Reflecting on 2020: Part 1
We all know that last year was unlike any other. There was no roadmap, no preexisting blueprint, and no grand master plan; this not only applies to Dôen on a business level and the entire team on a human level, but for the world as we all battled this international crisis at local, regional, and global levels all at once. We saw the impact of such, and we are not immune to or ignorant of the hardships, grief, trauma, exhaustion, and despair of the past year.
We began the year with our 2020 Resolutions, which spoke to sweeping changes internally and goal-setting for our environmental commitments and representation. While each resolution posed its own challenges -- which we were determined to work through collectively -- we had no idea what was to come. We spent January and February celebrating our Dôen community, volunteering at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, and announcing our Border Angels drive to collect necessities for families detained at border shelters. While we were still at the office, our employee-led resource groups had incredible first sessions: The Corporate Sustainability Committee scheduled a mobile refillery station to come to our parking lot and arranged for a substantive sustainability and apparel industry Q&A with our team, while our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee planned a team event with poet, activist, and author Sonya Renee Taylor for early March. Despite first cases being reported as early as December 2019, so many remained unaware and unprepared.
As this March now unfolds and we quickly approach the one-year mark of the first wave of Covid related shutdowns last year at this time, we are looking back on all that the past 12 months have brought for us, for our team, and for our global community. See below for some reflections on all that has come to pass for us personally, collectively, and globally.
This is the first installment of a three part series chronicling our year. Part 2: Summer will be released in a few months time!
Part 1: spring
It all slowed to an abrupt halt in March, approximately two weeks after New York reported its first case. On March 4th, Governor Newsom of California declared a state of emergency, and by the 12th, public school closures were announced in several states. The uncertainty of the moment was palpable, felt by all, and immediately had an impact on our perspective and our understanding of our global interconnectedness.
Employee health and safety in uncharted times became first priority, and work schedules, accommodating individual department needs and shifting to remote whenever possible, were announced. Just a week after our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee hosted an inspiring and moving speaker event with Sonya Renee Taylor at our offices, we temporarily closed the Brentwood Country Mart store on March 16th, and reaffirmed our dedication to putting our team and extended communities at the forefront of all that we do.
Our Logistics Team was already feeling the impact of COVID-19 related delays, effecting shipment lead times and flight cancellations. Travel bans were put into place around the world. On March 15th, Peru went on lockdown, and a week later, India anticipated a lockdown mandate imminently; as both are central manufacturing locations for us, our teams worked day in and day out to strategize. This alone was a giant task.
It became clear that future launches and our production schedule for the year would be greatly affected. At the end of the month, our team and primary vendor in India worked together closely to determine a long-term strategy, partnering to determine new timelines for each fabric and each group of styles. Our primary goal throughout this time was to continue to pay our vendors, with whom we have invaluable relationships. The gravity of the pandemic -- and the human toll, worldwide -- became increasingly more stark, and harder to bear. Our infrastructure and national leadership seemed incapable of navigating the impact -- and leaving so many workers, women, and children utterly unprotected without a plan or strategy for safety and sustainable, science-based solutions.
We took additional safety measures for our employees, incorporating every state-wide measure announced by our state legislature. We also never wavered on our commitment to our international vendors, and our deep-rooted relationships with them helped us all to adapt with agility under unprecedented circumstances. We are so grateful for their continued partnership and tenacity, and their own commitment to their employees’ health and safety. To our community, we had to acknowledge a potential shift in our product launches and a strategy of a series of smaller collections more dependent on each individual step in the supply chain to allow for prompt payment to our extended global team while accounting for international government regulations. We also used our social media and newsletter platform to offer ideas to our community on how to support small and local businesses -- including donating to service worker fundraisers, supporting restaurants through continued delivery and take-out patronage, and pre-paying for a package of services at your favorite salon or studio. As a team embarking on the unknown together, we hoped that these small tidbits would encourage our community to keep hope, reach out to their local communities in any way that they could, and continue to support each other as best we could.
In early April, upon reading reports of shortages of critical PPE, we began to talk with our vendors in Peru about making masks. Pattern makers from our primary vendor’s facility began working from home -- greatly helping move forward any Summer styles not yet fit approved -- and the factory also committed to making 1 million masks. With Peru in lockdown, our Fair Trade Certified handknitters -- also able to work from home in their communities -- were able to continue production on our upcoming styles. It was also during this month that we had initial conversations about shifting a handful of silk styles to a WRAP Certified factory in China in order to diversify our sources while countries battled lockdown restrictions and uncertain timeframes. As China was never part of our original sourcing strategy, this was a difficult decision that we eventually made in close partnership with our primary vendor in India, and was contingent on our finding of an ethical, WRAP Certified factory that we felt comfortable proceeding with.
We also witnessed some amazing feats of the human spirit. Our neighborhoods erupted into applause every evening to celebrate the tireless efforts of nurses and doctors; many of us gained a new understanding of what it means to be an essential worker. And we witnessed -- along with so many around the world -- the incredible adaptability and agility of our entire team, with everyone showing immense self-motivation and initiative in creating new processes to tackle the challenges of remote working. Our Product Team moved to Zoom fittings -- a huge undertaking! -- and fabric binders were brought home in order to do approvals remotely. For an apparel brand -- an area deeply dependent on working with product in hand in order to feel, touch, and see drape, fit, movement, and fabric -- it is ideal to be in the same room, experiencing what we are making together; our team’s ability to communicate throughout this time was -- and continues to be -- a huge success story, and one of the most sentimental parts of the year for us.
We will continue to share our story and our learnings of the past year in upcoming publications, and we would love to hear from our community on how they have managed this time -- as parents, workers, and community and family members -- and what may have brought solace, comfort, light, or even joy through the uncertainty and unknown. And, as we start to see glimmers of potential progress here and abroad, we hope that this new understanding of our profound interconnectedness and power of spirit will remain with us through what is still yet to come.