When the MCO in Malaysia was first announced in mid-March, businesses panicked.
Limitations and public safety concerns presented challenges business owners never saw coming, let alone so quickly. While some businesses were fortunate enough and able to pivot in time, others just couldn’t say afloat in the weeks to come, which includes many establishments in the F&B industry.
E-commerce remained hopeful. Many companies used the lockdown period to strengthen their online presence and rethink strategies moving forward. A brand that stood out in these times was Wanderlust+Co, a Kuala Lumpur-based international brand of jewellery founded a decade ago by Jenn Low.
In this exclusive interview, Jenn shares the up’s and down’s of her business during the MCO, and how Wanderlust+Co is gearing up for the future:
The last two months have been full of unexpected changes, and the MCO was definitely one of them. We noticed the pandemic and its effects in China, and started looking into our 2020 forecasts but definitely did not anticipate the magnitude of the situation as we now know it.
It’s pretty surreal looking back, as we received the government MCO mandate mid-March, and quickly organised for our entire team to work from home. We’ve since made endless pivots to our launches and campaign strategies as well as day-to-day operations. Every day, for the first month, was full of unexpected changes – one of them being our 3PL warehouse shutting down with 24 hours notice. We had to adjust our shipping time frame on the website, to ensure that we’re hitting our delivery promises to our customers around the world, whilst ensuring that our team is working safely on a rotational roster, with proper social distancing and sanitisation methods in place.
Meanwhile, from a home life perspective, having two kids under the age of three whilst working from home, has kept things interesting to say the least! We got into a good rhythm after the first two to three weeks, and I am now really thankful to have found a new normal as a working mum — to still spend quality time with them, and bring a happy vibe to their little world, whilst being there for my team and achieving as much of our weekly and monthly KPI work goals as possible.
We are privileged to have a brand voice and a listening audience. During this time, we took the opportunity to reiterate our brand values to stand by our community and amplify ways to stay positive, hopeful and grounded while staying safely at home. We added a lot of lifestyle content and feel good messages to our social media and website content — and realised that as a brand, we were lucky to have a voice to share more than just products and new launches. It was nice to be able to make a social impact and as a digitally native brand and business, be able to do all of this from home.
From an operational perspective, we had our reservations about meeting shipping timelines, as most flights were grounded due to COVID-19. Thankfully, our shipping partner FedEx, has a strong infrastructure in place that has helped us meet global delivery timelines in spite of the crisis.
It’s been an interesting time to be introspective and reflective about everything that is going on. There wasn’t anything specific I learned from other businesses, but instead through the constant changes, I found myself embracing unexpected challenges. Some days will be harder than others but above it all, allow yourself a mental break if you are working harder than usual. We tend to be so hard on ourselves as entrepreneurs, and take so much upon ourselves, but with the work-from-home setup, the line between home/work can be blurred, so it’s important to be able to call it a day, honour the work you’ve done, and allow yourself rest before coming back at it again tomorrow.
One of the things I’ve spent most of my time on is to be the chief encourager to my team. I’ve found that over communicating rather than under communicating is the way to go. It’s a difficult time for so many, and most people have a lot on their minds, from the safety of their families, to their job security, so it’s important to have open conversations to assure them and keep their spirits lifted. I also made a point to send team members surprise treats or call them just to check in on them.
Being a digital brand, most decisions are driven by data. During this time, we took the time to deep-dive into our forecasts and use numbers from our traffic report, bounce rates and the spending patterns of our consumer to formulate daily decisions.
My team has been taking it all in stride, and the stress of changes aside, I dare say we have surprised ourselves on how resilient and creative we can be, and how much change we can drive when we come together, committed as one.
It’s super important to step outside of ourselves and also have compassion for what everyone else might be facing during this time. My team and I made a point to check in on our brand partners often, during this time. We sent self-love club cakes accompanied by handwritten personalised letters, to friends of the brand who have been so supportive of our journey so far, as a little pick-me-up during this challenging time.
We also made it a priority to stay connected digitally with our global audience. In honor of our self-love month, we launched a series of Instagram Live sessions hosted on our Instagram to engage with customers in a relatable manner during the global lockdown. We partnered with different creatives to host live sessions on yoga, at-home styling tips, illustration 101, along with Q&A sessions surrounding wellness, positivity and sparking joy. Apart from the Instagram Live sessions, our digital team also created Instagram story templates and filters, as well as GIFs to contribute to a healthy conversation around self-care and reflection.
Being a digitally native brand, there is a huge emphasis on our purpose and mission. I think that consumers have evolved from just wanting to purchase things that look good on the outside, to wanting to be sure that their purchase is contributing to something more meaningful. Everything within the brand is very intentional – from why a design looks the way it does, the copy that accompanies a campaign, visuals and captions on social media, all the way to how our customer service representative responds to a query. In this age of retailing, it is important to build a brand with a solid core and make decisions that are authentic to that. Challenges will always be aplenty, but it’s much easier operating from a core purpose.
The fashion industry has had a huge wake up call with this pandemic – having to slow down and reevaluate its methods, and rethink how it engages the global community and its audience in general. My team and I were moved by the way global communities came together in the wake of the outbreak and were inspired to translate that light and hope into our jewelry. With that, we designed and dedicated our new Le Monde Tarot necklace to the frontliners of the health crisis. Through our social campaign, we gifted the Le Monde Necklace to frontliners to express our appreciation for their brave and humble service that keeps us safe. My hope is for us to be able to look back at this time, and be proud that we did our best, finding new ways to be creative, productive and producing thoughtful content and products that really matter in the world, instead of for the sake of it.
The market is changing as we speak – from how people are consuming, to social movements like #blacklivesmatter. I believe that society and the fashion industry will continue to evolve into a new normal and I see that as a positive thing. The less we resist change, the sooner we are able to be better for our communities, our businesses and everyone around us.
There’s been an obvious spike in the business of essential goods but I’m inspired by what the pandemic is doing to non-essentials goods because it forces brands to reevaluate what they’re putting out there in the world. Businesses that have an advantage are those that have a social purpose and genuinely want to spread joy and optimism through their brand and voice. They are able to pull at the heartstrings of the consumer while having a strong understanding of e-commerce.