Toast Strives for Online Human Connections

While many consumers have grown accustomed to staying close to home, the U.K.-based apparel company Toast is trying to keep them connected.

In an interview Friday, chief executive officer Suzie de Rohan Willner discussed how the brand is realigning during the pandemic. Online at the brand’s site, shoppers can find workshops, a magazine and podcast, as well as care tips. Launched in a farmhouse in Wales in 1997 by James and Jessica Seaton, the company, which has 18 freestanding stores, bills itself as having a social conscience.

All too familiar with how overproduction and sell-through commitments can lead to markdown products and have detrimental effects on the planet, the Toast team recently decided it would be better to reduce its collections. As of this year, the company will offer four collections instead of six. Beginning in spring 2022, Toast will offer three collections annually. The strategy has already resulted in higher sell-throughs, de Rohan Willner said.

Great consideration is given to the style, color and fabric that is used for each design to try to ensure a sense of longevity, de Rohan Willner said. The aim is to sell pieces that will stay in the buyer’s wardrobes for years.

The company has also introduced a made-to-order collection that enables production to be done on demand. With a loyal customer base around the world, including some who have bought the brand for 20 years, Toast is not expecting sales to decline due to the pandemic, de Rohan Willner said.

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Offering colors or patterns that date back 100 years is one way the brand tries to distinguish itself from others. “Our customers have really embraced us during this crisis. We have not sought to push sales. We sought to connect with our customers around the world so that they felt we’re there and fostering support for them,” de Rohan Willner said.

To that end, online workshops have been set up to give people the chance to connect as a community, “and get a little joy out of it as well, during this time.” The Toast site also has an online magazine and podcast. Through collaborations with craftspeople around the world, the brand offers special items that incorporate age-old techniques like Ikat. One of the projects is being done by a weaver, who is using dead stock yarns. The amped-up online platform is meant to boost creativity.

Toast consumers have also been buying loungewear, nightwear and homeware. Describing, online sales as “very healthy,” de Rohan Willner allowed, “Of course, we haven’t been able to overcome all of the shortfall from the closures of our shops.”

With coronavirus-related restrictions in place, shoppers are not able to visit Toast shops as they once could to sit with a seamstress if a well-worn garment needed repair or a redo. But online workshops like one about “the art of repair” have been able to accommodate as many as 300 people at one time.

Although on pause due to the pandemic, Toast Circle, clothing swap gatherings in the company’s stores, is another way to connect with customers. They are encouraged to write a story on a card that will be handed over with the Toast garment they are giving away. Speakers are invited to the events to discuss longevity, the environmental impact of the fashion industry and how individuals can help to make a difference. The ceo said, “We’re feeding people’s minds, as we’re able to do this lovely storytelling in exchange for clothing.”

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