customers unboxing products from their judy emergency preparedness kit
JUDY urges its customers to be prepared for emergencies, but no one, not even the JUDY team, expected or was prepared for a global pandemic, said co-founder Simon Huck. — Judy

Key Takeaways:

  • Having clearly defined core values can guide brands during a crisis.
  • The pandemic prompted plus-size luxury brand Henning to pivot to on-demand manufacturing.
  • Emergency prep kit brand JUDY halted its ads and focused on being a trusted information hub in response to the pandemic.

Imagine you’ve just launched a new brand when a global crisis puts your company, and the world, on pause. What do you do?

If you’re Lauren Chan, founder of plus-size luxury fashion line Henning, or Simon Huck, co-founder of emergency preparedness kit retailer JUDY, you think long and hard about your brand’s reason for being, and you double down on it, while pivoting to adapt to new realities.

Chan and Huck were “able to make changes quickly because they’re crystal clear on what their brand stands for,” Emily Heyward, co-founder and chief brand officer at Red Antler and author of “Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love From Day One,” told CO—.

Heyward, Chan and Huck were featured speakers at the recent National Retail Federation virtual conference, participating in a panel discussion on “Pivoting with Purpose.”

Heyward, who moderated the discussion, told CO— in an interview after the conference that the pandemic, while presenting unusual challenges, has created unique opportunities for startups.

Red Antler, a leading branding company known for its work with direct-to-consumer startups, assisted Chan and Huck as they were creating their brands.

Instead of producing garments in advance and hoping they sell, “we’re going to learn about our customer better, and make what she wants.”

Lauren Chan, founder, Henning

An emergency they didn’t expect

JUDY, which sells customizable emergency kits with digital support services, debuted in January 2020. (The founders named it JUDY because the name Judy made them think of that type of friend who is dependable, a parent figure and good in emergencies.) The brand was just weeks old when the COVID-19 outbreak became a pandemic.

JUDY urges its customers to be prepared for emergencies, but no one, not even the JUDY team, expected or was prepared for a global pandemic, Huck told the NRF audience.

One immediate problem was what to do with the stockpile of N95 medical-grade masks JUDY had purchased pre-pandemic to include in its kits for protection from wildfire smoke. Businesses at the time were being asked to make the desperately needed masks available to medical workers and JUDY donated its entire inventory to the New York City Health Department.

The second decision JUDY made was to shut down all of its product advertising and to focus on COVID-19 and pandemic education.

“From our perspective, if you’re sitting at your phone and you’re hunkered down, and you see an ad for an emergency kit, suddenly you feel that comes off as opportunistic,” Huck said. “So even though we have investors and stakeholders and we’re running a business, we had to turn all of that off and really become a hub of credibility and information.”

JUDY also began donating an eight-piece emergency kit to a family in need for every JUDY kit sold. Those donations meant a big investment on the part of the company, Huck said, “but it really has now become the driving force of our business.”

 woman modeling a luxury suit from plus-size luxury fashion line, Henning.
Plus-size luxury fashion line Henning has pivoted to an on-demand model, placing its focus on learning about what its customer wants. — Henning

A plus-size pivot

Lauren Chan is a plus-size model and a former fashion writer and editor who launched Henning in 2019 to give plus-size women access to high-quality, fashion-forward merchandise. She was gearing up to unveil her Spring 2020 collection when the pandemic put the entire fashion industry on hold.

As the industry and much of the country ground to a halt, Chan decided to double down on the core principles that made her found Henning – sustainability, timeless essentials, quality and local manufacturing.

Henning has pivoted to an on-demand model, with all of its merchandise made in this country. Instead of producing garments in advance and hoping they sell, “we’re going to learn about our customer better, and make what she wants,” Chan said. “If the jean doesn’t sell, or the sweater doesn’t sell, you move on,” she said.

The JUDY and Henning pivots demonstrate “there’s no substitute for a highly engaged and passionate founder,” Heyward told CO—, describing Chan and Huck.

While 2020 was tough for all businesses, it also created opportunities, Heyward said.

“It was a year when all traditions, routines, and assumptions got thrown out the window, which is actually a great time for a new business to enter someone’s life,” she said. “At a time when people are questioning everything, it’s a great opportunity to be the answer.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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