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A worker fills an online order at the new distribution centre for La Vie en Rose in Montreal, April 14, 2020.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Thank goodness for pyjama pants.

That’s the prevailing sentiment at Boutique La Vie en Rose Inc. The Montreal-based retailer has taken a major hit, like many other chains that have had to close stores to help combat the spread of COVID-19. As people cancelled spring breaks and beach vacations, the company’s Bikini Village banner actually saw negative sales for the first time in its history on the week of March 30, recording more refunds on order returns than it sold. The one bright spot: leisure wear such as leggings, comfortable tops and PJs.

“Thank God we have a wide assortment of these types of garments," said John Izzo, vice-president of design and development at La Vie en Rose. “Right now, we are surviving on our e-commerce sales. ... We have a lot of sleep wear that is selling out. The ones that can double-up as leisure wear, those are the ones that we’re having a lot of success with.”

La Vie en Rose Inc. has seen a surge in orders for pajama bottoms and leisure wear in recent weeks. Open stock is photographed here at the new distribution centre in Montreal April 14, 2020.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Other retailers are also seeing a surge in orders for comfortable clothing as people are urged to stay inside.

Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica Inc. is sold out of some items on its website, such as some sizes and colours of its popular Align leggings. Customers who previously shopped only in stores have recently made purchases online, the company said in an e-mail.

Gap Inc.'s Old Navy brand has sold out of items online, including a black high-rise yoga pant and cinched-hem jogging pants, and Gap’s website has also sold out of some leggings and joggers.

In the past week alone, Uniqlo Canada Inc. has seen online sales of lounge wear and athleisure clothing grow by 200 per cent, with some items selling out, such as the women’s Ultra Stretch sweatshirt and sweatpants set.

“We’ve shifted our marketing dollars to drive traffic online,” said Uniqlo Canada marketing manager Sehee Kim. That includes paid partnerships with social-media influencers such as fashion and lifestyle blogger Odemi Ibrahim, and personal trainer Jose Lopez, who posted videos of himself doing at-home workouts in shorts and a jacket from the brand’s Sport Utility collection.

“We changed our strategy to focus more on how you can entertain yourself and stay safe at home. Those were the messages we quickly adopted,” Ms. Kim said.

Many clothing brands have shifted their online advertising messages. On Sunday, San Francisco-based clothing line Everlane sent an e-mail to customers saying that "every day is beginning to feel a bit like Sunday,” and promoting lounge wear such as oversized T-shirts, leggings and cotton jumpsuits. Club Monaco has been running online ads telling customers to “feel your best at home in cozy, everyday lounge wear.”

Many retailers saw a precipitous drop in sales in mid-March, as the shock to Canada’s economy put a chill on consumer spending. But as people have adjusted to the “new normal,” some e-commerce activity has returned.

“When customers realized that they were going to be home for a while, we started to see that increase,” said Ashley Freeborn, co-founder of Vancouver-based Smash + Tess. The company was launched four years ago as an e-commerce business selling lounge wear in soft fabrics. While its wholesale business has been affected as retailers have closed their doors, orders on the website have doubled in recent weeks. Its most popular rompers have sold out and the company is now accepting preorders for delivery in four to eight weeks.

In mid-March, Ms. Freeborn was not sure whether advertising was even a good idea: The company pulled all of its ads and went completely quiet for about a week.

“All of our social plans and marketing plans, all of those are kind out the window at this point. You’re doing it on the fly," she said.

La Vie en Rose has adjusted its marketing as well, with plans to promote a wireless “tank bra” more heavily.

An employee fill online orders at the new distribution centre for La Vie en Rose in Montreal April 14, 2020.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The retailer has seen online sales jump by six to eight times in recent weeks, although e-commerce does not compensate for the loss in sales from brick-and-mortar stores. While the company has already purchased its fall and winter collections, not everything has been produced. It has been reaching out to suppliers to reduce some of those orders.

“The new reality will be that we perhaps overbought,” Mr. Izzo said. “... We’re getting excellent co-operation, but we don’t want to hurt our suppliers. We have to make sure that they survive this as much as we have to survive it.”

An employee goes down aisles of open stock to fill on-line orders at the new distribution centre for La Vie en Rose in Montreal April 14, 2020.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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