and can no longer afford to buy. Another sign of the times? Many of these high end boutiques are lowering their price points. Boutiques that used to sell only $400 and up leather handbags are now dropping the range down to $100 and $200. When you walk into one of these stores, every item claims to be discounted. 10% off. 20% off. Clearance sale. It’s frightening.

Searching online with the keywords boutiques, 2010, closings, and bankruptcy bring up even more heartbreaking news. A lot of pretty little places are going out of business or have recently declared bankruptcy. Many designer labels are insolvent.

Brick and mortar overhead is another problem, causing many of these boutiques to close. Right now New York’s storefront vacancy rate is at an all-time high, in spite of the City’s famous and typically strong storefront culture. I came across a statistic by Cushman and Wakefield, a real estate brokerage firm, that found on Fifth Avenue a storefront vacancy rate between 15 and 16 percent. It’s not looking that rosy for the rest of the country either. San Francisco and Los Angeles are both suffering from vacant commercial lots. Small business owners and entrepreneurs from all parts of the U.S. are crying.

“Quite possibly with the exception of 1930, you’re launching your line in the worst year ever.” said my designer friend to me. Great. How depressing.

Camera phone photo edited to remove "product placement" logos from T-shirt.

The dismal contents of this post could induce any designer to drink. For the record, that’s cherry soda in my wine glass.

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