I just reviewed the Families First CoronaVirus Response Act… no, this is not a political post so don’t worry! But let me back up a little bit…
A few days ago when we first realized the gravity of this situation I wondered how to steer a small brand in the right direction during these tumultuous times. On Thursday, we had our worst sales day ever in the store (down by 95.4% from our average). I didn’t panic but there was a part of me that wanted to freak out over the thought of us having almost no store sales for weeks. From my standpoint we had two options: tighten up spending and hold fast, or get creative and sell more online. I always want my team to get all their hours in if possible, and the thought of asking any of them to reduce their hours made me anxious. It seemed obvious… we needed to turn this into an opportunity and focus our attention on our online sales.
I love in-the-moment. It’s where I get my focus and everything starts coming together for me. If you’ve been around me, it’s where my comedy lies, and it’s the breeding grounds for my best ideas. My curious mind wanted to go crazy on these ideas flying around about a potential pandemic but when I threw out the idea of creating a Vardagen Pandemic Collection, the idea had mixed reviews. “I mean, I always think you should follow your gut, but be careful” was pretty much the consensus. I would never want to make light of a terrible situation. Wait, that’s pretty much what I always do! Not sure why I just wrote that. I guess I always want to make light of bad situations, it’s a coping mechanism. But I honestly wouldn’t want to offend people going through horrible times. I considered a “business as usual” approach- we’ll just drop the new releases on our calendar and pretend that we missed every notification on our phones over the past week. The more I thought of it, though, it seemed even more heartless. So, I pushed forward on creating a special collection. Design solves complex problems and helps people come together. In a sense, that’s our job here. We’re not here to tell you how to think or how to feel or push our agenda on you. We’re here to experience life with you, the good and the bad and wrestle with ideas that most people would shy away from. We’re not here to just express how we feel, but how we observe other people’s feelings and reactions to their everyday life. We’re interested in all of it.
There’s more to it too. What we provide for our customers. Yeah, we design and print shirts, but there’s more depth here than just that. We owe it to you guys to be pushing buttons and driving ourselves forward on concepts and design. We can’t let you down by status quo and doing whatever is easiest for us. Who cares if we had a great drop planned if it’s not relevant to what’s happening in the world? Your schedules are screwed up, so ours will be too!
Once we regrouped we were ready to make a quick pivot and started creating a new collection that would drop as soon as we could get it ready. There’s a lot of moving parts to make this happen but as a team we felt motivated to work hard and overcome this.
We had such a productive Friday and by Saturday morning I was feeling good about everything... well almost everything. After seeing first-hand all the selfishness from people grabbing up basic supplies like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, I wanted to make sure we were being considerate of others. I had been checking in on some friends and was trying to assess how this will impact other people. I started getting feedback from my creative friends that their projects had been canceled and they’re out of work. It really bothered me to hear that and so I wondered if I could hire some of them for photoshoots or in some way provide opportunities. We’re so small and taking a big hit ourselves on this so it was just unrealistic to be able to do that.
I paid close attention to the news about the Families First CoranaVirus Response Act, to see how it would impact our small business, our employees, my family and my friends. I know congress is trying to solve problems for so many different people right now and maybe a solution will come later, but it was apparent that independent creatives haven’t been considered yet. The first version of this bill protects people with employees extra flexibility and benefits, but what about a photographer that works as an independent contractor depending on work over the next few weeks to pay bills?
So here’s the rough plan…
We’re going to set aside 20% of our sales from our next drop for independent creatives that are currently out of work. We want to encourage them to keep creating and use this time to get more done. We’ll start with a small pool of people and if this project grows, we’ll add more people to it. We’re pretty limited on how many people we can help this way but maybe this will encourage people with broader audiences to do something as well.