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How DIY Fashion Collective Flying Solo Is Taking Direct-to-Consumer Retail Offline

This New York City-based storefront is run by 45 independent designers (and counting).
Flying Solo in New York City. Photo: Flying Solo

Flying Solo in New York City. Photo: Flying Solo

Following a direct-to-consumer model instead of relying on wholesale accounts has become the norm among young, emerging brands. This type of business is primarily achieved online through e-commerce, but Flying Solo in New York City aims to connect with shoppers face to face from a storefront in Nolita.

Founded by jewelry designer Elizabeth Solomeina, Flying Solo is a DIY fashion collective made up of 45 independent and local designers who have joined forces to afford a 2,000-square-foot space on Mulberry Street. "We want to sell to customers but we have no place to do so. With this concept, we basically cut out the middleman," says Solomeina. "Here, we can present our whole vision." The foot traffic is perfect for Flying Solo. Located on a quiet side street filled with small boutiques — just blocks away from Broadway's bustling strip of brand-name flagships in Soho — the shop welcomes a solid mix of tourists and fashion-loving locals. As a result, the designers benefit from hearing feedback firsthand, and in return, they can immediately improve their product and brand.

Though not run by the designers themselves, Tictail, an e-commerce platform, champions emerging designers as well — up to 100,000 sellers from over 140 different countries can be found within the site's marketplace — from its Lower East Side flagship in a similar fashion. Product merchandiser Anna Decilveo curates the brick-and-mortar's stock, showcasing new brands every week, along with special events. It doesn't exactly follow the traditional wholesale model because profits go to the sellers (however, Tictail does take a cut). Brand Assembly, founded by Hillary France, also highlights fledgling designers through its trade shows and a partnership with Lord & Taylor, as well as providing them with operational and financial services. There are permanent locations in both Los Angeles and New York City to serve as co-working, showroom and conference room spaces. "The market share is so small, but there are so many talented designers," says France. "They have to band together to further their business."

Minan Wong at Flying Solo in New York City. Photo: Flying Solo

Minan Wong at Flying Solo in New York City. Photo: Flying Solo

Flying Solo stemmed from Solomeina's own struggles as a designer, from finding retailers that would take a chance on a new brand (a rarity these days) to production and inventory costs. "I realized that the industry is truly broken," she says. After testing the concept with a series of pop-ups throughout the Upper West Side and Soho in February, Solomeina was able to find a long-term space to house 33 up-and-coming designers. With the help of an investor (who put down a deposit to hold the space), Flying Solo opened up shop in mid-June.

"We got the lease on a Tuesday night and we had to open on Saturday," remembers Solomeina. "We didn't have money for construction, so we had to do it ourselves. I had tears in my eyes when we opened. It was amazing to see what we could achieve as a group because we really wanted it to happen."

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Since then, the collective is nearing 50 designers offering womenswear, accessories and jewelry. Chikimiki, one of the newer additions to Flying Solo, is run by Elise Dealmeida, who creates ethically made, high-end apparel; Kalamarie is a luxury handbag line founded by two sisters; SoCal designer Karie Laks adds ease to her sophisticated clothing, while S/H Koh offers jewelry inspired by architecture, sculpture and geometry. Solomeina says she has plans to take on menswear labels in the future.

Together, the designers behind Flying Solo help pay for rent and additional expenses, such as electricity. They are also required to work for the shop one full day per week, with up to four designers on the floor each day. Of course, if a designer needs to double-up shifts to skip a week for appointments or traveling, that's easily doable. "We have one designer flying from Dallas every other week to work her shift, which blows my mind. The level of commitment," says Solomeina. Aside from being sales associates, designers can also take charge of other roles, like managing the website or social-media accounts. All profits from sales go directly towards the brands, and because Flying Solo's existence relies on a team effort, Solomeina interviews each designer, handpicking those who are fit for the collective and open to working with others.

Katie Lares at Flying Solo in New York City. Photo: Flying Solo

Katie Lares at Flying Solo in New York City. Photo: Flying Solo

Approaching Flying Solo's six-month mark, Solomeina hopes to provide free education to those outside of the collective. "I see all of the mistakes that independent designers make when they start their brands, and I want to stop them from making [them]," she says. At the store, she'll hold seminars open to both professionals and fashion students on starting a brand, retail and finances. For the holiday season, Flying Solo will partner with a charity to present a fashion show and, most recently, the space held a meet-up for fashion bloggers and influencers.

The space isn't all work and no play: there are birthday parties and housewarming get-togethers held within Flying Solo, too. "A lot of people say the same thing, 'Before joining the collective, I was in front of a computer in my studio alone,'" explains Solomeina. "A lot of people were lonely. I was lonely myself. Knowing there were people like you out there — people who go through the same struggles — it's actually amazing. It's better."

Visit Flying Solo at 224 Mulberry Street from Sundays to Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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