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Execs Plot Next Steps After Protests, COVID

A global pandemic forced businesses to close; a social justice movement now demands companies to change.

The business world in three months has seen unprecedented tumult. How industry emerges in the face of what’s likely to be a shift in the consumer psyche—and, thus, consumer spend—is anyone’s guess.

The following is a roundup of comments by executives at several prominent consumer-facing businesses, on how operating their business has and will evolve, taking into account recent events of the pandemic and protests.

Replies are a mix of comments from local executives speaking to the Business Journal, or directly to their customers via social media.

Sadeghi: Cultural Shifts

“They’re obviously both huge subjects, somewhat unrelated, but for me they both fall under the cultural bucket,” said Shaheen Sadeghi, president of Costa Mesa-based retail owner LAB Holdings LLC, whose portfolio includes the Lab and Camp anti-malls in Costa Mesa, and the Anaheim Packing House.

“I moved to America in 1965 soon after John F. Kennedy was shot and then I went through the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and the Bobby Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War. I just find the [George Floyd] situation really sad, because it just seems like after all these years, America culturally, we would have been in a different place,” Sadeghi told the Business Journal last week.

“As far as COVID is concerned, obviously nobody was prepared and none of us had it planned as a business model,” said Sadeghi, whose Packing House food hall reopened May 29, and then closed on June 1 amid anti-police protests in downtown Anaheim.

“I do think things will perhaps get back to normal sooner than later.

“I’m not discounting the severity of the situation, but I think at the end of the day the only solution is finding the (coronavirus) vaccine. In the meantime, we have to live our lives and in some ways we’ve learned a lot from it. Everybody’s had a little different experience.”

Urban Decay’s Zomnir: Eyeing Improvement

“The pandemic and protests have shown many vulnerabilities in our industry,” said Wende Zomnir, founding brand partner of Newport Beach’s Urban Decay Cosmetics.

“Beauty is inherently about connection and community, two things that were a strength, but no longer can happen in the same way. And this community is not nearly as inclusive or representative as it should be,” she said. 

Urban Decay was founded “on the idea that being unique and different is beautiful,” said Zomnir, who said her company “will continue to empower minorities and diverse cultures while also speaking loudly against white supremacy, racism and oppression of the black community and taking actionable steps within our own company.”

Among those steps: a review of hiring, promotion and retention of black leaders and team members, to work more closely with black models and collaborators, and to empower more black creatives and photographers.

“We’re committed to this long-term plan for a better, more diverse Urban Decay. It’s just our first step, and there’s a lot more to do,” she said.

In terms of the pandemic, “we need to navigate how we continue to foster connection and protect our customer community moving forward, especially when so much of what we do by nature is face-to-face. Although the obvious solution to artistry and product testing is going virtual, making it just as compelling is another story.”

“Providing the same sense of discovery and level of excitement, especially with sustainability in mind, is a key issue the health crisis has revealed.”

PacSun: Changes Coming

Pacific Sunwear of California LLC has spent recent weeks making donations to various organizations and working with Me to We, a Toronto-based maker of socially conscious products, on an empathy and compassion curriculum for schools.

Alfred Chang, president of the Anaheim-based clothing company, hinted of more to come, in terms of internal changes, in a June 2 letter to customers.

“We know we haven’t done enough. This is only where we’re starting today. We commit to bringing you consistent updates on the action we’ll be taking across our entire business: from our employees to the brands we partner with and how we represent our brand to the world.”

Vans: Evolving Situation

Costa Mesa-based apparel company Vans has aimed to be a community builder during the coronavirus, through prominent actions, financial donations and work that supports small businesses.

It has continued that approach during the Black Lives Matter protests.

“As a brand founded in family and built on the values of inclusion and being open to everyone, we won’t sit quietly as injustices, racism or bigotry continue to exist throughout our communities,” said Nick Street, vice president of global integrated marketing.

Earlier this month, Global Brand President Doug Palladini highlighted in an Instagram post that “we all have a duty to dismantle racism, create change, and help carry this weight.”

Vans said it is donating $200,000 to “three invaluable organizations who are focused on combating hate and racism.” The company also said it remains “committed to our responsibility to drive change internally across our global Vans family and ensure we are all involved.”

Dealing with COVID-19 operationally remains an ongoing challenge. Street noted that the company is aware of “how fluid the situation is and as a global brand, we are in tune with the needs and circumstances of our consumers around the world,” Street said.

“Given the changing nature of the pandemic, we continue to lean into our purpose of enabling creative self-expression. We also continue to review and evolve our plans to remain reactive and agile as we navigate through these uncertain times. We remain committed to supporting our communities, fans and loyal consumers—just like we have always done,” Street said.

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