Gary Wassner on How The Fashion World Can Bounce Back from the COVID Crisis

by Eddie Roche

Gary Wassner CEO, Hilldun Corporation, has supported American designers for as long as we can remember. There is nobody better to check in on the state of our [fashion] world right now and get his take on our future. 

NYFW is going to be very different this year. How do you feel about the way things are playing out?
These are extraordinary times for every business. It makes no difference whether you’re in the restaurant business, entertainment, publishing, fashion, transportation, or just about any segment of the economy. We’re all affected profoundly by the disruption to the status quo. And while we, as businesspeople are dealing with the present state of affairs, we have to continue to anticipate the future and look forward creatively as well. Everything we’re experiencing is unprecedented, and we have no set game plans to refer to. Bottom line is we’re doing the best that we can. Do I like digital shows? No, not at all. To me, they represent an incomplete experience. Do I prefer being present at Fashion Week where ideas are expressed and exchanged in real time? Absolutely. But we don’t have that choice today. But what has confirmed my faith in our industry is the determination and versatility the independent brands have shown during this awful crisis. We’re all adapting to the realties of today. My personal preferences are irrelevant in the face of necessity.

How will this season impact someone like you?
For us at Hildun, what we do for independent companies has become even more of a necessity. Credit protection, cash flow support, and collections of accounts receivable keep businesses afloat. We have signed more new business in the past seven months than we could have ever anticipated, and our clients in general are much more conscious of the credit standing of the stores they are producing product for. In such an unpredictable and frightening market, intelligent protection in any form is comforting. We utilize our leverage with our retail partners to benefit our clients. And in turn, we have been able to help provide retailers with a steady stream of new and desirable product. Cash flow for everyone is critical. The last thing an independent business owner needs is more risk.

What has been the best piece of advice you’ve given the brands that you’re behind and already working with?
Preserve cash, reduce overhead, learn what’s necessary and what’s not, and be efficient. Position your company so that you reduce vulnerabilities in all the categories possible. In a global state of affairs where we all feel exposed, regain as much control as you can. While the house is on fire, the main task at hand is preservation. But there will be a future, and preparation for that cannot be neglected. Be ready to seize opportunities as they arise.

How do you think the fashion world will bounce back from the pandemic?
I believe strongly that we’ve all learned an extraordinary amount during these past nine months or so. Insight and intuition into the desires of the post-pandemic consumer will be guided by the reality of our actual current needs. People have changed. Habits have changed. Perceptions of necessity have changed. We have all had time to assess what we miss the most from the past and what we want most from the future.

What are you feeling optimistic about in fashion?
I’m always optimistic. It’s my nature. Maybe it’s my determination that leads me to accept my confirmation bias as reality. I don’t know, but I’m hopeful. We’re all forced to recognize how self-indulgent we’ve been in the fashion world and in our lives in general. What we previously took for granted—a leaner, healthier, more cooperative, and more self-aware industry—will emerge from this.

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