It is no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted lives in ways that are unimaginable. Whilst we can all hope to navigate through this unsettling time, there are many people who mourn friends, family and loved ones, and the impact of Covid-19 will never be forgotten.
Not only has this pandemic affected our personal lives, it has also disrupted schools, businesses and whole economies — and we at Grass-fields have been no stranger to the knock on effects of this turbulent turn of events.
Over the years we’ve had the pleasure of growing Grass-fields from a tiny Etsy store, selling a couple of items a month, to a brand that’s proud to deliver bold prints and be in the wardrobes of people across the globe. However these stunning prints and our beautiful models bringing them to life on Instagram can detract from the fact that behind the brand you know as Grass-fields sit human beings who have their own stories of struggle, failure and success.
Michele gave birth to a beautiful baby girl during the peak of this pandemic, and whilst she was alone in the hospital dealing with birth complications I, Christelle, had to manage the business alone.
Although the virus is still wreaking havoc across the world, I am lucky that it has eased where I am so I feel that now is the best time for me to be completely transparent and articulate the impact that Covid-19 has had on Grass-fields, myself and my twin Michele, and the lives of those closest to the brand.
The Event that Never Happened
2020 was going to be the year we took Grass-fields to the streets of London. We wanted to be able to meet you all — in person. We wanted to tell you the stories behind the prints you wear and give you a full African experience.
We had a perfect venue, live music, African caterers, performances and exclusive drops — it had all been booked to immerse you into the world of prints. After 9 months of planning everything was ready, we’d even started to showcase a few of the grand plans, and just as we’d confirmed the last piece of the puzzle... Covid-19 hit. The excitement in the office instantly turned into fear and panic.
Our number one priority was the health and safety of our customers and staff. Everyday we heard stories of the virus spreading further and further and infection rates were rising more quickly than anyone could predict, there was no question but to cancel. And the cost of cancelling? £40,000 (about $52,000). This hit us hard, but couldn’t possibly even think about putting anyone at risk.
The Impact on Africa
Coronavirus began to spread even more ferociously and eventually made it’s way to Africa.
We had already placed orders with factories, and many were really looking forward to starting the production. The virus and subsequent lockdowns across the continent meant that most of the factory workers were relying on us continuing production. Back home in Cameroon (and it would be fair to say across the vast majority of Africa) there is very little or no government support or schemes to help people.
Whilst some of our factories were able to put measures in place in order to stay open and keep working, our biggest challenge arose when airlines began reducing flights and ports started closing one by one.
Rules were changing daily which meant that promises made by airlines on one day were broken by the next day.
Things felt so out of our control and we had to resign to the fact that there was nothing more we could do. We wanted to give our customers as much information as we could and keep everyone updated but unfortunately despite our best intentions, the information given to us was inconsistent and often incorrect.
Doubts Began to Surface
We saw the value of our stock reduce by 60%. This means it will take around 8 months to get back to operating how we used to.
I began wondering whether or not we should keep going.
With Michele just giving birth, I was taking on a lot myself and was really struggling to manage the business without her. I was worried about her and how she was coping at an already daunting time in her life and I was helpless because I knew I couldn’t do anything.
We had so many commitments and people relying on our support — from the orphanages we always donate to, to the factories that still needed to keep going to provide for their workers and community.
But then I began looking at this from a different perspective… It was this that helped me to realise and remember it comes down to so much more than money…
Although Covid-19 struck us hard financially, it was also a very humbling experience to be reminded of the fact that everything is about solidarity. It’s about helping as many other people as we possibly can whilst trying to keep our sanity.
So despite all of the turbulence and trauma we faced — the delays, the difficulties, the sheer uncertainty - we are so proud and happy to still be alive to see this day. This experience has given us the opportunity to keep fighting and striving as a company and be the best that we can be.
Stronger than Ever Before
We’ve learnt and taken so much from everything that’s happened during this time.
It’s so important to understand and be aware of the fact that things don’t always turn out the way we’d hope, but no matter what happens it’s always good to take the time to be kind and humble.
Things are not always as they seem, and so sometimes we need to understand and remember that the little help, patience and compassion we can give to another person goes such a long way.
We received lots of reviews and feedback - both of which have been a mixture of ups and downs - and through this humbling experience we strive towards learning, and will continue to pray and keep fighting for the better.
Even though Michele gave birth in the midst of a global disaster, she still stood strong and worked to ensure we kept going. There were many late nights and tough times, but every member of the Grass-fields team pulled through to deliver. The bond that was formed as a team combined with the love and support of our customers is what has kept us going - because of this, we have been able to grow and are now stronger than ever before.
Thank you <3