I can’t think of a more surreal experience than being in class at a fashion school, finding out your designs are on the cover of WWD, leaving class to go get a copy and coming back to your professor yelling at you. Exactly one year ago today, this happened to Alan Eckstein, one half of Timo Weiland. If that's not an indicator of good things to come for a brand new designer, I don't know what is. It seems like overnight, Timo Weiland and Alan Eckstein--two very young self-proclaimed "fashion geeks" with no technical training--grew a small line of neckwear into a successful full-fledged men's and women's clothing line that will show at Lincoln Center on Sunday.
Also an integral part of the team, Donna Kang, the only one with a technical fashion background, is behind the scenes helping to make beautiful things happen. Together, they are unstoppable. We sat down with them in their tiny garment district office/studio to try to figure out how they came together and made all this happen in such a short a mount of time. How did the line come about?
Timo: We met through our old businesses: a consulting business that I was doing and a manufacturing business that Alan was doing with Donna.
Alan: I launched a luxury street wear company called Epic Firm and through that company I met Donna. I was at school and Donna was incredible and pretty much the best student to come out of FIT in a really long time. Then, when we were looking for a consultant for the company, I met Timo. Timo and I shared very similar views and we have a very similar taste level and we just decided it would be best to join forces.
Timo had this great idea for neckwear from the start and my grandfather was a man who wore a lot of ascots, so we decided to put our ideas of neckwear together and I naturally thought Donna would be amazing for us as well, so we launched the line about two years ago.
Timo: ...and very quickly realized that accessories were not the end game for us. We definitely wanted to do clothes just because it was really hard to pair other people’s clothes with it. We even went to the extent of having a shoot where a girl was topless and we realized that wasn’t us either and we were like, there needs to be clothes and they need to be amazing clothes and everything needs to be flowing and just really impeccable. So, after the first season of accessories we moved right into ready to wear.
Alan: We just found ourselves always saying things like, if we designed the shirt it would look like this and if we designed a suit it could look like this. There were always these what ifs during the design process in neckwear. It wasn’t even a business model; it was just like we are doing clothing. How did you raise the money?
Timo: We’re privately funded by my family and there's been cash flow from sales and also from another manufacturing business that I have. [The company] has been growing a lot too. It’s grown volume-wise, so now we’re funding through cash flow that way. The growth has helped, but also it’s greater amounts of money that have to be spent...Its really complex having a small manufacturing business. Funding is key.
Alan: We are truly concentrating on our funding now. We always have been, but we are 100% conscious of exactly how much we have, exactly how much is going out, and exactly how much is going in.
Timo: We’ve been approached by different investor groups, some that are really spectacular. Its interesting...I think, down the road, we will definitely need additional capital to grow. What’s your educational background?
Timo: I went to Vanderbilt University and majored in economics, spanish language and literature and business management and did a minor in music. (Yes, that’s three majors and a minor) Then, I went into finance even though i knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to do more manufacturing and fashion design. Everything like that was always on the back burner, but I never came out [and did it] until later.
Alan: I went to school originally for music. I studied music history of jazz and then left school. I checked myself into FIT, thinking, I love fashion; I love design, but maybe I should go for more of a business approach, so I enrolled in Advertising, Marketing and Communications, where I still am actually. I just take classes at night. Next semester, I’ll be taking design classes for the first time.
Donna: I went to FIT and majored in eveningwear, art and knitwear.
Timo: I think...to go back to the different worlds that we all come from, I think all of us were kind of fashion geeks. Especially me where no one gave a second glance at fashion magazines or anything. At Vanderbilt, I was always secretly reading W and Vogue and it was kind of always a passion, a secret passion. What was the scariest thing about going out on your own?
Alan: I guess when doing anything creative, you put something out there and you never know how it’s going to get reviewed. You never know how it’s gonna sell; you never know how it’s gonna get received by the consumer; you don’t really know who’s going to end up buying it. You want to control every single element of your business and the first couple seasons it’s very hard. The line kind of takes a path of its own as well. So, you kind of keep your control and you try to keep the path that it takes the same.
Timo: You start to know what you’re really good at. Our dresses have sold the best - dresses and knitwear - so you realize what you can sell and you make it. You try to really, really fine tune that.
Alan: Every season is a tremendous learning experience, whether it be through sales, public relations, editor feedback...Now we really know we’re getting known for a certain style, a certain look, and we kind of have to hone in on that and produce that.
Timo: ... and make it so that it’s still on the edge, still on the forefront and not predictable, which is a fine balance because if it’s too literal or too predictable, it’s horrible.
What are your biggest challenges now?
Alan: Budget, preparing for the future and always making sure that your future is aligned with your ideals.
Timo: Deepening sales accounts and relationships. Not necessarily just more dollars, but more categories and deeper into each category.
Alan: Its not really a worry, but kind of an idea - the fact that we have to create an amazing quality product every single season that wont confuse our customer, that our customer will understand, that our customer will want. Who would you say has helped you the most along the way?
Timo: We have to say, creatively, completing the circle, Donna has been integral.
Alan: Even just from a knowledge standpoint. Donna comes from houses like Carolina Herrera and Adam Lippes. She has tremendous amounts of schooling and knowledge and she is always teaching us something. She knew how a very successful house was run - from a design organization standpoint, to a business standpoint, so we’re always taking cues from her. And Megan Maguire Steele [their PR rep] is awesome. It helps to have someone like your pr manager giving you clues every now and then.
Timo: Also my mother, Alison Weiland, has obviously been a huge support.
Alan: Your mother’s also helped on an emotional level. Your mother is amazing.
Do you think it’s really important to have a PR team behind you as a young designer?
Timo: Absolutely. First and foremost, from an organizational standpoint, i think it is important, depending on how small your collection is. I mean, if you’re only doing one very particular niche, then it would probably be fine [without PR], but for us it’s menswear; its womenswear; it’s knitwear; it’s outerwear; it’s dresses - and we’re doing bridal, shoes, accessories.
In order to try and keep track of everything and in order to help develop relationships, there needs to be someone helping. We don’t have any other employees to help or interns that really have the capacity to do it, so for us i would say yes [it’s important].
What would you say, if anything, was your big break?
Timo: WWD cover. It was the week of our first show ever...the first day of fashion week, so it was distributed at the tents, which was amazing, especially for someone that no one at the tents had even heard of yet. They were probably like, who is this? And it was a full look.
Alan: We’ll talk about that forever, I think. I actually got yelled at in class because I left for a couple minutes to go grab it and I grabbed a whole lot of copies and my teacher yelled at me when I came back and asked me what was in the bag. I showed him and he was totally silent after that and i think he was proud. I was proud.
Donna: I was at Carolina [Herrera]. Someone came up to me and told me it was on the cover and I started screaming.
Alan: That was almost exactly a year ago.
Timo: Yeah, it was September 10th.
Alan: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Where will Timo Weiland be in five years?
Timo: Shoes and bags. We love accessories. We would love to expand on our women’s dress category, our men’s outerwear category, more department stores. Barneys is a key door that we love working with. Alan: We’d love to expand to the international client. We already have our foot in some of the doors internationally but it seems like Europe is a wonderful opportunity for us. Some wonderful American designers are going there now such as Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren.
Timo: We’d love to have small stores some day, maybe one in London. I think London is just such a natural fit.
Is there there anything else you want to say or add?
Timo: We love Fashionista. We read it every day. We live for it.
We love you more!