Thomas Meyer, owner of Desigual, founded the brand 36 years ago, in 1984. After he sold it 10% of it to Eurazeo and bought it back in 2018, he is again at its helm with the aim to make it further grow and increase its success.
Today Desigual offers six product categories, operates through ten distribution channels and offices in more that 15 countries. In 2019 it sold more than 22 million garments to more than 90 countries through more than 500 monobrand stores. It counts 800 employees in its Barcelona headquarters and employs 3,700 people worldwide. While facing the challenging times of Covid-19, and the beginning of Phase 2 and a gradual return to normality in Spain and in the rest of the world, Meyer explained to us how he dealt with the Covid-19 emergency and what Desigual’s next phase will be like.
How did your company face the recent health emergency and lockdown?
In these exceptional circumstances at Desigual, we decided to close 296 out of our 298 European stores. Our priority was–and still is–to protect the health and safety of our employees and customers. In Spain–our most important market where we employ 750 people in our headquarters–we haven’t cut any jobs due to the health crisis, but we did enter into a furlough scheme that mainly affected our store staff. It was a decision that we are gradually reverting so we can respond to the demands of the digital channel, the logistics operations that it entails, and the gradual reopening of our network of stores. We had been preparing for weeks for the various scenarios that could follow the arrival of Covid-19 in Europe. I’m talking about its impact on the supply chain, on suppliers, the sourcing of materials, production and similar aspects. During those weeks, quick decisions had to be made in an uncertain and rapidly shifting context.
At the beginning we had to make decisions according to our sourcing, manufacturing and distribution processes, which could be impacted by the Covid in China and countries around. It entailed to analyze scenarios very fast and moving production, temporally, to other countries, including local manufacturing. We had to manage the impact on supplies coming from China and the need to diversify our production and suppliers geographically, adjusting supplies and the manufacturing of the collections, looking for alternative methods to transport goods, along with other measures. Our past organization method has shown us that design and sourcing processes will have to become more agile and flexible.
How are you facing your return to normality?
While we implemented remote working and multiplied safety measures, we have strengthened our digital channel by extending return periods, launching promotions and adapting the content on digital platforms to the circumstances of our audiences. We are gradually reopening our stores while adapting to measures regarding hygiene, safety and capacity monitoring required by the authorities, and Desigual will be right there alongside our fans and customers as we return to this “new normal.” We’ve stayed active throughout this whole period and been more Desigual than ever. By coming back after the lockdown we will want to hug, kiss, feel free, laugh and be together again. Our commitment to our purpose, awakening the creativity inside us all and embracing our authenticity, will be just as strong or even stronger than before. We are radical optimists. We see light and joy in our future, and we will stand for it with strength, despite the difficulties to come.
We are focusing on our s/s ’20 collection, the first collection that fully embodies Desigual’s new image, designs, fabrics, shapes and cuts, the incorporation of more sustainable materials, new fibers and a higher percentage of European fabrics, as well as improvements in terms of quality, all with the purpose of continuing to surprise our core consumers while reaching a new younger audience. The truth is that we had a lot of plans for 2020 that we’ve had to adjust due to this new situation, but we won’t be defeated. On the contrary, we see this as a challenge that we will face with enthusiasm. We are redefining our calendar for f/w ’20. We will launch new collaborations that we’ve been working on for months that we believe could be extremely successful. Desigual has always stood out because it creates unique clothing that is designed to dress thousands of people who want to express their true selves with positivity and authenticity. Right now, I think this positivity and energy will be more necessary than ever.
What will the new Desigual be like?
We will make a smaller and sharper collection with renewed icons and huge doses of our DNA. We are going on working on collaborations, pushing our bestsellers and serving a positive and colorful attitude where authenticity becomes a way of being and expressing ourselves. In addition, quality and sustainability will be key pillars in our future strategy, as well as innovation drivers. It might suppose a slightly increase in prices if needed. Right now we are not addressing any special target age, but we place our average age customer at 38 years old. We also want to reach younger audiences, but our starting point is that: no matter ages neither genders.
Sustainability will become more relevant than ever. We are pushing our sustainability and CSR plan 2020-2023 and implementing our projects regarding sustainable fibers in our collections as we are aimed to achieve 50% of sustainable fibers in our collections by 2023, reinforcing the traceability and transparency of our supply chain and phasing out plastic from the packaging of our products and consumables by 2023.
What did you learn from this pandemic?
Privately, this will be a humbling experience that will prompt us to reflect on who we are, what we are doing here and how a virus forced millions of people to incarcerate themselves at home. This examination may lead us to connect with ourselves more, to think about what really matters and about those people we want to keep closer.
What is the fashion industry learning from all this?
Certain trends that were beginning will accelerate. People have shifted dramatically towards digital, in terms of their consumption of goods and services as well as in leisure and in entertainment, at work, in their relationships with their loved ones. Regarding this industry, we will have to rethink our relationships with the parties involved in the supply chain. We might see all things local resurface as a result of a “protectionist” reaction in the face of shortages of certain basic products, as with facemasks and protective equipment. A preference for local products could also have an impact on the choice of products and brands as well as the supply chains themselves.
They will be always more concerned for health, well-being, safety and the common good. Consumers will want to know how brands are contributing–this applies to governments, organizations and movements, too–and not just with their products, but also with their actions and behavior towards their employees and stakeholders. With this in mind, each brand will have to tell its story and their level of authenticity will determine whether or not they engage successfully with its audience. We can also expect consumers to spend less and in a more conscious way, which will require more transparency and social and environmental responsibility from companies.
Will Desigual continue offering new collabs?
Since 2019 we’ve been launching “capsule” collections with artists and designers who have contributed to Desigual’s refresh by bringing different creative approaches. An example is our s/s ’20 collaboration with artist Miranda Makaroff we started in s/s ’18 and will continue for f/w ’20. Soon we’ll be launching a collection in collaboration with Spanish footwear brand Victoria and we will present new products featuring the work of internationally acclaimed Spanish designer María Escoté. Working with talented young people also helps us to review our products and introduce creations that will suit the preferences of younger audiences.
Innovation is the mindset that drives our action, and after Covid-19 this is more relevant than ever. We will continue to drive the transformation strategy we started in June 2019. The difference is that after Covid-19, we are accelerating the execution of our plans. So expect a more agile, digital, innovative and client-centric Desigual in the next six months.