J. Crew sells out of face masks in less than a day
Struggling apparel companies are finding a glimmer of a silver lining in the sale of face masks. Early on in the pandemic, brands such as Gap and Eddie Bauer quickly pivoted their supply chains from pants and blouses to creating protective gear for frontline health care workers and customers. Smaller independent brands, including trendy apron maker Hedley & Bennett, followed, often offering buy-one-donate-one deals. On Monday, J. Crew and its sister brand Madewell joined the fray by advertising packages of three masks made in their popular gingham and stripe patterns. “Madewell masks are here. We took our time to get them just right,” read one email the brand sent out on Tuesday morning.
Both brands’ products sold out in less than a day, proving that there is still demand for some clothing during the coronavirus pandemic—even if it’s not the signature denim and seersucker looks that have been J. Crew’s bread and butter.
On Tuesday morning, the product page on J. Crew’s site for the nonmedical face masks advised consumers to “Please check back for a restock soon.” Sales were limited to two per customer. A spokeswoman did not immediately reply to an inquiry about the timing of a restock, even as consumers lamented the short supply on social media.
Banana Republic, the Gap Inc.-owned clothing brand that has tried to adapt to universal lockdowns by advertising “video chat” accessories, has also run out of the masks it is selling to consumers. A note on the brand’s site says “Sold out. For now” and adds that new masks will be available in May.
While sales of face masks are not going to move the needle financially, the product could be helpful in keeping apparel brands top of mind at a time when few customers are buying more than food and essentials.
“It’s been a way for these companies to stay in business and just stay relevant,” says Gabriella Santaniello, founder of retail research firm A Line Partners, noting that selling essential products like face masks is a way for brands to keep employees engaged and maintain some operations. Selling face masks could also increase traffic to sites, opening the door for other transactions.
“It's something of a halo effect—people will go on the site and look for masks. If they’re offering compelling discounts, they will possibly continue to shop,” says Santaniello. Brands like J. Crew and Banana Republic, already struggling with sales before the pandemic, could certainly use the boost.
Overall, retail sales fell in March by 8.7 percent—the biggest decline since 1992, according to the Commerce Department. The plummet was led by apparel: Clothing stores recorded a 50.5 percent drop in sales in the month.