Ambush brand designer Yoon Ahn on how a young brand can survive the coronavirus

Jewelry designer Yoon Ahn’s popularity among street style photographers belies her essence of a “gray eminence”. The Ambush co-founder and designer of the Dior men’s jewelry line is a true influencer with a fan base of 479 thousand Instagram subscribers. Launched in 2015, the Ambush jewelry line has evolved into a full-fledged lifestyle brand, which was bought in January of this year by New Guards Group of Milan, which includes Off-White, Palm Angels and Heron Preston.

At the moment, An is in Ambush’s homeland of Tokyo, where the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to grow. We spoke with the designer about how she keeps 40 of her employees safe, cuts waste and tries to adapt to new realities.

Amboush in Shibuya, Tokyo

Tell us about the current situation in Tokyo.

In fact, everything is calm. We do not deny the obvious. Japan was one of the first countries to receive the coronavirus after China, so the situation here is different from the United States. People were constantly tested, reminded to wash their hands. In Tokyo, many wear masks, they have long become a part of the culture, as the population often suffers from hay fever. True, the government does not conduct mass testing for coronavirus, which worries the Japanese.

How has the crisis affected your brand?

He influenced the state of the entire country. The tourism sector has been hit hardest – over the past few years, it is foreign buyers who have made a huge contribution to the Japanese economy. This has especially affected the fashion industry and the restaurant business. When the coronavirus outbreak hit, Japan was one of the first to close the country from China and Korea, and this severely crippled the economy. But nothing can be done, and now it is the domestic market that helps Japan to exist autonomously. We have been working on this for the past few months. But everything in the world is connected, and what happens in the USA or Europe affects the state of our country. Every day we have to think about what we can do in the current conditions, how to adapt and move on.

It turns out that the quarantine in the United States affected you too?

We have a lot of foreign clients, especially from China, Korea and the United States, and when situations like this happen, the first item of expenses that people cut back is buying new things. We try to focus on local customers and the local economy until things return to their proper place, which I predict will not happen before a year and a half. I heard that China is gradually returning to normal life. But what can be considered the norm? Usually, as soon as people lose their vigilance, a second wave of a pandemic sets in. I am not an expert and am only guided by common sense, but it seems to me that we need to be prepared for the fact that we will get out of all this in only a year and a half. We have already tightened our belts, reduced costs to a minimum, and now we plan to concentrate all our efforts on the domestic market. There is a lot of work ahead.

What measures have you taken exactly?

We have developed several new models targeted at local customers. I’m just trying to adapt to new realities as quickly as possible and give buyers what they need: some things that will be useful at home. Now we are developing a whole line of products at affordable prices.

How important is the Chinese market for your company?

Very important! Japan thrives on Chinese tourists. This whole situation showed what a big role China and its economy play and how it affects not only Japan, but the whole world. In terms of production, everyone is also highly dependent on China. Fortunately, over the past few years, we have actively developed relationships with local manufacturers, so we are not dependent on China, at least in this aspect. Obviously, because of this, our things are more expensive, but we can quickly launch them on sale.

Share how the pandemic has affected other aspects of your life. You work with Dior Men, and Ambush was recently bought by the Milan-based New Guards Group. But now you don’t have the opportunity to travel, right?

At the end of February, I was supposed to fly to Italy. Our flight had a connection, and when we landed in Germany, it turned out that Italy had already been quarantined. We had to change tickets and return to Tokyo – otherwise we risked getting really stuck in Milan – it was scary. I knew that at that time there were already cases of coronavirus in Japan, and then I realized how serious everything was. Now we, like everyone else, work through Zoom.

Amboush in Shibuya, Tokyo

How did you react to the news of the cancellation of Milan Fashion Week for men in June, during which buyers usually shop? Maybe they will be held remotely? Thinking about such a prospect?

I think we will postpone meetings with buyers until September and organize them as part of Women’s Fashion Week. Our company’s top priority now is to stay afloat for the next few months and survive. We have already started working on a new collection, but now we need to focus all our efforts on working with the domestic market in order to build strong relationships with local customers. During a crisis, it is not the biggest or the smartest who are saved, but those who manage to rebuild and adapt their business in time. I think it’s worth starting with the worst-case scenario and then everything will be all right. It’s important to be alert.

It looks like you really think a lot about the current situation and still seem quite calm. Is it all about your character?

We faced all this back in January. At first, of course, I was angry, there was very little information. But I constantly follow the news and read a lot of research, not only on the current situation, but also on how businesses have dealt with the aftermath of natural disasters and pandemics in the past. I’m not just a designer – I have my own company with almost 40 employees. I need to think rationally and make plans for the future. I do not want to allow layoffs, I am responsible for ensuring that people have jobs. It’s important to think ahead and not panic. All my past notions and ideas now mean nothing. At the moment, I do not know what will happen next. It feels like we have to practice drills every day. What are we going to do with one outcome or another? I conduct an open dialogue with people: I honestly admit to the employees that I do not have answers to all questions, but now we need each other more than anything else. She also said that I was not going to smooth things over – difficult times await us, because the pandemic has affected the United States, Europe, the whole world, and it will take everyone’s strength and dedication to figure out how to painlessly survive the coming months.

Do you see anything positive about this whole situation?

It seems to me that the main plus of the pandemic is that everyone has slowed down. We got the opportunity to think about the really significant things and about what to focus on. I think after the epidemic, everything will become more localized. I am pleased that we have focused on local production and built strong relationships with factories. I used to worry if I was doing the right thing, but now I am happy that I made such a choice. / Nicole Phelps


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