Lendrell Martin, ApparelMagic Grant winner, makes a pandemic playbook

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Lendrell Martin, a recipient of the ApparelMagic Grant for Emerging Designers of Color, hasn’t let quarantine go to waste. On the contrary, these past months have boosted a made-to-measure business into an ecommerce brand.

It all started for Martin with custom clothing, all luxuriously done up in fine wools, furs, and exotic leathers. With careful attention to fit and finish, he created a client base that appreciated clothing of the highest quality.

“I always love for things to fit people correctly,” Martin says. “As someone who’s five-three, that’s really important to me because I have to alter all my clothes or get them made to fit properly.”

After a decade of designing and tailoring for private clients, he has recently expanded into ready to wear you can purchase straight from his website.

“I’ve always been kind of known for these pillars of tailoring, texture, and craftsmanship,” he says. “Within the last year or two, I’ve been just focusing on what I can offer individuals for their everyday lives that would make some of my items more accessible, price-point-wise.”

It hasn’t been a straightforward business move, however. With life turned upside down, his clients have fewer occasions to dress up, and that in turn meant that Martin had to pivot.

“With the pandemic, I’m obviously thinking about what people can actually use in this time when events aren’t necessarily happening,” Martin says. “People are thinking about comfort, but also still wanting to feel slightly more elevated than athleisure, but not necessarily putting on a suit or gown.”

The big question is, what do people wear in 2020? And the answer, simply enough, was two unlikely products. People are at home more than ever before, and they’re demanding comfort, so what better than to serve them robes that can go from bedroom to beach with a chic sense of ease? And when those same customers are in public, why not give them stylish face masks with matching patterns, textures, and colors?

“I had quite a bit of time to myself for a while in these months,” Martin says, “and I just started working on some things that I loved, and I thought, ‘Alright, I’ll just put it on my website. If people like it, I may produce it.’”

And like it they did. Martin was pleasantly surprised to see orders roll in from across the country. With little PR accompanying his product launch, his only question was how so many customers found him.

“I was really surprised at the amount of interest I got just from testing these few items,” Martin says. “Particularly during a pandemic, when people aren’t working.”

Martin’s spur-of-the-moment inspiration turned out to be right on the money, proving that being quick on one’s feet is key to getting through this uncertain time.

“It was a great awakening for me as a business owner to say, ‘That idea you thought of that other weekend? Put it up. See what happens.’”

Rather than developing full collections months ahead of time and selling them through a set lookbook, Martin’s strategy is closer to the modern drop, where new products in limited quantities appear instantly and are bought up just as fast.

“This time has definitely taught me how to really focus in on testing and reacting, which is a term that we all hear,” he says, “but this pandemic has really taught me that.”

And with that knowledge, his business has a quick, inexpensive snapshot of what customers are looking for, with little danger of unsold inventory or stagnant sales.

“With allowing the market to inform my next step, it’s a slow and steady process,” Martin says. “Developing things on an as-needed basis, we’re not overspending.”

Products that gain traction give him an opportunity to go farther down that path, and ones that don’t can be quickly moved on from.

“It’s just another way of thinking in times like this,” Martin says. “The world is just operating in a different pattern and a different flow. It forces you to think about all those factors when you do certain things.”

For more information on the ApparelMagic Grant for Emerging Designers of Color, the winners, and other resources for fashion businesses, please click here.

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