Starting your own label can be a tough but rewarding endeavor, and nobody knows that better than those who have done it themselves. Our "How to Get Your Fashion Label Off the Ground” panel at Friday's "How to Make It In Fashion" conference brought together a diverse group of designers who have started their own lines — and lived to tell the tale.
Baja East designers and co-founders Scott Studenberg and John Targon, co-founder and CEO of La Ligne Molly Howard, Rachel Roy and Timo Weiland gathered this morning to chat with Fashionista's Dhani Mau about the ins and outs of the business, discussing everything from how they found their business partners to why their eclectic, non-design backgrounds have helped them thrive. Read on for some of their best words of wisdom regarding building a brand from the ground up.
1. You don't need to have a design background to be successful.
Believe it or not, none of the designers on the panel — who have collectively dressed the likes of Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber, Karlie Kloss and more — came from a design background. But whether it was Weiland pulling from his history in investment banking or Howard drawing from her days in business development at Rag & Bone, they all found ways to leverage their unique skill sets to benefit their brands at launch.
Roy, who had a background in retail before starting her own line, believes that the one-on-one time she spent with customers has been a serious boon to her business. "All of those years in retail and working inside the dressing room really [taught me] what makes someone feel happy and confident," she explained. "All of that is so good and beneficial in my own fittings now."
2. Be prepared to work hard — really hard.
With the stardom of designers like Olivier Rousteing, Riccardo Tisci and Marc Jacobs swelling to eclipse that of the celebrities they dress, the perceived glamour of a "creative director" title can be alluring. But it's not all cocktail parties and perfectly lit selfies. Weiland compared his office hours now to the crazy ones he worked as an investment banker on Wall Street. "The work ethic is about being able to show up early and stay late," he said. Studenberg and Targon, who held down other jobs for the first year they were working on their brand, agreed. "We would work every single weekend and every single night," they said.
3. Know what you're good at and stick to it.
With cool new brands popping up every day, trying to find your niche in an ever-changing (and oversaturated) marketplace can seem daunting. But the point isn't necessarily to be the buzziest brand out there, according to Roy. "You have to be okay with not being a media darling," she said. "There are very successful companies out there that we don't even know the name of their designers, but they have really quality product and they're doing well for themselves."
Targon emphasized that keeping this in mind is important even when it's tempting to jump on hot trends that seem to be passing you by. "Creating a vision and staying true to that vision should be at the core," he asserted. "Everything else will follow."
4. Maintaining good relationships is key.
Whether it's with a business partner, a buyer, a designer or manufacturer, interpersonal relationships have the power to make or break a label at the end of the day. Picking the right ones — and knowing how to tap into ones you've already built in the past — is crucial.
"It's really important to leverage any sort of relationship, but in an authentic way," Weiland said. "You are going to be dealing with real things in real time with these people, so if it's not someone you're going to enjoy working with day in and day out, I would encourage you to maybe not work with that person."
Howard, Studenberg and Targon added that they all found manufacturers by reaching out to contacts already in their network for tips — so it never hurts to ask for guidance. "There's this impression of fashion being cutthroat and bitchy, but it's really not that way,” Howard said. "Everyone's so willing to meet and give advice, in my experience. So I think not being afraid to ask for help is incredibly important."