THE EDITORS CLUB INTERVIEWS MARIA-ROSA VYSKOCIL, OWNER BEHIND ACTIVEWEAR BRAND HOUSE OF GRAVITY, ABOUT THE INFLUENCE OF COVID-19 ON HER BUSINESS.
Could you please share the supply chain and general mechanism of your business?
House of GraVity has a retail distribution network across Asia and Europe and it's sold at high-end boutiques, gyms and department stores, and last year we launched our online store. We ship from our warehouses in Amsterdam and Singapore.
Our production process is quite complicated since we source from different countries. With House of GraVity, I aim for an unwavering commitment to ethical supply chains and quality in every stitch. From day one, my vision was for each unique garment to empower both those who wear them and those that make them, which means focusing as much on the people as the garments themselves. From origination to creation.
From the moment I started House of GraVity, it took me more than a year to find partners that are true to my vision of high quality and ethically made products. I’ve invested a lot of time in building good relationships with garment partners that share my values and believe in what I’m doing.
Through our partners, we’ve been able to expand the House of GraVity team into China. With this new and dedicated team, we’ve sourced and tested fabrics from Italy & Korea and developed our own signature fabric. It’s a unique fabric on the activewear market. The signature fabric is an ultra-light techno fabric which is designed to give precisely the support you need during high-intensity work-outs. It fits the body like a second skin, following every single move without constraints with a two-way stretch, shape retention, muscle control, and UV protection. I was supposed to launch this fabric coming April however, things have now changed due to the Covid-19 situation.
Is the brand still operating during this pandemic?
Yes, we are still operating. We work with small sales teams in Amsterdam and Singapore, in both cities the teams are currently working from home.
Online sales is an important part of our retail business, especially now since so many people are working from home and prefer to order online instead of going out to the stores. Everyone is struggling at the moment, but despite the business impact right now I believe that Covid-19 asks for a new way of working and a more conscious way of living our lives.
What are the effects of the pandemic on the business?
It affects our entire business but has the largest impact on our supply chain, marketing planning, and retail distribution. The design and production of the upcoming collection took a year since I want to make a big step in the quality and sustainability of the fabrics.
I was supposed to start with the sales season of this new collection in March. This means showing and selling the collection to retailers in our showrooms in Amsterdam and Singapore. We were all set and ready for the sales season to start but then Covid-19 broke out in China last January.
In China, our factories were closed for over a month. It was during this time that the strength of the relationship that we have with our suppliers made a fundamental difference. Both sides were working day in and day out to find the best possible solution. As a result, we were able to start producing the collection from the very first day the factory opened its doors again.
I was ready to fly out to Bali for the campaign & look-book photoshoot for this collection. Models, photographers, crew, and locations, everything was booked months in advance but everything had to be canceled at the last minute and unfortunately the same has been the case for my trips to Amsterdam & London.
I divide my time between Singapore & Amsterdam and I had to be in Amsterdam for 2 months in March and April. I had a tight schedule with back to back sales appointments with buyers in Europe. The week before I was supposed to fly out, Europe was hit by Covid-19 and flying out was no longer an option. These are all operational challenges that we face now and therefore the Covid-19 situation has a big impact on our business.
From a consumer perspective, I do believe that – now that people are working a lot from home - activewear will become even more popular. People still want to look stylish while combining working and living in a lifestyle that helps them to stay fit and healthy.
Are you prepared for a situation like this?
No one was prepared for what’s happening in the world right now. However I also try to see the beautiful side of this situation, Covid-19 really forces humanity to change it in a positive way! There’s no other option.
Things have happened during the past few weeks that otherwise would have been impossible to accomplish. People need to stay at home and finally have time for themselves again, to think, to feel, to perceive, but mainly to think about what is actually essential and (re)build a deeper connection with those that we love.
Public life has shut down, the world is on pause and air pollution is decreasing dramatically. People from all over the world are trying to help and support each other in different and innovative ways. That's touching!
Meanwhile, the economy has a rough time and companies are struggling to survive. Also in the fashion industry, everything will slow down.
We are rethinking our consumption habits, can we do with less? I hope that one of the outcomes of this situation will be that people will consume more consciously. Focusing on quality and relevance rather than the non-stop consumption of non-essentials. I believe in the principle of “buy less, choose well”, with House of GraVity I put an extensive focus on the quality of the product. People increasingly prefer to just have a few good items over endless of options in their closet. I think that Covid-19 will make us even more conscious about our buying and consumption habits.
What are the steps that you’re taking to handle the obstacles? Do you have any long term strategy in dealing with this kind of situation?
A long-term strategy will not work right now since we don’t know how long this situation will take. The beauty is that we are all forced to think in creative solutions right now.
Last month I took a step back to review my original planning & strategy. I realized that our production process is quite flexible and in a volatile world like this, that’s essential. My sales approach towards retailers however was very rigid, I’ve therefore decided to change this. This means that from now onwards I’m not going to work following the old schedule of 2 or 4 sales seasons per year anymore.
We are now also working with a virtual showroom where buyers can still see the collection online. I’m also working on a more personal approach with our consumers at the moment. Since most of the stores are closed we started with a live chat feature on our website, this so we can directly answer their questions about e.g. fabrics & fitting.
The photoshoot for the new collection I will prepare and guide from Singapore while the actual shoot will take place in Bali, via Facetime I will provide directions on the spot.
Could you please tell about your career and countries you've worked in before starting House of Gravity?
I‘m Dutch and was born and raised in Amsterdam. For my work in the fashion industry, I’ve have worked in Amsterdam, London, New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I’ve worked for fashion brands as a retail director and before I started House of GraVity I spent 5 years as managing director for a Dutch fashion brand. I was responsible for their retail, wholesale and online business in Asia. 1,5 years ago I came up with the idea to start House of Gravity. At that time, I lived in Hong Kong and had a hectic life as I was traveling for work all the time between Amsterdam, Singapore Shanghai, and Hong Kong. I was stressed and at that point, I realized that I needed more time to take care of myself, both mentally and physically.
What made you decide to start an activewear business? Why activewear?
Living in the bustling city of Hong Kong, and currently in Singapore, my urban lifestyle pervaded in me a need for more balance in my hectic life. I began to add workout, yoga, and meditation to my daily routine and I experienced a rapid and major shift in both my health and happiness. Due to our busy city life, we wear our activewear more and more. The high heels and dresses have been exchanged for activewear. Here you can observe a new trend in the street scene. Our office is located in the fashion district and on the streets you can see a new style, where activewear is often combined with fashion items. It becomes fashionable to combine your activewear leggings with a good leather jacket, a silk blouse, and a designer bag. As I often work remotely and split my days between meetings, workouts, and social activities I began to look for sustainable, high quality, fashionable activewear that I could wear in and out of the gym. This was so hard to find that I decided to start an activewear brand myself.
What is the concept of House of GraVity and what makes it different than other activewear brands?
All our fabrics are made for high-intensity workouts, we are not following the vision of the traditional sport & activewear brands that primarily pay attention to the competition element of sports. We focus on winning from yourself instead of winning from someone else. With “feel your inner GraVity” we aim for a balanced life to reconnect with ourselves. A holistic & spiritual lifestyle isn’t a quick hype anymore and it is more than just a healthy food regime and exercising alone. It is a longing to re-connect and it is growing among many of us. Due to our fast and digitized life we are always “on” and because of this, we are more in need of a balance between our body, mind & soul. When we check in with ourselves, we connect with our intuition and we learn to listen and nurture what it is we need. Making time for self-care is becoming increasingly important for our all-round happiness and health.
A brand like Victoria’s Secret is heavily criticized by the public because of the lack of beauty diversity representation. How do you see the issue of beauty diversity? Does your brand accommodate diverse body sizes?
Yes of course and I really hope that every brand accommodates diverse body sizes. Victoria Secrets shows perfection, a way of marketing that worked years ago but I believe that over time our vision on perfection changed. We aren't inspired anymore by the perfect pictures and lives that we see on social media. We want to see and hear the real story. This inspires. For me, the true beauty of a woman lies in her identity! In what makes her different and what she stands for. In her virtues and her scars and in her strengths and vulnerabilities.
What’s your definition of beauty?
For me, it makes someone beautiful who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. Self-acceptance is beautiful! It’s not always easy to reach such a feeling. It’s risky to show the uncertain, insecure or less beautiful parts of ourselves. Someone who isn't afraid to show these parts of her/himself makes a person for me strong and beautiful at the same time!
Read the interview on The Editors Club