We reached out to Erica Rosenfeld and Susan Parker, second generation owners of Bari Jay and daughters of founder Bruce Cohen, to ask for their thoughts on the status of a bridesmaid category long battered by online resources and now under additional strains by COVID-19.

Bari Jay, founded in 1971 by Bruce Cohen, currently offers bridesmaids, special occasion, flower girl and limited bridal collections through its network of full service bridal boutiques. Its recent release of stretch lux, velvet crepe and glitter fabric dresses has been well received, as has its Infinity dress.

VOWS: How would you describe the current state of bridesmaids?

Parker/Rosenfeld: Bridesmaids are not just bridesmaids anymore. Customers are excited when they feel there is value in the dress they purchase in terms of its versatility. They want a dress that flatters their body and isn’t a one-time wear. Covid had closed many stores early on and forced the postponement of many weddings. Now with re-openings all over the country, girls are quickly moving ahead with their wedding plans and want their best friends to be part of it.

VOWS: What do you think are the key factors negatively impacting this category?

Parker/Rosenfeld: Direct to consumer sales have seriously hurt brick and mortar stores. With an abundance of chiffon on-line, Bari Jay has decided to focus on other fabrics that are not readily available on-line or in the bridesmaid category. We have new and exciting stretch fabrics that are comfortable, sexy and figure flattering for all body types. Bari Jay is looking to appeal to the in store shopper by providing a high quality at a reasonable price that isn’t found discounted online.

VOWS: What do you say to stores when they tell you that are exiting the category?

Parker/Rosenfeld: We tell stores exiting the bridesmaid category that Bari Jay is not just bridesmaids. Our dresses are being worn as social occasion, MOB, prom, informal bridal and of course bridesmaids. When you purchase a Bari Jay dress, you are not just purchasing a bridesmaid dress; as the expression goes, there is more “bang for the buck”.

In terms of a reason for keeping bridesmaids in your store, bridesmaids are your future brides! If you send the bridal party to another store or online, you may lose the opportunity of servicing these future brides.

VOWS: What specifically do you think store owners need to do to effectively compete in bridesmaids?

Parker/Rosenfeld: We recommend working with manufacturers, like ourselves, that partner with you and do not work against you. Make sure you have styles and fabrics that are different than those that can be purchased at a discount on-line.

VOWS: What programs and/or options does Bari Jay offer stores in order to rebuild the viability of this category?

Parker/Rosenfeld: During this difficult time we developed a travelling trunk show program. We put together collections of 20 dresses in our 4 stretch fabrics for stores to see for themselves why we are a must have!

With the loss of markets, we created the trunk shows as we know there is no substitution for feeling the fabrics and seeing the quality firsthand. It gives the stores confidence to order the Bari Jay line. It also gives new stores the opportunity to work with us and experience our one-of-a-kind customer service.

Also our out-of-town bridesmaids program for out Khloe Jaymes collection enables stores to benefit from in-store and on-line sales. They can offer a discount coupon to the bride to give to their girls, which enables the out-of-towners to place their dress order directly with a store discount code and have the dress drop-shipped to them.

The store gets the local sale and also a commission on the out-of-town sales. And stores that prefer to have the dresses drop-shipped directly to the girls still receive the commissions.

VOWS: What is the status of the Khloe Jaymes collection?

Parker/Rosenfeld: We created Khloe Jaymes as a way to compete with online sellers. However, we have since switched our focus on how to better survive in this changing bridesmaid world.

We originally thought if you can't beat them, join them and created Khloe Jaymes. Clearly it isn't the most successful tactic as evidenced by other's going direct to consumer in this category. Our focus now is if you can't beat them, play a different game.

We understand that we cannot outsell or get market share back from the Azazie's of the world by creating more chiffon dresses. We need to make dresses that are different and give the customer value for walking into the store to make this purchase. The stretch lux, velvet, crepe and glitter knit fabrics we offer aren't offered by Azazie and other bridesmaid companies.

We are hoping to give bridesmaids a reason to walk into a store while allowing the store to preserve a decent margin for bridesmaids. With that said, we still do offer KJ as some stores really like it. We just aren't designing heavily into it as we are really trying to expand this new stretch world we entered.

VOWS: What message would you like to convey to bridal store owners?

Parker/Rosenfeld: Do not lose your future brides; invest in them. Have unique styles and fabrics. Think outside the category as Bari Jay dresses are not just bridesmaids and are certainly not the bridesmaid dresses you have been seeing for years. Work with companies that value you and will help you succeed! We at Bari Jay, want you to know that we are with you as we all work together to get through these unprecedented times!

Bari Jay style 2085, shown here in Wine color, showcases the company's velvet crepe fabric.