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PPP loans keep Maui businesses afloat, but future is uncertain | News, Sports, Jobs

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PPP loans keep Maui businesses afloat, but future is uncertain | News, Sports, Jobs

Hale Makua Kahului resident Marjorie Miller (with back to camera) waves to her family as they pass by her in the back of a truck during a Cinco de Mayo parade outside the facility May 5. Hale Makua received the largest federal Paycheck Protection Program loan in Maui County. — Hale Makua photo

Multimillion-dollar loans under the federal Paycheck Protection Program have helped keep many Maui businesses and nonprofits afloat, but some are worried that another surge in cases and the delayed return of tourism could set them back again.

“The good news for us is that the census (at the facilities) has risen again, so we stabilized,” said Wesley Lo, CEO of Hale Makua, the largest Maui County recipient under the program. “But if there’s another spike or the same thing happens again, it potentially could cause problems.”

Hale Makua secured a PPP loan of just over $5 million, the only Maui County organization and one of 20 in Hawaii to receive a loan between $5 million and $10 million.

The U.S. Small Business Administration program offered forgivable loans to help companies pay employee salaries and cover costs like utilities and rent. Businesses, nonprofits, schools, health care services, contractors, restaurants and hotels across Maui County applied for the program.

According to SBA data, nine organizations on Maui received between $2 million to $5 million through the program, including Hoaloha Na Eha (owners of the Old Lahaina Luau, Star Noodle and Aloha Mixed Plate), JD Painting and Decorating, Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, Mama’s Fish House, Maui Medical Group, Napili Kai, PWC Hawaii Corp., Valley Isle Produce and Exceptional Inc. (doing business as Employers Options and Horses R Us).

WESLEY LO, “Thank goodness . . . for PPP loan”

Another 29 businesses earned loans of $1 million to $2 million, including nonprofits like Aloha House and Community Clinic of Maui, restaurants like Duke’s and Merriman’s, contractors like T.J. Gomes Trucking Co. and West Maui Construction, energy companies like Pacific Biodiesel and Rising Sun and a school, Seabury Hall.

Scores of other businesses were approved for loans under $1 million.

Lanai Community Health Center received a loan in the $350,000 to $1 million range and was the only organization on the island to earn PPP aid over $150,000.

Friendly Market Center, one of the major grocery stores on Molokai, also received a loan between $350,000 to $1 million, while Molokai Drugs and Molokai Properties each got loans between $150,000 to $350,000.

Many more businesses were awarded loans under $150,000; the names of those organizations were not provided in data released by the Small Business Administration on July 6.

MIKE WHITE, Loan helped cover salaries

As of July 24, the SBA had approved 5,005,261 loans worth about $519.5 billion, including 24,779 loans worth nearly $2.5 billion to Hawaii. The loans initially called for covering expenses over an eight-week period with loan forgiveness if at least 75 percent was used for payroll. An extension program was created that covered 24 weeks with 60 percent of funds having to be used for payroll.

While some recipients are starting to see their revenues back on the rise, others — particularly the tourism-reliant companies — are still missing the largest part of their customer base.

Patients start to return

When a Hale Makua nursing home resident and two home health patients tested positive for the virus after being exposed to a cluster at Maui Memorial Medical Center in mid-April, the nonprofit took a big hit.

Most of their admissions came from Maui Memorial, so turning away hospital discharges to prevent further cases also meant a decline in revenue.

“When we had the COVID case, we lost quite a bit of volume for a short period of time, because we weren’t admitting anybody,” Lo explained.

Before the pandemic, the nonprofit’s Kahului facility averaged about 220 people a day, which included long-term residents and patients passing through for shorter-term services like rehab. After the first COVID case, those numbers dropped almost 16 percent to 185. The number of home health patients went from an average of about 80 down to 50 or 60.

Hale Makua also no longer offers its Adult Day Health program, which was averaging 30 to 35 seniors at the time it was shut down in early March, to keep the outer community from potentially exposing long-term residents.

Lo said the PPP loan, which Hale Makua was approved for on April 10, helped cover payroll for its 480 staff and purchases of personal protective equipment. Without the funds, Lo said they would have had to lay off people and potentially close more beds and services, which would have put the community in a bad spot if the hospital had a surge.

Now, numbers are climbing back up, and the Kahului facility is averaging more than 200 long-term residents and short-term clients a day. The Wailuku facility has stayed fairly constant at 75, mostly long-term residents.

“We still understand it’s a loan,” Lo said. “We’re still being very cognizant and cautious of it. But thank goodness, I gotta say, for the PPP loan.”

At Maui Medical Group, which received about a $4 million loan, a drop in patients also hit the clinics hard.

“Like everybody else, we basically shut down because patients can’t come in to see us,” Administrator Cliff Alakai said.

Maui Medical Group, which serves 38,000 patients over its five clinics, had to furlough 138 of its 346 staff to keep costs down but also to ensure they’d have people on reserve if the clinics suffered an outbreak. Rotating staff in and out and cutting back doctors’ schedules reduced the chances that they’d lose all their providers at once, Alakai explained.

Patients were also afraid to come in, and Maui Medical Group went from seeing roughly 1,000 a day to 400 to 500. While insurance companies still paid Maui Medical, the clinics stopped collecting from patients during April because many were out of work and unable to pay their portions.

The PPP loan gave Maui Medical cash flow to continue covering salaries, and as restrictions were lifted and patients started returning, things began to improve. In May, Maui Medical started billing again.

“We’re getting back to where we used to be, probably 800 to 900 (patients) a day,” Alakai said. “People are more comfortable. . . . They understand the virus.”

Alakai added that the clinics have been fortunate to have not had an outbreak; only one Maui Medical Group provider who worked solely at the hospital ended up contracting the virus. However, with the uncertainty of the pandemic, Alakai said “we just don’t know” how Maui Medical is going to fare in the future.

“With this current wave resurfacing on Maui, we’re cautious right now, because should things take a very bad turn for the worst, we gotta be able to survive that too,” he said.

Still waiting on the tourists

Hotels, meanwhile, aren’t seeing the return of their main patrons — the tourists. With a 14-day quarantine still in place and plans for a pre-travel testing program delayed, visitor numbers continue to be low and many major hotels remain closed.

Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, one of the nine businesses to receive a loan in the $2 million to $5 million range, had to lay off about 60 to 70 percent of its 300 employees, said General Manager and former County Council Member Mike White.

White said that because many workers were having a hard time getting onto the state unemployment system and facing a lengthy gap between their last paycheck from the hotel and their first paycheck from the state, the hotel decided to apply for the PPP loan.

He declined to say exactly how much the hotel received but said the loan went toward covering all workers’ salaries just beyond June 30, with staff rotating in and out due to the “stay at home” and social distancing mandates. After that, most of the workers had to go back on unemployment.

However, the PPP loan did allow the hotel to pay for medical benefits for a longer period of time, and “at this point it looks like we’re going to be able to cover them easily through the end of the year,” White said.

About 230 to 240 employees are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which is funding their medical insurance. The rest are covered by the hotel.

When asked why the hotel didn’t pull some of the funding from its renovation project to pay for salaries, White said that the hotel had already signed a contract for the work. They were counting on room revenues to help cover salaries, but that changed with the pandemic.

“To go from a 98 percent occupancy level of revenue to zero is stunning,” White said. “This had never happened in the recession in 2008 and September 11th.”

Without guests, the workers who are still employed have been helping with ongoing hotel projects and the renovation, which includes building a new restaurant, renovating 264 rooms and adding a fourth floor to the parking garage.

“We’re hoping sometime by the first quarter (of next year) we’ll be up to a reasonably full staff, but it’s anybody’s guess right now,” White said.

At Mama’s Fish House, another visitor-reliant business, most of the workers have been laid off, with just a handful of staff kept on for maintenance, human resources and accounting, General Manager Tami Joslin said.

According to SBA data, Mama’s was one of the largest Maui County employers to receive PPP aid, with 373 employees. Joslin declined to reveal the exact loan amount, but said it’s going toward the salaries of just the employees who have stayed on.

“We haven’t been able to be open, so that’s basically what it’s doing for us,” she said of the loan. “We’re trying to just survive and take care of expenses that don’t go away when you’re closed down.”

The award-winning restaurant and inn closed on March 19, and Joslin was unsure when they might reopen and rehire employees, given how things are “starting to spiral out of control again.”

“There’s a lot of people that have gotten a loan and they used all of the loan and they’re completely stuck,” Joslin said. “Who would’ve thought in the beginning that it was going to drag on like this? Nobody had any idea. . . . After being in business for as long as we have been, the last thing we want to do is close our doors. We’re just trying to stay afloat.”

Finding new business

Meanwhile, a local cleaning company is also hopeful it can bring back all its employees with the help of the PPP loan, though it’s keeping a tentative eye on tourism.

The PWC Hawaii Corp. — better known as The People Who Clean — received a PPP loan of $2.3 million, according to Vice President and General Manager Ron Gess. The business did a lot of work cleaning hotels, so when the pandemic hit and tourism ground to a halt, PWC lost multiple contracts “within days of each other,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, the company had about 320 employees — a number that rose and fell with jobs — including about 200 on Maui, 100 on Oahu and the rest on Molokai, Lanai, Hawaii island and Kauai.

After business declined, PWC had to lay off a large portion of its staff, dropping to 200 overall, including about 90 on Maui.

While the company obtained some smaller contracts doing light maintenance on shuttered hotels, they also landed a variety of jobs outside the tourism industry, including schools in need of sanitation during the pandemic, such as Seabury Hall and Lahainaluna High School. They also did cleaning for construction projects, like the Kenolio Apartments in Kihei and for the PX at military bases on Oahu.

PWC was approved for a PPP loan on April 8, and Gess said the only drawback at the time was that they had to use it in eight weeks, which was difficult because they had laid off much of their staff. Extending the loan period to 24 weeks gave them a bit of breathing room.

“A lot of our people have returned. We’ve gotten a lot busier, and so we’ve used the funds to pay people, which was the intent,” Gess said. “So it’s worked out very well for us.”

One of the requirements for loan forgiveness is to bring back all staff by the end of the year for the extended period, said Gess, who’s hopeful the company can do so by then.

“As long as tourism comes back, I actually think it will be sooner than that,” he said.

Much has changed for PWC. Even as a cleaning company, they’ve “learned a lot in regards to disinfecting and sanitizing” in the new era of COVID-19. They’ve invested in a lot of masks and gloves and do temperature checks on employees every morning. The last quarter of the year, after the PPP loan runs out, will prove crucial, but Gess believes the 47-year-old company will survive.

“I think we’ll make it to 50 years,” he said.

The full PPP loan data can be found at home.treasury.gov /policy-issues/cares-act/assistance-for-small-businesses/sba-paycheck-protection-program-loan-level-data.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

_______________

FOLLOWING THE MONEY

Hundreds of Maui County businesses, nonprofits, restaurants, hotels and contractors applied for and received loans under the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The following is a list of organizations that received loans over $1 million and the number of employees (if provided), according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Names associated with the companies in the state business database or with the address provided to the SBA also are included.

$5-10 MILLION EMPLOYEES

Hale Makua*, 480

$2-5 MILLION

• Exceptional Inc. (Employers Options, Horses R Us), not provided

• Fearless Inc. (Mama’s Fish House), 373

• Hoaloha Na Eha, not provided

• JD Painting & Decorating, 111

• KBHL LLC (Ka’anapali Beach Hotel), 284

• Maui Medical Group, 346

• Napili Kai, 188

• PWC Hawaii Corp. (The People Who Clean), 320

• Valley Isle Produce, 166

$1-2 MILLION:

• Aloha House Inc.*, 157

• BC Restaurant Operator Inc. (Merriman’s Kapalua), 118

• Castaway Construction & Restoration, 46

• Community Clinic of Maui,* not provided

• Coon Brothers Inc., not provided

• Duke’s Maui, 190

• Hale Mahaolu*, 104

• Hi’ilawe Construction, not provided

• HI-Built, 80

• IP 1 (Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman Wailea), 69

• JDH Construction Ltd., 90

• Leilani’s Restaurant LLC, 188

• Mani Hana Resort, 166

• Maui Kupono Builders, 54

• Maui Soda & Ice Works, not provided

• MPK3 LLC, 85

• MTP Operating Co,

(Maui Tropical Plantation, The Mill House), 242

• Pacific Biodiesel Technologies, 90

• Rising Sun LLC, 107

• Sea Sport Cruises, not provided

• Seabury Hall*, 195

• Soleil Management Hawaii LLC, 168

• T.J. Gomes Trucking Co., 53

• Tri Isle, 82

• TS Merriman (Hula Grill Kaanapali), 201

• TY Management Corp.

(Kapalua Golf Academy, Kapalua Tennis Garden, The Bay Course, The Pineapple Grill at Kapalua, The Plantation Club Golf Course, The Plantation Course), 117

• Wailea Golf LLC, 0

• WC Maui Coast LLC (Maui Coast Hotel), 75

• West Maui Construction, not provided

*Indicates nonprofit

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Entertainment

Dune Shows WB Learned Nothing From Zack Snyder’s DCEU

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Dune Shows WB Learned Nothing From Zack Snyder's DCEU

The handling of Dune and its necessary sequel shows Warner Bros. failed to learn its lesson from Justice League and their original DCEU plans with Zack Snyder. Despite the fallout of Snyder’s departure from the DC franchise, the studio handed another epic, bug budget sci-fi project to an auteur director without fully committing to the creative vision.

After Man of Steel, Warner Bros. announced a slate of director-driven DCEU projects surrounding Zack Snyder’s planned Justice League arc, seemingly committing to Snyder’s vision for the DC universe, but after a rocky start, the Snyderverse was abandoned, leaving the future of the DCEU in the lurch. While there was a specific plan in place for a grand culmination of Snyder’s 5-part Justice League story, including a number of spin-offs from other directors, Warner Bros. says there’s no plans to see this original plan to completion, meaning the story set up by the original slate of DCEU films will never be fully realized.


Related: The Snyder Cut Proves WB Killed Their Best Chance to Compete With Marvel

While WB gave auteur director Denis Villeneuve $165 million to adapt the first half of the epic sci-fi novel Dune, the studio decided not to approve the sequel until after they could see how the initial installment, only half the story, performed at the box office. This continues WB’s history of embarking on big director-driven projects without fully committing to the vision, an approach that is virtually guaranteed to ensure the resulting product will be less than its original conception, even if a Dune sequel still happens.

WB’s Failed Director-Driven DCEU Plan

Justice League Snyder cut snyderverse

After the success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Bros. had Nolan develop a modern adaptation for Superman, and Nolan selected Zack Snyder as the director due to his approach with his adaptation of Watchmen. Man of Steel became the highest-grossing Superman movie, so Warner Bros. had Snyder develop a larger DCEU plan, which became Snyder’s 5-part Justice League saga. The story would center on Superman but would bring in the rest of the Justice League members, and a full slate of movies was planned, including Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps., and a solo Batman movie. Warner Bros.’original DCEU plan was to follow the model established by Nolan with The Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel by bringing in directors with distinct styles to head each project, including David Ayer, Patty Jenkins, Rick Famuyiwa, James Wan, and Ben Affleck.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were among 2016’s top-grossing movies, but their polarizing reviews resulted in notoriously low Rotten Tomatoes scores, resulting in Warners taking drastic action to change plans for the rest of the franchise. The changes immediately impacted Justice League the most even though it was already in production, resulting in conflict with Snyder that eventually resulted in him exiting the project following a family tragedy, allowing WB to bring in Joss Whedon to drastically reshape the project in reshoots, abandoning most of the sequel set-up and erasing as much of Snyder’s distinctive style as possible. The fallout impacted almost all the remaining movies in the slate. Aquaman was already in production, but both Famuyiwa and Affleck left their respective movies. Versions of The Flash and The Batman are coming out next year, but both are drastically different versions than originally planned (and The Batman isn’t even part of DCEU canon)

Snyder’s plan was very clearly leading to a big culmination, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice teasing a post-apocalyptic “Knightmare” future that had been conquered by Superman who was under the control of DC ultra-baddie, Darkseid. Snyder would eventually get the chance to release his intended version of the movie, the 4-hour long Zack Snyder’s Justice League, spurring excitement for what would have been, but with no plans for Snyder to return and the current slate servicing a different plan, Warner Bros. seems content to leave this epic set-up forever unresolved.

Related: The Latest Restore The SnyderVerse Trend Proves It’s Not Going Away

The odd part is Warner Bros.’ biggest successes with DC movies have always come from the bold visions of distinct directors like Richard Donner, Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, and even Zack Snyder, while attempts to make more broadly appealing crowd-pleasers didn’t work, like Batman & Robin, Superman Returns, and Green Lantern. As if to double down on the point, Snyder’s Watchmen, Batman v Superman, and Justice League saw significant changes for their theatrical releases, only for Snyder’s director’s cuts to be nearly universally regarded as the superior product. Despite the problems caused by their decision to abandon the original DCEU plans, Warner Bros. didn’t learn their lesson and made similar decisions with Villeneuve’s Dune.

Warner Bros. Repeated Their DCEU Mistakes With Dune

Why WB betting big on Dune Villeneuve

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 was lauded by critics, but bombed at the box office, bringing in less than $260 million from a $150 million budget, failing to hit the typical twice-budget break-even point. Blade Runner 2049 was Villeneuve’s highest-grossing movie, despite its box office failure, but his ability to adapt stunning high-concept sci-fi convinced Warner Bros. to hand him the reins to Dune, although they didn’t opt to film it back-to-back with a sequel, or even greenlight a sequel at all, despite knowing Villeneuve was only adapting half the book in the first movie.

While WB’s caution is understandable due to Villeneuve’s box office history, the willingness to begin work on the $165 Dune part 1 without committing to part 2 upfront immediately shortchanges the franchise’s potential. Under this strategy, the absolute best-case scenario was Villeneuve produces a monster hit with an incomplete story and WB has to start the sequel from scratch and can’t capitalize on Dune‘s performance for three years. In addition to the time delay, they also miss out on the massive cost savings of shooting back-to-back, reducing the overall profitability of both movies. The worst-case scenario would be the movie flops and the whole thing looks like a massive, ill-conceived blunder on the part of WB, who would have a massive bomb on their hands after entrusting a big-budget sci-fi epic to an auteur director whose last big-budget sci-fi epic also flopped. While Villeneuve and WB escaped harsh criticism for Blade Runner 2049 due to the movie’s quality, that likely wouldn’t be the case if Dune flopped, since the movie is only half the story of the Dune book, and adapting it would likely burn a chance for another director to take a swing at the property in the near future.

Meanwhile, committing to the whole vision up-front would have been better all-around, even if WB’s concerns came true and Dune flopped.  The cost-savings of back-to-back production would at least partially offset box office losses, audiences wouldn’t be deprived of the second half of the story, and there’s always the chance the sequel could be a bigger hit, salvaging the hypothetical losses from part 1. Like with Blade Runner 2049, the quality of the film would offset a lot of the criticism over the box office losses.

Dune had a solid box office opening and seems to have fair chances of getting a sequel, but it won’t be soon enough for audiences hungry for a sequel and may see a reduced budget, ironically missing out on the cost savings that could have accompanied a back-to-back sequel production. If Warner Bros. was willing to take the risk of the first installment, why not commit to the whole vision?

Warner Bros. Needs To Follow Through On Director Driven Visions

New Warner Bros. Logo

Warner Bros. has a history of being a studio that takes big swings on grand director visions, but changes in leadership in recent years, such as the departure of former Warner Bros. Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov (who brought iconic directors like Nolan, Affleck, Snyder, the Wachowskis, and others to the studio) has seen a rise in situations like Justice League and Dune. As if to punctuate the severity of the decline, Nolan decided to make his next movie at Universal after working with Warner Bros. exclusively for nearly 20 years.

Related: Nolan’s Massive Universal Deal Could Reinvent Blockbusters Post-Pandemic

The problem isn’t that the days of bold director-driven projects are in the rearview mirror at Warner Bros., those still exist, there’s even a new Matrix movie coming out December, but there is a concerning pattern of self-sabotage of big projects brought on by a lack of trust in their directors. Situations like Justice League and Dune make the studio’s decision-making suspect and erode consumer confidence in their projects, particularly for big IP adaptations.

The whole thing is also incredibly short-sighted. It’s common for a franchise to overcome early stumbles only for those movies to be well regarded after the franchise finds its footing. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had several films in Phase 1 that were considered underwhelming at the time and Fast and Furious powered through several films with a mediocre reception to become one of the biggest franchises in film. Even films like the original Blade Runner got poor reviews and underperformed at the box office and are now considered required viewing. In the case of the DCEU, Warner Bros. was scared away from Zack Snyder’s plan because of reviews for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that movie was so impactful in the zeitgeist that WB’s attempts to pivot away from Snyder couldn’t outpace their momentum, and they eventually had to cave to demands for the Snyder Cut when simply committing to the plan and finishing the plan they started would have seen Zack Snyder’s arc completed by now, allowing them to start fresh without having to deal with the unending reminders of the incomplete Snyderverse.

Fortunately, Dune is well received and performing well at the box office, which bodes well for sequel potential, but the lost time, momentum, and wasted money will ultimately hold back the complete vision from what it could have been if they’d produced the movies back-to-back. If WB wants to retain (or regain) its reputation for being the studio that produces this kind of movie, they need to gain some confidence and stop with the half measures and deliver on the director visions they sell to audiences.

Next: Why Warner Bros Losing Christopher Nolan Is Such A Big Deal

No Way Home Trailer Hopes Mocked By Spider-Man & Doc Ock Meme


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Fashion Briefing: Fashion’s emerging founder-investors are mega-influencers – Glossy

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Fashion Briefing: Fashion’s emerging founder-investors are mega-influencers – Glossy

Fashion’s OG Instagrammers are building empires and, at the same time, growing their influence beyond the industry.

After being schooled for years on the workings of the fashion industry, mega-influencers including Danielle Bernstein (2.7 million Instagram followers) and Rocky Barnes (2.5 million Instagram followers) are graduating to careers less reliant on brands. To take it to the next level, they’re leveraging their prowess and communities, driving deals with effective business partners, and evolving their focus, based on the industry’s direction and their own passions. The emerging results, for both Bernstein and Barnes, are personally-backed brands and investment portfolios set to expand based on early successes.

“The plan is to grow, in a big way,” said Bernstein. “I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I’ll always want to introduce new businesses and categories to my brand. And I’m angel investing and joining the board of advisors for so many companies. That’s the future of the creator economy: harnessing and creating community around your existing followers and then figuring out how to monetize that.”

In 2019, upon inking a licensing deal with New York-based clothing company Onia, Bernstein launched the Shop We Wore What e-commerce site, populated with her expanding We Wore What fashion collection. The collection has been at the center of much recent controversy, due to allegedly including copycat designs. According to Bernstein, she turns to vintage pieces, editorials and travel for inspiration. Bernstein’s also become an investor and advisor for hair supplement company Wellbel and CBD brand Highline Wellness. In May, she became active on Patreon, offering exclusive video content to paying members of her community.

In addition, Bernstein heads up We Gave What, a charitable arm of her company. In 2019, she launched tech company Moe Assist with a project management tool for influencers, though its social accounts have been inactive for two-plus months. When asked for comment, a spokesperson said Moe Assist is in a new fundraising stage and “should have news to share shortly.”

Barnes, meanwhile, partnered with Reunited Clothing to come out with her apparel company, The Bright Side, in December. And she recently became a first-time investor-advisor, for 6-month-old SMS shopping platform Qatch. She announced the partnership in an Instagram post on Monday.

“I feel like a grown-up,” she told me, before confirming that she’s interested in investing in more companies. “Diversifying my business has been a really big [focus] for me. I interact with so many different brands and companies on a daily basis. Using my market knowledge in ways that can help other people is fulfilling and exciting for me. And I especially love when I can be involved with a company from the beginning.”

Building on their content creator role in fashion is a natural progression, both said. And it plays into many industry shifts: On its way out is fashion’s DTC era, largely fueled by Harvard Business School and Wharton graduates using a plug-and-play, marketing-heavy business model to launch brands. More consumers are prioritizing quality, differentiated products, making industry experience and style expertise greater virtues among insiders. At the same time, consumers are increasingly taking shopping cues from relatable, platform-native celebrities, moving on from authoritative editors and more closed-off celebrities.

The school of collaborations
The collaborator-to-founder shift isn’t the newest thing. Other longtime influencers that have made the pivot include Arielle Charnas, with Something Navy; Aimee Song, with Song of Style; Rumi Neely, with Are You Am I; the list goes on. Most often, the names behind these brands don’t have formal design and business training — for her part, Bernstein said she “went to FIT for two years, but didn’t study design and production.” But, for years, they’ve worked hand-in-hand with companies to bring their visions to life. And along the way, they’ve come to know what resonates best with their vast communities, from marketing to merchandising to product.

“My most successful collaborations have led to the largest share of my business,” said Bernstein.

Bernstein’s partnership with Onia came out of her swimwear collaboration with its Onia brand, in May 2019. On the collab’s launch day, it drove $2 million in sales, and an included style was the brand’s best-selling swimsuit of the summer. Also in 2019, Bernstein collaborated with Joe’s Jeans on multiple denim collections. The launch day of the first, in March 2019, marked Joe Jeans’ best sales day to date, said Jennifer Hawkins, the brand’s svp of marketing and innovation on a Glossy Podcast in October.

Both served as learning opportunities for Bernstein, who said — as with all of her collaborations — she took full advantage: “It was never just [uploading] a post, and then I went away,” she said. “I always wanted to know how the performance was, in terms of sales, and asked questions: ‘Can you share the analytics?’ ‘What did you see on your end?’ ‘What worked and what didn’t work?’”

She added, “They provided a ton of data, in terms of what I could sell and what the market was missing.”

Likewise, she said, she always followed and shared with partner brands the Instagram Insights and Google Analytics numbers around her corresponding posts. Doing so gave all parties a 360-degree view of a collaboration’s success.

“I’ve learned what works for brands so they get the largest return on their investment,” she said.

For example, she’s learned to lean on her audience’s tastes, versus rely on her own, by allowing them to offer feedback throughout the design process through Instagram. That’s included the selection of fabrics and colors and the fit sessions with models. She only spotlights her favorite styles and what she wears in her own social posts, as a play for authenticity.

According to Bernstein, the collaborations with brands allowing her to play an advisor role — by guiding them on influencer partnerships, marketing and messaging — are always more successful. And they often turn into longer-term investment or advising partnerships.

Bernstein chose to work with Onia on the We Wore What collection based on its prioritization of quality and fit, and ability to keep to affordable retail prices. Currently, prices on the We Wore What site range from $20, for a scrunchie, to $228, for a vegan leather jumpsuit.

Barnes was also ready to go out on her own after finding the right partners. Her Reunited Clothing partnership came after working with the company to create her Express product collaboration, in early 2019. On its first-quarter 2019 earnings call, interim CEO Matthew C. Moullering said the company had seen “a strong start to [the] collection both in-stores and online and [believed] it [was] helping to introduce the brand to a new audience.”

“Having your own brand is terrifying,” Barnes said. “But I like that I’m in control and not so dependent on doing the day-to-day posts promoting other companies.”

But, she added, “One of the huge benefits of working with all these different brands on all these different projects is that we’re constantly getting introduced to new people and seeing who we like working with.”

Barnes’ internal team consists of her husband, who’s the “business brains” of the company, she said, and an assistant.

Like Bernstein, Barnes stressed the need for outside support in the production process: “I love such quirky, crazy things, but I also understand what is realistic for a buyer and a normal girl buying clothes,” she said. “The experience of taking ideas and making them work for a bigger group of people was my learning curve going into a business. It’s important to have a good, diverse team around you who can make your idea something that’s marketable.”

For its part, We Wore What has seen “200x growth in the last year,” as it’s expanded to new categories, Bernstein said. Its ready-to-wear, swimwear, resort wear, and activewear are now sold in “dozens and dozens of retailers around the world,” many of which offer style exclusives; they include Revolve, Bloomingdale’s and Intermix.

“Launching my own brand was putting the proof in the pudding for the power of influencers, when it comes to selling product,” she said.

As with her Joe’s and Onia collaborations, Bernstein sees a rush-to-buy with We Wore What product drops. “The first 10 minutes is when we see the biggest portion of our sales for the entire collection,” she said.

To build buzz, Shop We Wore What’s Instagram account (213,000 followers) features in its Stories the line sheets of the soon-to-launch styles, allowing customers to thoughtfully plan their buy. Doing so has led to lower return rates, Bernstein said. The company’s marketing mix also includes text messages and emails, VIP discounts and user-generated content.

Bernstein has a staff of four people, which include a chief operating officer and a brand coordinator. She said she prioritizes establishing partners with skills and expertise she doesn’t have, so she can learn from them along the way. Ideally, she’d have learned about tech packs, fittings and production logistics in school, but she’s training as she goes.

Moving forward, Bernstein said she plans to extend the size range of We What What styles, which are currently available in sizes XS-XXL, and launch collections with collaborators to sell exclusively on her brand’s DTC site. In addition, she aims to eventually open “experimental” physical retail, starting with pop-ups.

As for her investment-advisor portfolio, she’s currently in talks with companies centered on the concepts of “being able to sell your closet and even rent your closet.”

As for Barnes’ Bright Side, she said it will hit “a bunch of new retailers this year.”

Moving beyond fashion
Up next for Shop We Wore What is a new product category that will hit before the holiday season. Considering her passion for home furnishings and decor — based on her @homeworewhat Instagram account (7,500 followers) and recent press coverage of her new SoHo loft — it’s a safe bet that a home-related category is in the cards.

Likewise, Barnes hinted at a future Bright Side home collection, following her recent, two-year home remodel, which she’s getting set to debut on social media.

Lifestyle brands are the clear goal.

“I would love to be a combination of Rachel Zoe and Martha Stewart, just having my hands in everything and creating this really beautiful lifestyle where you can entertain and be fashionable,” Barnes said. “That’s kind of the dream.”

She added, “Fashion is where my heart has always been, but I’m growing as a person and there’s so much more in my life right now: my family, my home — and I’m getting older, so beauty [and skin care] makes sense now. Sharing all of that with everyone seems so natural; it would be weird if I only did fashion.”

As for future investments, though Quatch fits perfectly into Barnes’ world, with its fashion-tech focus, she said she’s open to investing in any company where she sees opportunity.

What’s more, she has no plans to retire from social media, though she has yet to tackle TikTok.

“People’s need for content has only increased, so I’m posting and creating content more than ever,” Barnes said. “But I’ve learned to become more of a hard-ass with brands. The companies that are willing to work with me and [facilitate] the most like authentic relationship possible are the ones I move forward with.” Reunited can attest.

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South African bowler Tabraiz Shamsi: Amateur magician; professional tweaker-trickster

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Harry Potter fans would know this as the Room of Requirement; muggle cricketers dub it backend operations. Tabraiz Shamsi is an amateur magician. He is also a professional worrier of why some googlies don’t turn as much as he’d want, in cricket.

For the Proteas chinaman bowler, the room of requirement from where he could pull out any game data, used to be the dependable ‘P Dawgg’, former South Africa analyst Prasanna Agoram combining his ken and nous and fast processing laptop. Prasanna enviably would be privy to the trial (and error) runs of Magician Shamsi’s classical Tourniquet coin-drops with the cricket ball. Which was the unglamorous, quirk-in-progress of his left-arm leg spin.

At the stroke of 1 a.m, oftener than not, Shamsi would come looking for what he called ‘shit balls’, in what Prasanna reckoned were otherwise impressive, less-than-run-a-ball bowling spells. This was that one specific delivery that went for a six to sully Shamsi’s 4-0-22-3 T20 match figures. It was the bugs, not the features, that the 29-year-old would cussedly fixate on.

“I’d never point out that he’s missing his length or the back foot was collapsing, at 12.30 in the night. Because Shamo, you see, would then take me to the nets at 1 a.m! He’s capable of calling the manager and telling him at that hour that I have to practice NOW. You had to be careful about what you told him at 1 a.m,” Prasanna laughs, underlining ungrudging admiration for the Proteas spinner’s dedication.

A series of self-recriminations in staccato would follow the ‘Bhai, can you please put on the shit-ball that went for a six.’ “He’d curse himself watching replays: ‘no good, not international class, garbage ball.’ If you try telling him it is ‘well-played’ from Jos Butler and not exactly a poor ball, he’d be hard on himself and say, ‘This is nonsense from Shamo’,” Prasanna recalls of his exacting standards.

For, the South African World No 1 spinner – who lends mystery to the Saffer bowling attack if not entirely upstaging their thunderbolt battery of pacers – knows that all sleights of hand, can come with uncontrollable twists of fate. Both in magic, and cricket.

A young boy of 15 at Paarl who tried to bowl quick like Wasim Akram and Chaminda Vaas, had wound up as a left arm leg spin all-sorts, after years of compulsive fine-tuning. And taken failures and omissions into his run-up’s five-strides.

***
Born in Johannesburg, Shamsi wanted to be a super quick in the land of bolting pacers. His progress though didn’t follow the regular route of being identified early for First teams at schools and playing age-groups. Also, he was told he wasn’t quick enough.

Speaking to the podcast ‘Pavilion conversations with C.S’ recently, Shamsi recalls his earliest break at age 15, bowling alone in the school nets, with the cricket coach’s office nearby. The coach would stop by and ask him what he was upto. “I said, ‘Sir, the U15 trials are coming up. I want to make the Paarl team wanna progress’. He told me – you are not gonna make it. But even there I thought he realised the type of character I am. That was just his way to push me even harder. He said ‘Don’t waste your time practicing coz you won’t get selected. And i was even more driven,” he told the host Mr. Chiwanza.

Shamsi would end up with most wickets that tournament, make the B team (“Still not A”), followed by U17 and U19s for the local side. “I didn’t get selected for SA U19s or invited to camps. My past was little different. In fact I got my opportunity at semi-pro cricket because one player got selected for U19s and went to the World Cup. A spot opened up because of him. I just knew that was my chance I had to make it work. And fortunately I performed. When he came back from the World Cup, he couldn’t get into the team,” Shamsi recalled.

It was around 2015-6 after he had zeroed in on Chinaman as his chosen bag of assorted tricks in franchise, provincial cricket, that he first sought out Prasanna, while closely following senior leggie and his ‘bruv’ Imran Tahir. Prasanna promised to compile a list of outstanding T20 spinners of that year for comparison, when Shamsi asked him: ‘Why just T20? I want to play all formats.’

Prasanna promised to revert after two days on Friday, and on Monday, he had a message from the hotel lobby at 10.30 am that Shamsi was waiting. “Normally, cricketers will turn up at 11.30, if the analyst time is 10.30. This guy made me abandon my breakfast and was ready with a list of questions. I’d prepared a presentation earlier on bowlers like Warne, Ajmal and Herath and how they bowled on unhelpful tracks, what lengths to bowl at what stage, and offered to email it to him. He tells me: “No. I’ll write it down in my own words. I don’t want shortcuts.”

Shamsi would sit and plan for every batsman – his notes diary in tow, even on matchdays when he wasn’t in Playing XI. And once he would spill the beans on why brainwaves struck him at 1 a.m – his preferred time to brainstorm with the analyst. “He once told me he eats my brain at that hour, so that he gets dreams of how to get a Kohli or Sharma out, so he can wake up next day he can execute the training plans.”

Once he came angsty about his googlies not spinning as much as Kuldeep Yadav or Brad Hogg. “When he said it’s not spinning, I told him Shamo’ you didn’t bowl any googly. That’s it. He hit the nets and bowled 1000 googlies non-stop and then said, he’s now hitting the groove.”

But nothing had prepared Prasanna for Shamsi’s mic-drop in the pink ball Test against Australia where the Chinaman was fancied as it’s tougher to spot the wrist in the Adelaidian twilight. Shamsi was instructed to block for 20 balls and support Faf as Proteas were hanging on at 210-9. Shamsi would announce he would score a 50 – against Pat Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc. Finally he was unbeaten on 18. “He came back and blustered ‘If someone had suported me, I’d have hit that 50’.”

***

This constant state of ‘upbeat’ – talking up his own abilities to score a 50 coming at No 11 against Cummins & Starc – might well be the sort of swag and sizzle that the staid South African teams need at ICC tournaments. For a large part of the last 30 years, the Proteas have entered tournaments with burdensome tags of ‘talented’ and ‘favourites’ and come up short. The tasteless mocking glee of choke-jokes has run its course, and being light-weights might well prove liberating.

For all their botched run chases in 50 overs, South Africa can stake claim to the historic highest run-rally to 438. And the innings-interval remark of Jacques Kallis, the most expensive bowler in Australia’s 434, who had quipped “Guys, I think we’ve done a good job. They’re 15 runs short.”

Shamsi likes his boisterous one-liners too. And his showboating and noisy over-the-top pantomime aggression.

After starring in a T20 win against Ireland earlier, he would tell South African journalist Telford Vice, “In my young age, I started as a seamer but was told I’m not quick enough to be a fast bowler so became a spinner. Grew up watching Andre Nel, Dayle Steyn, Allan Donald, that’s where aggression comes from.”

He knows it’s a double-edged sword and a bowler can be packed off, but it can disrupt batters too. “Whatever it takes to win. I’m in charge of making our presence felt on the ground and ensure the team never backs down from opponents,” he added.

Shamsi recently responded to Darren Sammy’s tweet on who would win the T20 World: “Come on skipper, you know the answer to this already…. South Africa of course.” Scroll down the thread, and some mocker mangles his grammar: “are you comedy me”. A good laugh was had by all. Pressure punctured.

“He’ll say things like ‘I’ll single-handedly win this,” Prasanna says, “Whether it happens or not, it gives confidence to people close to you – your team.”

***

Shamsi’s made it to the top of rankings, taking 49 wickets from 42 T20Is, at a strike-rate of 14.8 and averaging 6.6. There’s been a bucketful of wickets in franchise cricket and The Hundred. He’s 31 and has bidden his time to make it to the national team, and another 4 years into the Playing XI. The Wicket then, is an ocassion to celebrate, he reckons.

“I’m a human being and not a robot and want to make long-lasting happy memories that will live with me forever long after my career is done and that is the reason behind my celebrations,” he wrote in a social media post once. “My celebrations mean no disrespect to the opponents. They help me enjoy myself, switch on and off during the game to release some pressure, and put some smiles on people’s faces too.”

There’s the “Shoe” that got going in the West Indies, where within seconds of a wicket, he’d shrug his ankle open from the left shoe and pretend to speak on a landline receiver. Then there’s the bus driver-celebration with Carlos Braithwaite and something about a birdie’s chirp. A flying kiss to the wife and a mock punch to a fielder like a streets hip hopper. Though the untold back-stories raise anticipation of what he’ll whip up next.

Prasanna says there can be new hairdos before every game, sometimes “thrice a week”, and that magic tricks and celebrations are practiced as diligently as the googlies and top-spinners. “Not only will he say, ‘Tomorrow I’ll get Ben Stokes out.’ He’ll also ask you to watch the celebration.”

Amongst his most famous on-field triumph-trumpetings after snaring a batter is pulling a wand out of a hankey – a magician’s staple. But never in cricket, where magic’s glossary is slathered on the slow bowlers and their guiles.

T20 commentators love his name, lending it a South American football match caller’s vroom: “Shaaa-mzzziii”. But it’s the celebrations that can befuddle the most trained of raconteurs. When Shamsi got Wihan Lubbe in the Mzansi Super League, the commentator would build up to the expected celebration. “Is the shoe coming off? No. Look at that…it’s magic,” he would chortle. Cricket was momentarily put to the side, before he resumed confused: “That was a legspinner…… Beg your pardon… Offspinner… That did the trick..” Shamsi’s delivery had jagged away from the leftie and the post-celebration left the commentator’s mind in knots.

Appearing on the Dan Nicholl Show in SA, Shamsi had pulled one of those ‘I can guess the card pulled out of the deck after being shuffled’ tricks. It was ace of spades.

Magic had been his fallback option till age 16, he’d say. “So if cricket doesn’t work out… I ll practice magic for 10 years… But naa… It’s gonna work out.. I’ll bamboozle you all,” he would say, charming the audience.

At the start of the magic gig, Shamsi had handed a sealed envelope to the host. “Sealed with Proteas saliva” Nicholl had joked with whispered reverence. The distracting envelope had briefly become the centrepiece, and Shamsi would explain later:
“You satisfied you made me stop shuffling when u wanted me to? Funny thing is…You thought you were in charge of the trick… Telling me when to stop. Even though it’s your show, I’m running this party… I was controlling you and I actually made you stop at a specific point. …And to prove that I had written down something in this envelope before starting the trick..” It read Ace of Spades.

Shamsi’s assortment of Chinaman, is a bit like that: planned spontaneity. Allan Donald in a video while introducing him to RCB few seasons ago, said: “Left arm, tweaks it this way, tweaks it that way, then tweaks it the other way.” Offering attacking options in the middle overs, with his ability to turn ball both ways, and variations of top spinner, the side spinner and googly, makes him effective against both lefties and righties. The constant explosion of activity – before, right after when appealing (he once did a spot of bhangra jumps, then sat down altogether while pleading a decision) and when celebrating, is in fact the sealed envelope distraction.

Yet, bad days are not unfamiliar to Shamsi, and his role can be flexible like the magician’s wand, like in the West Indies, to keep things quiet, contain against the big power hitters. “There’s two ways to skin a cat… Not really fussed about not getting wickets in WI. That was a different role,” he told the media later.

Sometimes the magic is in not believing the flimflam and sleight. Like rankings. “I don’t lose sleep over being No 1. Obviously it’s a nice feeling to be on top. But I’ve said it before and I truly mean it. I don’t even think I’m the best bowler in our team. We have some great bowlers in the unit. Rankings don’t mean anything if a batsman gets hold of you. I don’t even know how those rankings work honestly.”

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