What does it take to start—and, more importantly, sustain—a new clothing brand? On-the-rise designers and nominees for the CFDA Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent Fernando Garcia (one half of Monse), Gabriela Hearst (Gabriela Hearst), Sander Lak (Sies Marjan), and husband-wife duo Laura Vassar Brock and Kristopher Brock (Brock Collection) gathered last night to shed light on the answer.
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On a panel moderated by fashion legend Kenneth Cole, who also offered up pearls of wisdom, the crew shared their (both exhausting and exhilarating) experiences in the industry thus far and offered advice for anyone looking to launch a label. Here, their 8 best tips:
1. Say yes to everything.
“I took every job I could get my hands on, whether it was ripping up cotton poplin to make hair things on an Italian Vogue shoot, or it sitting in a closet and organizing sticky boobs. Take any position that you can to learn, because all of the steps along the way are crucial.”—Laura Vassar Brock, Brock Collection
2. Make your own luck.
“A little trick I learned with finding manufacturers: Don't ever email or tell people you are coming—just show up. If you show up, they can't turn you away.”—Kristopher Brock, Brock Collection
3. Find your cheerleaders.
“You can not make it [in this business] if you do not have emotional support from your friends and family because you will need to sacrifice so much of your free time.”—Gabriela Hearst, Gabriela Hearst
4. Keep your team content.
“I have a second job now, and it’s made me notice how people are affected when you’re not as involved in tending to their primary needs. High morale really affects work flow, and makes everyone much more motivated; and even small gestures, like a simple good morning, help. Although I worry about obvious things like sell-throughs—and that's definitely very important, and what keeps a company running—the benefits of a happy team has been my biggest lesson.”—Fernando Garcia, Monse
5. Connect with your clients.
“You learn who your woman is by meeting your retail partners, and their customers. Because when they hear the passion behind your work—from sourcing the materials to how it was made—it becomes more to them than clothes hanging on the rack.”—Gabriela Hearst, Gabriela Hearst
6. You do you.
“Yes we create a product, but nobody is waiting for another product, so the process of making it is a lot of choices based on gut feelings. Some things that might seem or feel wrong [logically], but if you believe in them, you have to do them. In the end, you are the person who's going to create. That's why we love what we do!”—Sander Lak, Sies Marjan
7. Carve out a niche.
"Take a look at the current market, and make sure you are not selling something that's there already. [Monse co-founder Laura Kim and I] started the company after seeing brands that were established as too feminine or too masculine, and we wanted to strike something in the middle. Then we distinguished ourselves by creating a DNA of manipulating shirts in news ways. I think if you have a couple of defining cornerstones—for us, it's shirting, stripes, primary colors, and everything that's sort of effortless and easy to wear—and build on those things [you'll be successful]."—Fernando Garcia, Monse
8. The best style has substance.
“Making it in this business requires significant personal compromises: it takes more than 40 hours a week, and whole lot of yourself. So I believe there needs to be a greater purpose, something bigger than just how much revenue you can generate. What you stand for is even more important than what you stand in. And being aware is even more important than what you wear.”—Kenneth Cole, Kenneth Cole