While preparing to interview Daniel Vosovic earlier this week about his new design project, The Kit, I debated whether I should even bring up "Project Runway," on which he was a fan favorite all of 11 (what!) years ago. I didn't. Even though he's not as tight-lipped about it as some other PR alumni, it's something we've already covered, and at this point, Vosovic isn't a reality star still trading in on his 15 minutes; he's a fashion designer trying to keep a business afloat in a time when nearly everyone in the industry is struggling.
About two and a half years ago, after five years of producing traditional seasonal collections under his eponymous clothing label, his frustrations led him to an epiphany of sorts. He describes a feeling many of us will probably find relatable: "It was a seed of doubt that's in your stomach that maybe you know that you shouldn't be at that job, that you're dating the wrong person, maybe you know that just something is wrong. I'm a very proactive person, and there was something in me over the course of, like, six months... It got louder and louder, and I realized that I was on a hamster wheel that I just wasn't loving anymore. I felt very reactive to what stores wanted me to design; I was frustrated with the editorial restrictions of lead times and not being able to capture the energy of maybe a great celebrity placement, because often times they would wear the coolest, weirdest thing, which is not the thing that's picked up by a retailer," he explains. A few weeks before he was scheduled to show his fall 2014 collection, he drew a line in the sand: "I called my team over and I said 'Guys, we’re gonna pause,' and they were like, 'What are you talking about?' and I was like, 'We’re going to pause this collection.' And I remember thinking, I don’t know what my next step is but I'm going to stop doing what I don’t feel is right anymore. It was such a scary thing as a business owner, especially when you have people who rely on you for their rent money and their food and I've worked so hard to establish a name."
So, after experimenting with a few incremental shifts — skipping NYFW, going direct-to-consumer — Vosovic decided that instead of making small adjustments, he should start over entirely. "It was a really interesting thing to say, 'Daniel, make the choice before it's made for you.'" He describes this process using the metaphor of objects on a table: "Did I still like fashion? Yes, back on the table. Did I still love New York? Yes, back on the table. Did I love the traditional wholesale model? You know what? That's not going back on the table right now."
After discussions with his production partner Resonance Companies revealed that the latter had similar frustrations on the manufacturing side of, uh, the table, they worked together to find a solution to the "broken" fashion cycle. And what they've come up with does pretty much solve every issue I've heard a designer complain about: In a vertically integrated facility in the Dominican Republic, Vosovic can produce designer-quality items in just about any color or print and in any quantity, with a lead time as short as two weeks. If that business model sounds familiar, that's because it's the one employed by fast-fashion retailers like Zara and Boohoo. Brands across the spectrum have long struggled trying to compete with those retailers; even mid-market companies like Gap and Uniqlo have been trying to restructure their supply chains to become similarly nimble. But Vosovic may be the first to do it on the designer level. "We've built an entirely new business model using insane technology and great machinery that allows me to do stuff that I normally would be selling for $750, $800, $900, that I can have a great margin and sell to our customers for $395. And it's the same beautiful craftsmanship; we're printing on the same machines that Hermès uses."
The fast-fashion comparison only extends to the production model; Vosovic isn't trying to instantly shill runway trends; rather, "The Kit" is about versatility and ease and simplifying the process of getting dressed. It launched Tuesday with a low-key slip dress and a top in two different silhouettes and a variety of prints. New prints and silhouettes will launch every few weeks. There will even be "themed" kits, like a beach kit, a first-date kit and maybe even a "meeting your mother in law for the first time" kit. "The idea is everything, all at once, in a single kit." Vosovic says both the concept and name were inspired by Donna Karan's original seven easy pieces. He also didn't "want to add to this culture of blatant consumerism." He does, however, want to be able to respond quickly to a style or color his customers are showing an interest in, an iconic pop culture moment — he cited Beyoncé's "Lemonade" — or a celebrity wearing one of his designs. He calls it "design now, wear now."
He also has the flexibility (and creative energy) to decide on a whim how he wants to promote a new style, perhaps calling up one of his photographer or videographer to do a spur-of-the-moment shoot to put on his site and social media accounts. It's clear that "The Kit" wasn't just a business decision; it was also a personal one. "I literally love coming to work," says Vosovic, "because I get to play."
Resonance Companies has already begun working with other brands who want to leverage its nimble, vertically integrated production capabilities, and naturally you wonder if this seasonless, direct-to-consumer, quick-response model is the way of the future. Vosovic is probably correct in feeling that unlike this industry's past, there ultimately won't be just one way to do things. He compares it to the television industry, where network, cable, satellite and streaming models are all able to survive harmoniously.
If anything has become very clear as designers left and right proceed to move their shows to different cities, different times of the year, switch up the seasons that are shown to the public, hold runway images until six months after the fact and everything in between — while new brands constantly pop up promising transparency, fair prices and ethical production — it's that designers have finally realized they're not all beholden to the same (broken) system. I think it's safe to say that Vosovic's won't be the only big brand restart of 2017.