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Northern Ireland boutique owners see margins shrink as they're forced to discount stock

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Chris Suitor

Chris Suitor

Freddie Parkinson

Ruedi Maguire

Ruedi Maguire

Aileen Wilson

Aileen Wilson

Chris Suitor

Northern Ireland boutique owners may see their margins hit hard as they are forced to reduce items to rid themselves of new stock after the coronavirus lockdown.

With the stay-at-home campaign putting a halt on social events and special occasions, it has also put less pressure on our fashion choices, as many local boutiques have discovered while they think up ways to sell their loaded spring/summer 2020 collections.

Chris Suitor, proprietor of Suitor Brothers in Belfast, says his new collection will work its way onto the sales rack post-lockdown.

It's a situation that many who don't have an online presence will find themselves in.

He said: "Most of our summer weddings have been postponed. However, they will still go ahead in the same outfits as chosen.

"So the suits and fabrics we have will be fine. The issue is our current SS20 range, which is sitting there gathering dust as the season passes by. It may have to be a fire sale for retailers once we get back open."

Glyn Roberts, Retail NI chief executive, believes many consumers will be seeking a bargain after lockdown as confidence takes a knock.

He said: "There has been growth in online sales, but I don't suspect people are buying large amounts of clothing.

"If you look at the last recession, afterwards companies with faster, cheaper fashion saw a significant uplift because luxury goods suffered a dip and people weren't spending as much, so going on the basis of past recessions, discounting might be popular. We just have to wait until we come out the other side."

Lorna Curran, owner of Isabella Paiges boutique in Ballynahinch, says her online sales have been the business' saviour during lockdown. She credits making a connection with customers via social media as the key to survival and boosting sales over the coming weeks or months.

She said: "Sales online are ticking away, but only for casual wear for women to lounge around in, but still feel good in. I'm selling lots of lounge suits and trainers and casual tops. I'm very lucky to have the website as it keeps it moving a bit. Depending on when lockdown is finished will very much depend on clearing stock. I'm keeping positive as all my stock is very affordable, and therefore sellable, in the current times."

Lorna said she has taken a further hit by absorbing postage costs, adding: "That encourages online sales.

"It's also important to me to keep interacting with customers, which is why I post on social media."

Aileen Wilson, owner of bridal and formal wear boutique Blush, on Belfast's Lisburn Road, said she has cancelled new orders to prevent a pile-up of summer stock during this period of trading uncertainty.

She said: "Fortunately, our spring/summer stock had arrived in early January, so we had a really strong two-and-a-half months of selling, both instore and online. We do have a little bit of stock in store that is available to buy online currently, with a 20% discount, which we have promoted on our social media, however we are only selling a little here and there.

"We've also cancelled our high summer orders, so we won't have any more deliveries until we are receiving autumn/winter. Hopefully by that stage we will be back trading again.

"I really hope that when this is over that the communities will support small local independents."

Designer Ruedi Maguire, who runs his own label of bridal and formal wear, with specific made-to-measure pieces, said his work "came to a standstill" as Covid-19 cancelled special events. He is now making free scrubs for medical staff from his design studio and store on the Lisburn Road.

He said: "My business has slowed dramatically over the last month to literally nothing. This was a huge blow as the month of February was my best to date. I rely heavily on wedding wear and bridal, and as almost all weddings have been postponed until the end of year or later next year, it has meant that my studio has come to a standstill for now.

"However, I'm confident that when we resume some kind of normality, business will boom again and people will flock back to get their RUEDI dresses."

Belfast Telegraph