The tale of Aaina Jain and her business, Blu & Blue, illustrates the devastating impact of the pandemic on boutique apparel makers. (Credit: Blu & Blue)
The tale of Aaina Jain and her business, Blu & Blue, illustrates the devastating impact of the pandemic on boutique apparel makers. (Credit: Blu & Blue)

Aaina Jain didn’t mince words about the effects of coronavirus on her life and livelihood.

“Covid-19 is the worst crisis we’ve experienced in a generation,” she says. “It’s not only impacted our business — it’s our community that’s impacted by it.”

The business, Blu & Blue, is a New-York-based kids’ fashion brand launched in 2015 that grew to cater to several hundred stores worldwide. She launched as an offshoot of a family manufacturing company that’s been in operation for decades. But her company made its own mark by earning celebrity endorsements from singers Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce, and rapper Ludacris, she says. That helped people “see the quality in the brand, see the value in it.”

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This was before 2020. Now, Jain says the firm has been “majorly hit” by the pandemic — especially as a business without an e-commerce site. That means her revenue comes from the stores that she helps stock. But of course, amid the coronavirus crisis, “stores are closing down, [and] buyers don’t have budgets.” 

‘It’s Hit Everybody’

This past February, Jain says the company was already “completely booked” for the upcoming holiday season. Then came March, and the onset of a pandemic that brought the world to a screeching halt — and Blu & Blue to a critical low point in its history. 

The situation today is pretty bleak. At least 40 percent of future orders placed with both Blu & Blue and her family’s manufacturing operation have been cancelled, amounting to between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in losses, Jain says. There have also been shipping complications, she adds, with “goods that were in transit via sea or air … lying around in ports,” left there by stores who were unable to pay for it.

And now, of course, there are “hardly any” orders for Blu & Blue to fulfill for the upcoming holiday season — some are still being placed, she adds, but far less than in previous years.

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Jain says she understands — that “for a lot of buyers, it’s not in their hands.” A recent report from Moody’s affirms what she’s seeing from the store owners she works with — the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have greatly accelerated an already occurring shift in the public from preferring in-person to online shopping, leaving brick-and-mortar sellers in the dust.

To make matters worse for Jain, remaining orders must be met by a diminished workforce. In March, her family’s factories had to close down — they remained that way until May. Now, workers are only brought in on rotating schedules to maintain proper social distancing. And anyone working is required to undergo temperature checks and wear protective equipment.

As Jain notes, “It’s hit everybody.”

‘We’re In Survival Mode’

Jain is doing her best to stay positive, looking to Spring 2021 for hope and possible opportunities — mostly by seeking new partnerships with stores. She’s gotten some signed on, but it’s tough going. “Nobody wants to take a risk or try anybody new,” she’s found.

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She’s also spending plenty of time keeping the parents who still look for and purchase her clothing reassured of its safety, reminding them that each garment is tested rigorously and made of fabrics sourced from Italy and Japan. 

But those holiday orders are still at a minimum — and retail experts are not bullish about how apparel sellers in particular will fare this year. Plus, because so many students are learning remotely, back-to-school budgets went toward necessary tech tools rather than new wardrobes.

Jain is carrying on — she’s still been able to drum up new business, she says, and still has loyal customers seeking out stores selling her wares. But she admits bluntly that “we’re in survival mode at the moment. And that’s what it’ll be for 2020, at least. Everything is at a standstill.” 

But, she adds, “We are still here.”

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