Luxury fashion meccas Harrolds and Incu close their doors

As the government continues to delay decisions over lockdown, two of Australia's most popular menswear retailers have decided to take matters into their own hands and close their doors. For now.

Luxury boutique Harrolds and streetwear emporium Incu have both announced that they will no longer operate their bricks and mortar stores while the current social distancing measures are in place.

"This was a really hard decision to make but it's also the only one we could have done," says Incu co-founder Brian Wu.

"Staff wanted to keep working , as this is obviously their livelihood, but we also had to put safety first."

Despite retail being considered an essential service and advised to remain open, customers weren't coming in says Wu.

"We are in this limbo where we've got him telling people to stay home and that it's not safe to be out but at the same time our shops are meant to be open.

"The thing for me is that it has put the onus back on the retailer to make the decisions, which is what we've managed to do. We don't have traffic, we are not an essential service, and people are not coming in. We as a collective need to lockdown. If we do that earlier, we can get out of it sooner."

It was a similar frustration felt by Harrolds' managing director Ross Poulakis.

​"As a family-run business, the health, safety and wellbeing of our valued customers and dedicated and loyal staff are of paramount importance to us," says Poulakis.

Advertisement

"The messaging from the government has lacked simple and clear language which is what the public and businesses are struggling with. How can hairdressers which the government have considered an essential service maintain the social distancing rule of 1.5 metres? How do you interact with customers in a store trying on clothes and then take payments without getting closer than 1.5 metres?"

But while both Poulakis and Wu are confident that their brands have the digital presence and loyal clientele that will ensure they will be able to continue trading online, Wu admits that other stores and some smaller local brands will struggle in the coming months.

"I think the difficult thing for some retailers will be that lack of online presence – they just rely on their stores and you're going to see a lot of stores unfortunately closing.

"Sometimes your best ideas come out when your backs against the wall…We're talking about live chat and video content with staff members. Even though our stores might be closed we are trying to bring that store environment into people's homes."

For luxury boutique Harrolds, the recent launch of their e-commerce platform is a saving grace during this uncertain time.

With stores in the Gold Coast, Melbourne, and Sydney, Harrolds has become a byword for top end luxury menswear. Tom Ford, Givenchy, Valentino, Thom Browne, and Australian brands Song for the Mute and Christian Kimber could all be found on their rails.

The team at Harrolds confirm they are already investing in expanding their online offering to include virtual styling and more video content while keeping clients informed of new brands and product via their Journal.

According to Wu, people should be prepared to see even more of their favourite fashion retailers across Sydney and Melbourne to shut their doors independent of government guidelines as they prepare for further uncertainty.

"Obviously we want to make sure we still get our message across to customers," says Wu.

"The most important thing for us is to look after the staff, and we are trying to get them as much work where possible be it in the warehouse or stocktake. Anything they can still safely do."

For many retailers, the main priority right now seems to be surviving. Although, as other companies take extreme measures in their attempts to save their brand, Incu and Harrolds have said for now they are determined to retain their respective teams in some format.

Poulakis is confident that the retail industry can survive, but not without some adaptions that could change how stores and customers interact.

"The retail industry can most definitely bounce back, and it will.

"The timeframe is uncertain, but I am extremely confident this will pass. It [COVID-19] had a beginning and it must have an end. Once that occurs, we will be ready... Retail will be back bigger and stronger. That being said, forget about returning to the old style of retail. Businesses need to be innovative to ensure they are adapting to the needs and desires of consumers post COVID-19. They will need to implement new experiences to reengage relationships with existing clients and engage with new clients. "