Last night was Fashionista’s first ever panel discussion! Bringing our “How I’m Making It” feature to life was so much fun and incredibly informative. Our fabulous panel included Timo Weiland and Alan Eckstein (of Timo Weiland), Rebecca Minkoff, Jeff Halmos (of Shipley & Halmos), Nellie Partow, Michael Mente (of Farfetch.com and Revolveclothing.com) and Paul Birardi and Eddy Chai (Odin and Pas de Deux). If you weren’t able to come, we didn’t want you to completely miss out, so here’s a rundown of what we feel were the evening’s most enlightening points. (Some good news for out-of-towners: We’ll be livestreaming our next event.) And if you did come, well, we (and our panelists) hope you didn’t leave too discouraged. If last night proved anything, it was that this business ain’t easy.
Lesson #1: Be ballsy.
The morning before his Fall 2010 presentation, Timo tea stained an enormous parachute in the middle of busy Washington Square Park, facing many curious strangers. However, I can attest that it looked amazing pinned on the ceiling above his models. “It was worth every awkward moment,” he said.
Alan once literally head-dove into a subway car, knocking people over, because he was running late for a meeting. Dangerous, but probably worth it.
Jeff sold clothes out of a trunk in a parking lot in L.A. He said it was the most rewarding part of his career because it was personal.
Rebecca once stood in Union Square handing out postcards and telling strangers to “check out this designer Rebecca Minkoff, she’s really hot.”
Nellie said starting the company was the ballsiest move she’s ever made.
Lesson #2: You don’t necessarily have to be obsessed with fashion or have lots of fashion experience to end up with a successful fashion business.
Michael Mente started his e-commerce site in 2002, at the end of the last recession, before e-commerce was “cool.” He had nothing to sell and actually stumbled upon fashion by chance.
Timo interned at Goldman Sachs and worked as a consultant before launching his namesake line.
Eddie had no retail experience before opening Odin with Paul.
Jeff admitted that they’re not just interested in fashion (Shipley & Halmos hasn’t shown the past two seasons) and are focusing more on other projects, like a book.
Lesson #3: Get your deliveries in on time.
Pretty much every designer agreed that getting a retailer’s order delivered on time was the most challenging and most important aspect of running a fashion business. Retailers Eddie and Paul reinforced the sentiment.
Lesson #4: Even after you “make it,” running a fashion business doesn’t really get any easier and there are still many day-to-day challenges.
“There are a million small things that always happen that are challenges, like today the toilet broke,” Jeff told us. He finds it hard not to get overwhelmed by small things.
Nellie explained, “basically, your whole day is spent problem solving…maybe 5% is actually designing.”
When asked what has been a major road block that maybe made them want to stop, Eddie responded, “You’re talking as if that’s past tense.” All of the panelists agreed that road blocks are constant.
Alan interned for Adam Lippes for 2-3 years and learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. Even interning at Goldman Sachs was beneficial to Timo in terms of learning about running a business.
Nellie took advantage of Parsons’ career center, which landed her internships at Donna Karan and Michael Kors.
Though he himself never interned, Michael said that Revolve’s internship program is really important and three of their five buyers started out as interns.
Rebecca gave some great internship advice, passed down to her from a former boss: “Be willing to experience anything and know that no task is too little.”
Lesson #6: Designers are vague about money and factories.
When asked how they got the money to start their business, Nellie explained that she started small, with just four dresses and admitted “it’s a continuous challenge to find capital…”
Timo’s advice was to make a really attractive, well-presented business plan with a logo and concept, and present it to your parents, your parents’ friends, or your parents’ friends’ friends. Alan added, “Just go for it!”
Michael “took baby steps, saved up and used credit cards.”
When asked about finding factories to have goods produced, Jeff, Timo and Alan said “trial and error” and Alan advised never to have just one factory because different factories are good at different things. He even advised just walking into some buildings in the garment center and going to each floor and asking people questions. However, no one actually named a factory…
In regards to factories in China, the consensus was that it’s “tricky” because there are huge minimums, it’s harder to get things on time and expensive to go back and forth, but most of them still do produce some things in China.
Lesson #7: Be really, really sure that this is what you want to do and is what you love.
This was probably the most important and agreed upon lesson of the discussion. When asked by an audience member what to do if you’re unsure and just want to “try out” a business idea, the panelists unanimously responded, “You have to be sure.” And you must enjoy the process, because there are going to be challenges and you’re not necessarily going to make much money.
Thanks again to our panelists, the Fashionista business team, Megan Maguire Steele, and of course, our audience, who asked great questions.