‘There is no guarantee’: fashion industry faces bleak winter

For someone who can't say when her next season's stock, which is due in stores on May 1, may actually land, designer Rebecca Vallance is surprisingly sanguine.

"We work very far in advance," Vallance said on Thursday. "We were fortunate we had shipped our fall-winter product before Chinese New Year, so there is no effect on us from that."

Staring into the unknown … designer Rebecca Vallance.Credit:Eddie Jim

Fashion brands generally work about six to 18 months in advance, meaning the stock that's in stores now made it out of China, where Vallance manufactures much of her range, before coronavirus restrictions took hold.

But as for next season's deliveries, it's a mystery. "At the moment, we ship fabric from Europe to China. Everything is sitting in vessels in the sea, waiting," she said. "At this point in time we don't think our pre-fall deliveries will be affected but there is no guarantee."

How coronavirus will affect the Australian fashion industry is still something of an unknown entity but most industry figures contacted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald agreed that it is already having some impact, and it's likely to get worse.

Last week, the chief executive of Noni B and Katies, Scott Evans, flagged a knitwear shortage if the company's factories don't start up production again soon. Several bridal retailers said there had been delays in getting stock and custom orders out of China, while others have said brides whose dresses are not going to arrive in time have turned to them for an "emergency gown".

Show-goers at Dolce & Gabbana’s parade at Milan Fashion Week. Several shows were cancelled or held behind closed doors due to virus fears.Credit:AP

Staff who work for international labels have reported global bans on travel, meaning many of them missed out on attending the most recent shows in Milan and Paris. In both cities, editors and buyers at shows often wore masks, while some parades and events, including Giorgio Armani, were either cancelled or held behind closed doors.

With attention on the impact of the virus on major sporting and other events, it is understood all aspects of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, which launches on Wednesday, are proceeding as planned but organisers are continuously assessing the situation in line with the latest government health advice.

In all cases, a degree of pivoting is required. Vallance has had to delay a planned casual range indefinitely. "You have to think of the bigger picture," she acknowledged. "But it’s still disappointing; we had put so much energy into this casual range. We will have to redesign it, the colours, fabrications to match that time of year [when production resumes]."

Even if Vallance can get her stock produced, getting it to Australia to meet retailers' delivery deadlines means she may have to air freight it, which would be a substantial hit to her bottom line.

To Vallance's relief though, the virus hasn't yet had a major impact on sales.

"The bushfires had an effect in January [on sales] but we had one of our biggest weeks ever last week," she said. "People are here, they must be going to events – Asian [market] sell-throughs are lower – everywhere else is ticking over."

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