Behind the Scenes of Operating a Business During COVID-19

We are so grateful for this chance to be useful during Covid-19, but it’s also been completely nuts setting up a new effort of business in the midst of social distancing. To give you a window into the insanity, here are two lists: what is within our control and what is outside of it. But we’ll start with the most interesting one first…

Some Important Things Outside Our Control:

  • USPS:  Our face masks are sewn in the garment district in New York (by some amazing seamstresses who used to sew high fashion clothes and fancy wedding gowns that aren’t really in as much demand these days). We ship these out of our local USPS midtown New York office, which is struggling with outrageous short staffing, operating at only 30% of their regular resourcing. We have been seeing up to 3 weeks for some shipments just to be scanned in, which is hard for customers to wait for and hard for us to endure after all the effort we took on to get them in the mail on time. We have donated masks to the troupers who have been showing up day after day, and we wish we could do even more to help them.  The good news is that we will be easing USPS New York’s burden and lowering our shipping times by bringing fulfillment back to Spokane next week, where the post office is operating at normal staffing and throughput.
  • The great elastic shortage of 2020.  Who knew.  Elastic is in short supply across America. We can’t control the elastic supply, but decades of being a good partner (yay Gravitas) means that we get help buying what we need. Learn more about our Veronica and Deborah Kim, our dynamic duo of elastic suppliers here. They had to lay off 8 employees at Panda International when Covid-19 first hit and they had to close their in-person operations, but they have pivoted to providing elastic online and now they have hired 2 of their employees back. This is what the Tokki X Gravitas partnership is all about!
  • Manhattan street closures. We don’t control the traffic in New York City, although if we did I’m not sure we wouldn’t do anything differently. Street closures to enable socially distant walking in dense neighborhoods are creating a shipping pickup and delivery nightmare. The Gravitas team is biking, wagoning, and begging rides from friends to get our goods around the city and out to all of you.

Some Important Things Within Our Control:

  • How hard we work:  Lisa Sun, my girlfriend and CEO of our partner company Gravitas New York who leads the design and production of our Tokki x Gravitas masks, has been working 28 days straight.  We are all trying to do everything we can to make sure she gets to take this weekend off.
  • How much we care:  I’ve started taking over customer service emails because I am tied up in double knots with empathy for both our customers and for our overwhelmed front-line postal workers.
  • How we communicate:  Now more than ever, it’s important to communicate as much information as possible with 100% assumption of positive intent.  One of the reasons I try to do my best even when I don’t feel like it is because I want it to be true when I say, “I am trying my best.”  And whenever I hear the truth of that statement from someone else, it always connects us closer together.
  • What we share:  This is the most important decision we get to control.  Lisa and I are the CEOs!  We get to make this decision without writing a slide deck or doing a focus group. Donating masks to the front lines is what fuels us.  Doing it together with our customers is amazing. Mama Sun (Lisa’s mom) reminds us to be grateful for the opportunity to be useful – and we are. With our whole hearts.  

I share these insights because I’m proud of our team and grateful to every one of you who have offered your words of patience, kindness, and support. Although I’m working customer service through the worst wide-scale delays I’ve ever seen in my decade of leading e-commerce companies, I’ve never seen such generosity in customer messages. You make all of us better people.

We are learning and evolving as fast as we can. Thank you for being a part of this journey.

Jane