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‘Quarantine jeans’ and athleisure: How clothing retailers are adapting to pandemic life

October 14, 2020, 11:00 PM UTC

The pandemic era has been tough on clothing makers as many people trade in their office and going-out clothes for sweats and slippers. This challenge has extended to the likes of Stitch Fix, which sends outfits to customers’ homes picked by a stylist, and Good American, a company backed by Khloe Kardashian that specializes in women’s denim.

Speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen summit, Stitch Fix president Elizabeth Spaulding said the pandemic has led the company to “lean hard into casual wear and athleisure” to reflect many people’s new lifestyle.

Spaulding also acknowledged that Stitch Fix has faced hard times, but said that the company is recovering. In June, the retailer announced a plan to lay off 1,400 employees, though the company has said this was part of a strategy to hire stylists in other, lower-cost regions. Spaulding also said its third quarter earnings would have been positive but for supply chain disruptions, and that August saw Stitch Fix’s highest rate of growth since the company went public in 2017. (The company later clarified that the growth referred to new client demand.)

Good American, meanwhile, saw the COVID outbreak put a major kink into its ambitions to launch a swimwear line. But the pandemic also brought an unexpected marketing boost as women began to refer to its denim pants—which are designed to adapt to women’s changing bodies—as “quarantine jeans.”

The company’s CEO, Emma Grede, told the virtual audience that navigating the pandemic has required the retailer to be good at “pivoting” and, especially, to listen to its customers’ changing preferences.

For Christina Stembel, the CEO of bouquet delivery service Farmgirl Flowers, the pandemic has been especially personal—not only did she have to furlough hundreds of workers, but she had to battle the disease herself over the course of six hard weeks. She has responded in part by providing biweekly COVID tests for all of the company’s employees—a process that has proved expensive, but one she feels is essential to providing a safe workplace.

One CEO who saw a benefit from the pandemic was Nicole Gibbons, whose company Clare lets consumers order paint for their homes. While Clare has benefited from the uptick in DIY during the pandemic, Gibbons has also had to make tough choices, including giving up the company’s office lease to preserve capital amid broad uncertainty.

Gibbons also addressed the other major challenge companies have faced this year: race. As a Black CEO, Gibbons said she has made an extra effort to provide resources and ideas on social media at a time when many companies have done little more than issue the same series of statements.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify information around Stitch Fix’s layoffs and growth.