Curating a COVID Christmas

In a normal non pandemic year curating Christmas was always so much fun.

The majority of orders would be made over five days of trade shows in Melbourne, in early August.

There would be lots of preparation with inspiration boards – these would cover colours, themes, collections, and specific categories within décor & gifts. Combined with analysis of previous year’s sales this would be our plan to start shopping!

In Melbourne Tim & I would go to the main Gift & Homewares trade fairs, but our priority would always be to attend the smaller more boutique shows that would be on at the same time. It is here that we would often meet and find fabulous new local Artisans.

The most important thing about trade shows, which we have taken for granted all these years, is to see the products in real life – these COVID times have taught us those images often don’t do a product justice, or conversely, give it too much justice. It is impossible to get the detail of a fabric, or the craftsmanship, or the scent…online.

And of course, the best part of trade shows is catching up with our makers, designers, and importers to discuss the world of retail & design. It is here we build our firm relationships that are essential in a COVID Christmas.

So, in a COVID Christmas, somewhat optimistically, we still start with our dream themes & style sheets. In July we selected colour ways to build collections around, and themes to focus specific product purchases around.

However, after last year, some suppliers were asking for Christmas pre–orders in May & June - the majority wanting all orders by the end of August. This was difficult, as usually we would have a chance to make a first order in August, receive delivery in October, gauge it’s success, then make orders for November & December.

Over the years, wholesalers have taken less & less risk by only producing what retailers have ordered. COVID has reduced the quantity and increased the length of time of manufacturing all over the world, while the cost of shipping has increased up to five-fold. Many small manufacturers, often the ones who work ethically with small family community groups, won’t survive.

Even if manufacturers have managed to produce stock, and are willing to pay the shipping prices, then they must find an available shipping container. With much of the world opening, there are not enough containers for the goods that need to be shipped – hence the huge increase in shipping costs.

Some of our suppliers who work with fair trade communities gave up all their profit last year to fly their stock from Nepal to Australia. They didn’t want to risk their long-term business, which is a lifeline for women in small communities in Nepal, so did what they had to, to get stock to their retailers.

Already this year, some of the orders we made in May have arrived but are 25% less than what we ordered. For several of our smaller importers, what stock we have, is all we will get until the new year.

So, this year I have spent weeks trawling online, talking to people, ordering samples, comparing suppliers and visualising our Christmas collections all from my home office during our 15 weeks of lockdown. When I have looked at so many products, and can no longer make a decision, Tim & Bella are great at choosing the final selection.

Already we are dealing with delivery delays, random arrivals and ‘definite’ stock never showing. Our Australian suppliers are busier than ever, with many of them going from a four-week lead time up to eight, and in one instance, 16 weeks.

Now all our Christmas orders are in, half has arrived, and now the Hunger Games begin! Tim & I work every contact, stay in touch with every maker and supplier, to try & ensure most of our orders will turn up. Everything is crossed.

Luckily, we have our fabulous stylist, Ginni, who takes our purchases and vision, weaving it into something magical. The joy people feel when they walk into Berry Jam, makes it all worthwhile.

Katie Breden, November 2021.