How the intimate apparel industry plans to overcome COVID-19

Inner Secrets Lingerie was established in 2005 by mother and son team Penny and Dimitri Parolis, who over the years have carved a presence in the local market by selling beautifully crafted heritage brands of lingerie, shapewear and swimwear. The company has grown tremendously since 2015 and have created numerous job opportunities for local women who have been trained in the art of corsetry, and now boast some of the finest corsetieres in the country.

 

However, being deemed a non-essential item for the most part of lockdown, the COVID-19 crisis had a significant impact causing the lingerie business to shrink dramatically. Even with the movement to level three lockdown on 01 June, which allowed retailers to operate again – a question asked is what does the future hold for the lingerie industry particularly a SME, like Inner Secrets Lingerie?

 

E-Commerce:

“We have had to look at ways of reinventing ourselves. We shifted a lot of our focus to our online store in terms of stock refreshment and general functionalities to make the user experience more pleasurable and as a result we have managed to see significant growth in this sector of our business” says Dimitri Parolis, Co-Founder of Inner Secrets Lingerie.

“Many existing and new clients started using our online portal and we are pleased with the growth in online sales and continuity of their custom, especially in these trying times.”

Whilst this is progress in one regard, it is not enough to sustain the entire business which also consists of three brick-and-mortar stores and an Outlet store. The challenge now is to regain the client’s confidence to shop in-store again. Whilst Inner Secrets Lingerie have taken all measures to be compliant with recommended COVID-19 hygiene and sanitation protocols, it will be a slow process to regain the customers trust for in-store shopping, especially something as intimate in nature as lingerie.

 

Virtual Experiences:

“We have certainly had to look at our processes, streamline our retail channel and offer new experiential online encounters for our customers such as online fittings. What we have realised is that women love the one on one attention, the nurturing and the sharing of information that comes with a professional fitting conducted in our store. There is real relevance in what we do, so we have had to adapt and offer this service as best we can in a virtual format.” Says Dimitri.

 

Virtual Shopping:

“Offering a personalised, professional and friendly service we are proud of is paramount to the ethos of our business and our staff walk this talk” adds Penny Parolis, Co-Founder of Inner Secrets Lingerie. As a result they have also introduced a virtual shopping experience whereby the staff will engage with customers via video call and walk them through the store to view products, showcase what is new and allow purchases via EFT with a 48 hour dispatch timeline. “Only our core essential garments and best sellers are online at the moment, which is why this virtual shopping experience is so important.”

 

Responsible Marketing:
There is no textbook, but finding relevance in customers’ lives is now as important as ever.  Understanding the customer’s mental space is essential and structuring positive messages on social media that resonate with them in these times is valuable.

 

Social Distancing and Sanitation:

“We believe there is a solution for everyone and when we meet with a client in our fitting room, it is the start of a very personal and intimate relationship, between them and us” claims Penny. To adhere to social distancing rules and regulations, the in-store experience has been adapted in the following ways: Screening of staff daily, supplying staff with masks, visors and gloves and disposing of gloves after each use when conducting a personalised fitting. All garments that are fitted will be steamed and rested for 48 hours before being placed back on the shelves, fitting rooms will be sanitised after each fitting and each store will be sanitized at regular intervals throughout the day including floors, rails, countertops and all equipment. All customers are also requested to wear masks and should they not have one on hand, a complimentary mask will be provided.

 

“We continue to strive in offering an uplifting experience both for the soul and psyche of women in South Africa, both online and offline. We cannot predict the future nor begin to realise the full repercussions of COVID-19 on our business and the intimate apparel industry in general but we will continue to take each day one step at a time as we adjust to our new normal” says Penny.