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Why This Emerging Designer Put Her Namesake Brand On Hold to Rebuild Her Business

Amanda Phelan believes young designers need to ditch the traditional retail model and launch brands digitally in order to survive.
A look from Phelan's Collection 4. Photo: Phelan

A look from Phelan's Collection 4. Photo: Phelan

For a young fashion designer with only three collections under their belt, it's a bit of a daring move to suddenly put your brand on hold in order to reassess an industry in flux. But for Brooklyn-based Amanda Phelan, the decision was a necessity — and pulling the plug on her namesake line to rebuild her business was a relief. "At least now I can say as a business owner, 'I'm heading in the right direction and I'm in control,'" Phelan tells Fashionista.

Phelan launched her eponymous brand in 2016, and it became obvious that something outside of her control was happening among retailers. "Things were going on sale literally a few weeks after they hit the floor. Buyers had no open-to-buy, or their buy stayed the same. Brands were dropping like flies all around," she recalls. "I think there's not a lot of sense to the structure, and to me that's my biggest hangup. I decided we needed to take action."

After the debut of her Spring 2017 collection, Phelan stopped her business's operations, took a brief hiatus and give herself time to research and analyze what was really happening in the fashion and retail space. She also wondered where Phelan would fit into that picture — or if her brand even fit in at all.

"Our hyper-visual digital age has impacted retail in such an irreversible way," says Phelan. "I see no future in moving down the retail rabbit hole any further than we already have. Some could argue that we were only three seasons into our brand, and that's not enough time, but from a business point of view, that is enough time to see everything a retail-founded fashion startup entails, and what it entails doesn't make a lot of sense."

Photo: Phelan

Photo: Phelan

First, Phelan decided to opt out of the traditional fashion calendar as well as New York Fashion Week, a place where her shows were known for theatrical dance performances. (She was a former dancer before she became a designer.) Moving forward, Phelan, the brand, will operate solely as a direct-to-consumer "virtual identity."

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Future collections are now seasonless, capsule-size and limited-edition only, including its newly launched "Collection 4." (A type of titling format practiced by the likes of Kanye West's Yeezy, Burberry and Public School – though only briefly.) Her collections are also hyper-focused on knits, which is Phelan's specialty. Though, she reveals that future drops could apply to a different product category within knitwear. One season could be all hoodies, while another might offer only swimwear, for example. "I'm keeping the doors wide open for experimentation and flexibility in this new model," says Phelan. 

In addition to purchasing product that's already available on the website, shoppers can also place pre-orders by signing up on a wait list. There's no deposit commitment required — for now, at least. It's a trust system, says Phelan. She's also taking an e-commerce tip from data-driven fast fashion sites like Zara by adding a "want" button for products that are no longer available. If there's enough demand for an item, then Phelan will put it back into production.

Photo: Phelan

Photo: Phelan

These new changes have provided the designer plenty of time (and budget costs) for marketing innovation, storytelling and brand awareness online, especially through social media and a revamped website, which will soon feature CGI integration and 360-degree photographs of all Phelan products. Viewers will also be able to zoom in and focus on the product's details down to its stitching. Micro-animations are also embedded throughout the site, like a cutting-edge film by New Media Limited, that features 3-D scanning and motion capture to showcase Collection 4. If you do happen to miss the brand's association with dance, the film also includes a performance from dancers wearing the latest collection. "Everything about the brand image and DNA remains," assures Phelan. "The main thing that we didn't want was someone else telling our story."

Simply put, Phelan's relaunch and new strategy is a ballsy move. But she hopes her new path will be a leading example for other emerging designers to trust themselves in making bold business decisions. "I just want to inspire others to feel the same way; that we are in this together," says Phelan. "The doors are actually wide open for business model exploration, new media and technology innovation. It's a very inspiring and exciting time for new brands if they'll take the risk to harness it."

See Phelan's Collection 4 in the gallery below.

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