For Small Business Spotlight, Vogue will be spotlighting an independent fashion business every weekend—and the brilliant finds you can shop to support their bottom lines.
Like so many other designers, Tabitha Simmons, the shoe designer whose multi-faceted career has spanned years working as a stylist and a Vogue contributing editor, has been spending much of her time thinking about what the landscape of fashion will look like once the current COVID-19 crisis is finally over. “I can’t work out which way it’s going to go,” she says over the phone from her home in New York City. “Will people be wanting to put on a pair of heels after spending the last few months in sneakers and slippers? Or will we all be thinking about fashion differently when this all finishes?”For Simmons herself, the answer is obvious: “Of course I would love to put on something special after this is all over—but for now, I can only dream!”
Since launching her eponymous shoe line in 2009, her pieces have become both cult favorites and celebrity mainstays, blending classic silhouettes with color, embellishment, and a very English sense of whimsy. (Simmons originally grew up in Cambridgeshire, but moved to New York over a decade ago.) Her career consulting for brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Swarovski, and Equipment has seen her wear many hats and she channels that eclecticism into the charming, off-beat shoes that have now become her primary day-to-day project.
It’s this versatility that has allowed her to adapt to the crisis with level-headed pragmatism, whether that’s sending samples to be photographed in Hong Kong (one of the few places where photography studios are still running) or running a socially-distanced skeleton crew out of a New Jersey warehouse. “We really just have to take things week by week,” she says. “We have a very small team, so in that respect, we’ve been really lucky—we haven’t had to furlough anyone, and we can keep supporting the people that are working for us. Everyone counts right now.”
The real challenge, however, has been keeping production ticking along for the upcoming seasons, given her shoes are crafted in Italy and Spain, both COVID-19 hotspots that have seen their garment industries crippled by the current lockdowns. “I want to support everyone within our network, especially the factories—many of them are family-run and you want them to stay in business, too. It’s so important to make sure these places survive, and that their artisanal craft is kept alive.”
Aside from her daily catch-ups with the team, Simmons is kept busy at home by her three children, all of whom are currently being schooled from home via video. “That is one of the tougher aspects of all of this—usually you’d go into work and focus on that, which makes it easier to separate in a way, but now both my husband and I are on conference calls a lot of the time, and my daughter tends to go a bit feral—I’ll be on an important Zoom meeting and she’ll run in and say, ‘Let me have a look!’” Simmons’ greatest source of amusement during lockdown is equally relatable. “I really want to just say thank you Houseparty! It’s been a great tool to check in with friends, we’ll sometimes have a virtual cocktail party at 7 p.m. and do quizzes together.” (She also cites building a Lego model of the Star Wars Death Star with her son as her greatest achievement in quarantine.)
How the current lockdown will reshape the future of the Tabitha Simmons brand remains to be seen, but the designer has already been thinking about how it could force changes more broadly within the industry for the better. “I think the collections may end up being smaller, and we’ll be looking at things very, very differently,” she says. “I think fashion became a kind of race, and I’m not sure who the race was against or what they were trying to win, but it just got faster and faster. It put so much pressure on all of these designers, with so much product out there. I’ve never wanted to make shoes that feel throwaway, or are just for one season. When you used to buy shoes, you would buy them for life, and I would love to return to that, where people are constantly moving onto the next thing. It would be nice to see fashion slow down in terms of creativity and product, and buy things you’ll keep until they’re worn out.”
Her advice to other designers currently weathering the storm of COVID-19 is essentially a reminder of just how lucky we are to be in the privileged position of being able to work and explore our creativity from home in the first place; or indeed, to be able to work at all. “For me, I’m just trying to stay really positive and remember that I’m lucky to be healthy and that my family is healthy,” she adds. “When my children get up in the morning to do a virtual class, I remind them to be thankful. There are so many people out there on the frontlines who are working so hard to save so many people, and can’t even see their families right now, so you have to remain grateful and just to try keeping going.”