Last week in Moscow, the Russian Fashion Council organized a conference during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia that brought together fashion experts from around the world to discuss everything from virtual reality to government regulation of textile industries. Emerging brands were a focus of the two-day panel series called Fashion Futurum. It's an especially appropriate topic for Moscow since the local fashion week seeks to give very young designers time in the spotlight.
To that end, the Russian Fashion Council invited Vogue Italia's Sara Maino to speak about her work scouting design talent around the world for the magazine. The editor and her team travel to major fashion cities as well as regions not as well-known for designer fashion (like Russia, Asia and Africa) to find early-stage brands. They also evaluate applications uploaded through the Vogue Italia "Talents" online vertical. If a designer passes muster, he or she is given the title's stamp of approval online and opportunities to collaborate or participate in Vogue Italia projects. Maino's eye for potential is proven: designers J.W. Anderson, Sophia Webster, Vyshyvanka by Vita Kin and Paula Cademartori are just a few brands she's discovered since she started talent spotting in 2009.
In Moscow, Maino outlined her core advice for emerging brands. (She said she dislikes the qualifier "young" for new brands unless the designer is actually 20 years old.) And at both of her public talks, the audience was filled with many of the Russian designers who debuted collections on the runway, eager for advice on how to take their businesses to the next level on an international scale.
Read on for Maino's nine biggest pieces of advice for emerging designers.
1. Quality is key, of course.
The global fashion market is oversaturated with young designers, so high quality production cannot be underestimated if you want to be successful. "It's not easy at the beginning," said Maino, acknowledging financial challenges.
2. Have a compelling message. (Bonus points if it incorporates your cultural background).
"It could be something related to tradition, an idea — sometimes it's just the uniqueness of the project that catches the eye," said Maino. "Bringing your cultural tradition, using textiles from your home country and doing it in a modern way is a way of communicating." Embrace what makes your region unique and weave it into the story of your brand.
3. Don't compare yourself to anyone else.
"To compare yourself to someone else is not right: you have to go your own path, communicate your own story and your own point of view," she said. "People want to see something new; it's not just about the brand [name]."
4. But don't be afraid to take inspiration from the past.
"The fashion industry has a really short memory so sometimes going backwards is not so bad [if you] put it in a modern way," said Maino. She used Vetements as an example. "The genius thing of them is that they got what [Martin] Margiela did 20 years ago and took it to the future." But she said designers need to update that aesthetic to fit the modern commercial climate, as Vetements has done by tackling streetwear.
5. Good attention at the wrong time can destroy a brand.
If designers don't have sufficient experience or business structure when the chance for visibility comes their way, it can be disastrous. "It's also our responsibility to give visibility to designers at the right moment... if it's the wrong moment, it ruins him or her," she said. Maino added that it is important to support creatives who might already be considered famous, because getting attention doesn't mean they don't need help to grow.
6. Take advice but stay true to your vision.
Maino gave two examples of ways she's helped designers think differently about their work. She advised Brazil's Paula Cademartori to use more color in her predominately black and white handbags. Cademartori's colorful designs quickly popped up in street style in 2014 and she has a solid, independent business. Maino also advised costume jewelry designer Martina Grasselli to put her jewelry on shoes after spotting a few styles Grasselli experimented with. Now her shoe line Coliac is also a growing business.
7. Don't be afraid to stay small.
Maino praised the freedom and control in maintaining a small, independent brand like Cademartori's. "For a designer to do six seasons, it's kind of too much," she said. Maino had recently returned from Saudi Arabia where she met promising designers who only do one collection per year in the summer, which is is appropriate for the country's hot climate.
8. Market yourself wisely through social media.
Through a private account, Maino scouts on Instagram, too. "The way [designers] present their work is very important," she said. "They have to show themselves to everyone, not just themselves." A strong brand message is useless if not communicated effectively.
9. Travel and see fashion in foreign places.
"You have to go outside, into the world and understand what happens beyond [your home]," she said. It doesn't mean you have to decide to compete outside your home country, she said, but it is essential to meet different people and understand the global fashion market.
Disclosure: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia paid for my trip and accommodations to cover the event.