How Dancewear Manufacturers Are Rising to the Challenges of This Wildly Unpredictable Year

Dancewear makers have been facing existential challenges due to the pandemic, but they have adapted and are choosing optimism to help inspire dancers as they train under unusual conditions. Here’s how they had to rethink their 2021 product-line rollouts. 

Two dancers, outside under a garden arch. The woman is wearing Ballet Rosa Thea leotard with gold floral detail, the man is wearing Jeremy black footed tights
Dancers are looking for positivity and ways to show their resilience, says Luis Guimarães, CEO of Ballet Rosa. Here, Juliana Missano wears Ballet Rosa’s Thea leotard; Sergio Massero is in Jeremy footed tights. Courtesy of Ballet Rosa.

Normally dance retailers would be heading out to trade shows around now to view newly unveiled dance fashion, footwear and products and to place their orders. This year that will all happen virtually. Indeed, “normal” isn’t in the vocabulary of anyone in the dance industry right now, including dancewear designers, producers and their supply chains.

As the whole dance world shut down last spring due to the pandemic, retailers paused or canceled their orders—and dance manufacturers’ cash flow stopped. When retailers finally reopened and orders started returning, not only did vendors have to deal with excess inventory, but the loss of revenue was devastating for many. Gaynor Minden, for example, saw the closure of the Massachusetts factory that had first taken on and mass produced its prototype pointe shoe patent more than 25 years ago.

Portrait of Eliza Minden, chief of design at Gaynor Minden, with patterned pink scarf. Inset of Gaynor Minden pointe shoe
Eliza Minden, head of design at Gaynor Minden, says it was heart-wrenching when the factory where they’d produced their patented pointe shoes for 25 years was forced to close. Photo of Eliza Minden by Eduardo Patino

“Our sales had plummeted, and we didn’t have enough orders. The factory had to auction off the equipment and sell the building. It was heartbreaking,” says Eliza Minden, head of design. “That might have put us out of business, but we had already established a secondary manufacturing source in Europe, so we could always meet demand. We survived as a company because we are so global, but it was wrenching having that chapter come to an end.”

When Production Lines Stopped

Product-development timelines were dramatically impacted as well, because of global delays in sourcing. Typically design teams see and feel new materials in person, but this year it was video meetings and patiently waiting for samples to arrive by mail. Bloch, Inc., delayed several new planned product launches, and Body Wrappers/Angelo Luzio canceled some new lines and amended other launches by cutting down on quantities and postponing delivery, says Trudy Christ, the company’s creative and PR director.

Dancer with plum-colored leotard and matching brown skin tone tights and dance slippers.
A Tiler Peck Designs leotard, from Body Wrappers/ Angelo Luzio, with pull-on ballet slippers and tights that come in diverse shades. Courtesy of Body Wrappers/ Angelo Luzio

Product testing and photo/video shoots also have to be carefully managed due to the pandemic. “We are using Zoom, but it is not the same as being physically with the dancer to see and understand what is working and what is not with a product,” says Cathy Radovan, COO of Bloch. “With newer products, we’ve recently done remote shoots where the photographer directs the dancer/model dancing from their home on the iPhone to capture content while ensuring the safety of everyone involved. It’s resulted in some really exciting new content.”

Keeping Customers Excited

Print catalogs have mostly given way to PDFs and videos—helpful, considering trade shows are now virtual too. And the rapidly changing industry has some manufacturers reevaluating future release dates: “We used to design an annual collection with one additional drop for back-to-school. However, now that we have started to sell direct to consumers through our e-commerce site, we have come to the realization that we need to drop product more frequently to keep our customers excited and invested in the brand,” says Michele Sparks, director of product development for DanzNmotion by Danshuz. “As a result, we will introduce small but beautifully crafted vignettes more frequently through the year.”

Dancer with red hair in handstand in front of a garage entrance, wearing black leggings and Pastry sneakers.
Outdoor and remote photo shoots helped dancewear makers adapt to the safety requirements of COVID-19. Courtesy of Pastry

Social media continues to play an important marketing and sales role for manufacturers. Gaynor Minden is relaunching its successful series of barre and conditioning classes on Instagram Live, archived on IGTV, where it has garnered more than 1 million views so far. “We recruited icons and artists to teach classes on our social media platforms using the hashtag #GMatHome, and we’re bringing it back now,” Minden says. “It helps dancers stay positive, connected and in shape, and it helps get our name out there.”

Danshuz is also partnering with dance influencers to create new social media content utilizing older or slow-moving products, as well as promotional competitions where participants have to purchase a specific item to qualify. “Social media, especially with stay-at-home orders and Instagram Live classes, continues to be an important factor in our design consideration, and color plays a huge role in that,” Sparks says. “We really felt the need to go beyond basic products and make items more special to give customers more of an incentive to buy, so we have added bright and fun colors that would translate nicely on Instagram.”

Watch for New Retailer Programs

Several manufacturers are also in the midst of releasing new retailer programs. Body Wrappers/Angelo Luzio is currently launching an Affiliate Program to help retailers increase online sales, and Ballet Rosa has launched a studio-uniform logo program that is free for retailers and could provide an extra revenue stream if the retailer chooses to charge studios a fee for the service.

Dancers are looking for positivity and ways to show their resilience as they continue training under unusual conditions, says Luis Guimarães, CEO of Ballet Rosa. Positivity is the byword of manufacturers, too. “The real threat is not the virus. It’s letting go and giving up,” he says. “We want to show strength with our collections and tell people that we are here for them. We are going to prevail, there will be a future, and we want to be a part of their future.” 

So what do dancewear makers see trending for 2021? Read “The 2021 Dancewear Trends Forecast” to help you plan your purchases.

Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from New York University and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.