Latest News

How These Small Business Owners Are Handling The COVID-19 Pandemic

What it's really like to own and operate during a global crisis

Owning a small business is no easy feat at the best of times. Owning a small business during a global pandemic is an unprecedented challenge many founders are now grappling with since the spread of COVID-19. From closed warehouses, diminishing orders and new government regulations, the challenges now faced by young Aussie entrepreneurs is something the fashion and beauty industry has never seen before. We spoke to some small businesses to see how they are coping – and how you can lend a hand during these uncertain times. 

Lisa Seskin founded LMS in 2019 after noticing a gap in the market for accessible, fashion-forward shoes. Since then her range has been seen on the likes of Bella Hadid and more. “For any small business, it’s an extremely difficult and scary time,” she tells marie claire. “Sales have dipped significantly and we have had to close our brand new Paddington store for the foreseeable future.” 

Lisa admits her label was working off the momentum of being new and exciting, and maintaining that organic growth is going to be a difficult task. But while sales may be slow, the brand is still making as much noise to remain at the forefront of what their customers want. “On our Instagram, we are trying to inspire our customers to get up, get dressed and be motivated to take on the day!” 

Creating the hashtag #LMSHome, the brand is now encouraging its loyal following to post their WFH outfits – something to keep both them and the brand itself motivated. 

Co-founders Lydia Kirkland and Mizpah King are dealing with the same issues with their accessories label TROVE. What began as a side hustle called Scarfy Official in 2018, quickly grew up to become the accessory and hair label they now passionately drive – which stocks everything from sparkly statement earrings to fine studs, bracelets and now sell-out collaborations. 

“While our pieces are lovely to have, they are discretionary items and we are fully aware of that,” Lydia says. “Sales have definitely slowed since the gravity of the situation, and there is no doubt that has been tough and disheartening, particularly because we had a big year planned for business and were just gaining momentum.” 

Despite this, Lydia admits the pair are lucky. The brand is run solely as an e-commerce business and by just the two of them. “We don’t have the stress of paying rent for an empty storefront or laying off staff as so many businesses have sadly had to do.” 

“At times it felt like hanging up our boots might be the easiest thing to do,” she adds, “but we have worked far too hard to walk away from a business that has literally become our DNA.” 

While the trying times are not welcome, the pair have become grateful for the reflection of what their brand could be. “We encouraged ourselves to think outside the box and transform the business into more than just an accessories website that sells nice things.” 

Lydia and Mizpah partnered with an artist to create a series of colouring-in sheets for members of their community amid self-isolation. “That is something we never thought we would do, but it feels so liberating to explore ideas which in the past we would have shunned as ‘off-brand’.” 

It’s not just the fashion industry that has had to flip everything they’ve learnt when it comes to business. KOHL Beauty founder Colette Manion admits to being “hit hard” by the pandemic after the government announced the closure of non-essential services, including KOHL’s salon. “Due to the nature of what we do, it wasn’t an option just to switch to an online client offer as we saw with a lot of other businesses,” Colette tells marie claire. 

The answer to how KOHL has adapted to the crisis is not simple, reacting on a daily basis to the new guidelines and restrictions set on beauty practices nationally. “My honest answer is that we have tried not to have a plan,” Colette says. “Our biggest focus is being transparent with our clients and engaging with our audiences on social channels to allow them to be a part of our journey.” 

“I think honesty and reliability at the moment are key,” she says. 

Now, the brand is looking to ways to help their clients at home, offering online modules for brow lamination and lash lifts, as well as developing content to connect in a way they haven’t before. “They are now in my home,” Colette adds. “So I am letting my clients into my life, and it’s actually been very enjoyable.” 

However, despite seeing positivity in the new ways to connect, Colette admits the uncertainty around the situation has been the hardest to come to terms with. “With a business issue, we can look at all the pieces of the puzzle and come up with a solution, but in this situation that just isn’t feasible,” she says. “I am ever the optimist, and I think that is a trait that is essential in business at the best of times but particularly to navigate the uncertain times ahead.” 

MAISON ESSENTIELE is another that is coming to terms with the new normal. Founded by Liv Flanagan in 2019, the brand offers luxurious, sustainable sleepwear and basics – something many of us have turned to now that we’re in self-isolation. Despite this, Liv admits providing to stockists and wholesale opportunities have hit a “complete standstill”. 

“People need to know, every time you purchase from a small business – someone out there does a happy dance!” Liv says. “Really, every sale counts right now.” 

Flanagan also founded agency Comms House alongside business partner Stefanie Gidaro, who also founded brand ZEKA MANFRED. After a combined 15 years in the industry, the pair have had to accept a new way of strategising for their clients. “One thing we know for sure: clear heads and concise communications and brand strategies over the next few months will be more crucial than ever,” Liv says. “The survival of a brand will ultimately lie in its ability to adapt.” 

“At first it was disappointing to see our plans we had worked on put on hold,” Stefanie adds. “But very quickly we realised that it was something bigger than our business and we need to do whatever we can to get through this time.” 

“Business owners we have spoken to have gone through such an emotional rollercoaster in such a short period of time, it’s not just affecting their financial state of the business but affecting the people they care about the most, their employees who are like family.” 

small business
Liv Flanagan and Stefanie Gidaro

Now more than ever, we as consumers have a responsibility to seek out local owned businesses. It doesn’t have to be just by purchasing items, as its an uncertain time for us all, but as LMS’ Lisa says, even keeping engaged and connected to your favourite local brands on social media is enough to lend a hand. 

“We are nimble, we are resilient, but we are human,” Lydia adds. 

“How much we support each other’s businesses during this time will ultimately determine how quickly our economy is able to recover from this pandemic,” says Stefanie. 

Related stories