Judy Zhang on managing a startup during the Coronavirus outbreak

I first heard about the novel coronavirus in my home in Shenzhen on January 19th. Just the day before, my office closed for the Chinese New Year break. At the moment, the situation did not seem very serious, and like many people, I was preparing for my holiday travels. On January 23, I traveled from China to Milan without any problems. However, when I arrived in Milan, I heard that Wuhan was locked up on the same day.

With the increase in travel during the holidays, things came quickly in China – and then the world. Soon, travel connections became ubiquitous, and this would be a challenge for running my business. As the CEO and founder of design apparel brand Judy Zhang and a fashion production company, I split my time between Shenzhen, Milan and New York.

When I launched my own label in 2019, I was determined to base my brand out of the three cities that inspire me the most. I am drawn to the diversity of New York and how the city provides opportunities for people of different life groups to thrive. Milan, on the other hand, is rich in culture and art, and is known for the connoisseurs of craftsmanship. Lastly, Shenzhen, which is a young city compared to New York and Milan, is a breeding ground for creativity and miracles. The interactions I have in these cities broaden and enrich my perspective, and it inspires me to push myself to bring my own individuality to the fore in designing something more global.


The initial design always starts in Milan, and I will often fly there first. This is where I get inspiration and raw materials, and confirm initial design sketches. I spent the good part of February in Milan. On February 27, I flew to Paris for market appointments. In the meantime, back in Shenzhen, it was a well-deserved two-week celebration for my team to quickly become a nightmare. I immediately advised my employees, whether they were traveling within China or not, to stay home and not return to work until it was safe. We have ensured that all employees are paid during this time.

On March 1, we slowly but surely start returning to work, even though we were home. Employees who traveled from lower risk areas were asked to take self-quarantine for seven days, while employees who returned from higher risk areas were asked to self-quarantine for 14. According to the law all employees took the nucleic acid and passed the test and provided their QR codes – that is, the government's electronic health data about an individual before they were allowed to work. Lastly, all employees are advised to practice social distancing, and work areas are constantly disinfected. Each employee gets six masks and takes their temperature every day, and their shoes and arms are sprayed with alcohol before entering the office. They are also expected to wear masks for the sake of each other at all times. By April 1, most of my employees in China had returned to work. My team in Milan and New York is currently working from home. The impact will only be fully known by the end of this epidemic.

They put a surveillance camera on my door to supervise me.

My plan was to return from Paris to Milan on March 5 and fly back to China on March 8, but things escalated in Milan & # 39; a few days before market appointments ended, and that it became clear to me that I had to adjust my journey. Italy has canceled flights to and from China, and many flights to China from elsewhere have already been canceled. With so many cities closing, I wasn't sure if I would be able to return home.

I was able to leave Paris on March 6 to Shenzhen. I was immediately quarantined – especially since I was in Milan within 14 days of arriving. At the time, I was traveling alone and was allowed by the government to sign quarantine in my own apartment after signing a contract. They put a surveillance camera on my door to supervise me. I had my temperature taken up by government-appointed health officials, who came to my door every day at 9:30 am and 3:30 pm. to take my temperature and ensure that I do not show any symptoms. Community managers have come to provide food and other necessities, as well as fruits and gifts.

This time of isolation and self-reflection has led me to find new ways to develop business strategies. I spent my isolation gathering inspiration for my Spring 2021 collection and holding virtual meetings with my teams and calls with clients. I also made sure I stayed in touch with my friends and family. To strengthen my immune system, I practiced yoga and cooked healthy meals every day. I also cleaned my apartment deep, which I do not always have time to do. On the 15th day I did my last investigation, and I signed another agreement. During my last investigation, the health officials sang a party for me. After all, I have completed the quarantine of government and the spring of 2021 collection designs and strategy.



In general, things are much calmer now in China. Many returned to work on February 20, and by March 1 most businesses were back in action. However, given the global nature of the pandemic, many companies are still affected because we are unable to export goods. As for the disease itself, there are currently few new home affairs in China as the government has strictly controlled the outbreak. Anyone entering airports must quarantine for 14 days to ensure safety.

In these difficult times, I am grateful to my team. If I have an exceptional team, I can manage them from afar. Design begins in Milan; Shenzhen manages the manufacturing process, where I oversee the team to ensure quality; and New York, our head office, is where sales are managed. Because the virus is present in China, in Shenzhen, we are back to work and we can get back into motion.

My team in Milan is very much affected by the virus, and unlike online, there is no way to do business. The city seems to be at the peak of the epidemic curve, and I was told that we won't even start working again in June, when the spring market season is mostly over. I assume the production of our fall season can be affected as well, and I need to plan our dates accordingly. To reduce the loss of our meetings in person, we are advised to & # 39; take a video to introduce the latest collection to our Milanese clients who cannot personally assess the collections.

Unfortunately, the pandemic will wipe out many businesses, but will hopefully create room for other business.

The New York epidemic has just begun, and I'm still trying to understand a timeline for it. We have an exceptional sales team that usually travels nationwide to understand the market and customer needs. Obviously, it was affected by the pandemic, so we shifted gears. We started working with different sales teams and customers to sell collections on their online platforms to introduce new goods. We have used our own e-commerce platform intensively and are happy to move our physical sales online. I am sure this shift will continue to be fruitful for our business.

The effects of COVID-19 will change how the global fashion industry does business. I believe the change will be a bigger shift from physical to online, not just in retail, but at every level. I think businesses will allow more flexibility to work at home with productive online meetings. Unfortunately, the pandemic will wipe out many businesses, but hopefully it will make room for other businesses to innovate. To alleviate the financial pressure, I plan to maintain strict control over the quantity of goods and control unnecessary spending. Having a factory of our own gives us better control over the quantity and quality of the goods and the flexibility to produce time. We are ready to develop and produce with very little reading time. We are also ready to expand our sales to different markets, whether physical or virtually. I'm also going to continue to nurture & # 39; a strong and talented team. I am looking for quality employees over quantity. I believe the business will be impacted in the coming years, and I will have to make sure that my teams are well balanced.


Running an independent fashion business is a dream I have worked so hard to realize – and the pandemic will not change that. I built my team around the ideas of working together to achieve goals and empowering employees to find their own management and problem-solving methods to achieve our collective goals. I like young talent at the company – they make me feel younger with their freshness and new ideas. These are often the ones that make me feel more creative and willing to take chances, even if I fail.

At the end of the day, I am grateful for everything I have. I have my health. My parents and siblings are all quarantined and also healthy. My daughters, who flew from Los Angeles to China on March 26, are currently quarantined, but are doing well. I look forward to reuniting with them after their 14 days. Even a pandemic will come to an end.


Everything is always constantly moving, and we will face our ground of turbulent change. I have 168 phenomenal colleagues in the production, sales and design teams who are also family to me. As long as we have our goals and a team, we will always find our way to the right path and realize our dreams.

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