Lockdown Stories is a series of short interviews with creative entrepreneurs and businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Since its beginnings, the main goal of Future Positive has been to share inspiring projects happening all around the world and, during these strange and difficult times for independent businesses and creators, we want to continue providing support and visibility. If you’d like to be featured in this series, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your story.
Earl of East
Lifestyle brand, started in 2014 by partners Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin, with 3 multi-concept stores in London, alongside their own home fragrance, bath, and body line, which is manufactured in-house.
Location: London, UK
When did the lockdown start for you and how has your business been affected?
Things really start to change in early March. As Covid-19 began spreading worldwide, we first felt the effects in our flagship store in Coal Drops Yard, as footfall started to decrease. However, it was on the 19th of March when we made the decision to close the stores, just a few days before the official lockdown as we felt the need to protect our staff and customers.
All three store locations have been closed since, and as a result so has our program of workshops and events, which are a major part of our business. We have been able to continue with online, and with manufacturing, although on a much more reduced scale. We have since furloughed around 60% of the team, creating a skeleton team to ensure core functions continue.
Have you found any new ways of working or have come up with new product ideas during this time?
We were able to pivot quickly, firstly by reaching out to corporations we have worked with previously to create client care packages, and then in the creation of our virtual workshops which are hosted through Zoom. Not only did this allow us to keep the cash flowing it also gave Niko and I real purpose whilst everything began to take a turn for the worse in terms of the spread.
We have also become much more content focussed on our site, creating a series of content called Ritual over Routine and releasing interviews. We were actually working on both before this happened but it allowed us space to really focus on this new side of the business. Working with the skeleton team, and remotely in what is usually a very much hands-on business has been difficult, but we have a good team in place and daily check-ins and clear tasks have allowed for a new structure to develop. We have really had to rethink a working week and structure our days to always include work, it’s definitely a work/life integration over ‘balance’ but it’s allowing us to stay motivated in what could be a very depressing time.
We released a collaborative project with KayK goods which is a move to a new category, it wasn’t planned to be a digital launch but we wanted to stick to our time plan, and we created some nice content for the launch. In addition to this, we are currently developing a new line, so we have been able to focus on this, and extensions to our Japanese Bathing Line which has become a best-seller in the last year and has gained particular attention in the last few weeks. We are also in the middle of a project with an agency, which is really exciting.
What are some of the positive takeaways you have experienced during this time?
As a team, we have learned a lot and become stronger, I think this can only be viewed as positive. From a business owner standpoint, we have had to face challenges and overcome something unimaginable just a few months ago, you learn a lot through difficult times and I think it has helped us to look at our company again and redefine what is really important. We have seen which areas of the business need more focus, and which are working well. We have seen a lot of traction online and with our community, that has been really positive and something we want to continue to build on.
From a personal level, Niko and I only made this business our full-time jobs last September, after five years of it being our side-hustle. We had struggled to find a real pattern of work and this has given us the space to determine that, and our actual roles and responsibilities beyond just being founders. It has also given us space to dedicate some time to ourselves, to eating right and exercise, which are essential to long-term success in all areas of life.
How do you see your business evolving over the next few months?
It’s really hard to determine right now, but what we know is that our strategy is to protect what we have and build on the great customer base we have built in the past few years.
The new normal will certainly affect our stores, we are currently making plans to change the spaces and make sure they work well for social distancing and that our team are provided with the safest environment. The structure of our events will change for the foreseeable, and we see digital events still playing a part in that schedule moving forward.
Wholesale will change but we are unsure of the ways yet, having stockists worldwide has meant we have felt the effects at different times, we have also taken on new stockists during this time and have some exciting new projects in the works. In terms of digital, our focus will remain on becoming more content-driven, we are adding a lot of new products and categories to the site, and these will roll out in-store too. We also hope to release more new products.