The twists and turns of our pandemic journey
Author Sheree Gotuaco
The twists and turns of our pandemic journey
MY TURN - Sheree Gotuaco (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2020 - 12:00am

I cannot forget the day of March 17, a Tuesday. That morning, everything was paralyzed; no one could go out and move around. That was the very first day of the government-imposed lockdown. Our employees who attempted to go to work could not find any ride at all. I was grateful and relieved that we called for a general meeting the day before to distribute washable masks to our employees and show short medical video clips about COVID prevention to dispel any myths that might instill unnecessary fear in them.

But, what to do now? I felt very unsettled and helpless as I saw everything freeze around me. My Mancomm, whom I call “Rocketship,” had our group call to assess what do to next. We tried to see how to get the wheels moving despite the lockdown.

Freeway x Cesar Legaspi, 2017

As the days passed, we saw that our employees who lived nearby could walk to work and we could have our vehicle pick up other essential employees with our company car. This gave us a semblance of normalcy, albeit very baby steps. Even if everyone could not physically see me, I kept in touch with the whole company by recording three-minute video messages that I would share with our company Viber group every other week, reminding them to be careful and prudent with expenses, as I updated them on company activities.

We finished the remaining tasks at hand, as we had to put other functions and client orders on hold. I wanted to help the community in our own small way, so we checked the inventory of fabrics that we had. Our designers created a comfortable washable mask design that my small team produced and donated to hospitals like Makati Medical, Cardinal Santos, UST Hospital, and others. From there, Makati Medical liked our donation, as it passed their strict autoclaving standards, so they ordered 3,000 pieces for their medical staff. This started the spark of our pivot.

The following week, we decided to offer well-designed PPE hazmats, booties, face shields and safety essentials to our clients and other entities.  I estimated that we would just need one factory to fulfill these needs, but we could not keep up with the demand, so we had to expand to six factories in the span of a few weeks.

Freeway x BenCab, 2016

We had to purchase hundreds of rolls of fabric in hiding while evading authorities, because the Divisoria wholesale market was closed.  I am grateful for my small bunch of street-smart team members who made this happen. We were able to ship all these PPE essentials nationwide, from Baguio to Cagayan de Oro, as they were urgently needed by hospitals and other corporations for donations.

After serving these entities, I saw that a lot of consumers did not have direct access to well-curated safety items that they needed for their families. By then, I had already collected a good roster of PPE suppliers along the way, so I thought of creating a website as an easy resource for our clients. My tech team rushed to create the website “ppe.stylistinpocket.com” in three weeks.

On June 6, we went live. Our PPE website offers a wide variety of well-curated items, from alcohol to UV sanitizers. We added fun, exclusive items such as our National Artist Series washable masks with the works of HR Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Vicente Manansala and others to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Center of the Philippines this year.

Freeway National Artists Collectors Series face masks with CCP (from top) Cesar Legaspi’s “Games For Three,”Raul Isidro’s “Festival,” H.R. Ocampo’s “Genesis,” Vicente Manansala’s “Reverse Mother & Child” and Cid Reyes’ “Volta Redonda”

Our latest effort to help address our clients’ pain points during this pandemic is to roll out our mobile-friendly Health Monitoring Technology, which allows corporations to monitor their employees’ symptoms and conditions, while being able to generate reports and pull up any historical data needed for compliance with the Department of Health. We developed this technology for our own internal needs, so I thought, why not share it with others?

Looking back, it has been quite a journey for us. Coming from a brick-and-mortar background, with our brands Freeway, Ensembles and Solo, we have transitioned to fashion technology by setting up Stylist in Pocket Technologies (www.stylistinpocket.com) exactly four years ago. Back then, I could see the writing on the wall — that traditional retail would be challenged, as it was the trend in developed countries like the US, Europe, Singapore and others.

Since its inception, Stylist in Pocket has used technology to solve the pain points of our consumers in dressing up. We initially started by using curation to help recommend the best-match clothing for clients who have no time. We were able to help thousands and thousands of clients with different personal and professional challenges manage their time, image and confidence.

As we began to service a wider base of clientele, we developed our patented Uniform Management Technology, which is a contactless way to collect employee measurements in order to recommend the best size fit. Our Philippine patent has been granted, while our US patent application on this is pending. We have had corporate clients that benefited from this, as it has always been a struggle for them to provide employee uniforms painlessly. I can envision this technology helping countless corporations beyond our country’s borders.

Acetate face shield and 3-ply surgical mask

The twists and turns of our own journey are something I could not have predicted. I only knew that we should try the new idea in front of us without much hesitation. I credit the fast action to my motivated team, whom I took pains assembling and sometimes purging. Culture is very important to me, and having motivated, down-to-earth team members — without any divas — is a must. It only takes one patch of resistance to increase the friction of your momentum in moving forwards.

The current pandemic has affected many industries, including ours. The length of time this has taken is something that is unexpected and unprecedented. It is now six months and counting. Many habits have been shed and developed, many new routines created and adapted, many technologies have become replacements for human connection, and countless other disruptions.

Kiddie face shield

With this worldwide historical event, I believe that there will be things that will be forever changed, just like evolution. Aptly, this reminds me of Charles Darwin’s theory, “It is not the strongest nor the most intelligent of the species that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Face visor
Alcochains
Digital thermometer and oximeters
Sani keys
Automatic dispenser

* * *

For details, see www.stylistinpocket.com. For ppe products, ppe.stylistinpocket.com. For retail stores, freeway.ph.

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