Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sitting in the driver's seat

Running your own business is one of those things where you really don't know what you're getting into until you're in it.  

Having been in fashion for a while, I knew about seasons but I didn't really know much about navigating the showing/selling process.  Beyond the buyers who contacted me on their own, and the ones whose contact info I had collected from previous employers, I went about contacting them in a straightforward manner.  I went to shopping websites (including and other designers in the same market as me, and looked at where they were being carried.  I took down the phone numbers and called them up and asked how to speak to the buyer.  Almost all of them would give me an e-mail address, and told me to e-mail the buyer.  If they were interested, I would get a response.  I found that very few would write me back, even to say that they weren't interested.  I knew it would be tough since buyers tend to get inundated by requests for appointments.  

I tried to be persistent, but I also used guerrilla tactics.  Borrowing a trick from my former boss, Daniel Casarella, over at Barking Irons, I sent over a sample of one of my tees to the COOP buyer.  I was thrilled when I got a call for a meeting with the buyer.  Barneys is probably my favorite store in New York, and one of my major goals is to eventually get into the store. We've met a couple of times but as I mentioned in my last post, department stores tend to wait a few seasons before signing onto a brand (especially now).  I also sent a t-shirt over to Paris to Colette, which didn't get me a meeting, but at least got me an e-mail from the buyer's assistant.

I also managed to pick up some press here and there, including a small piece in Nylon, that made me especially happy.  

Meanwhile, I had some false starts with production.  At first, I tried to use overseas factories, introduced to me through friends, first in Hong Kong, then in Peru.  Everything ended up coming much later than they promised, which screwed me up because my samples weren't ready early enough.  This meant that by the time I did get appointments with buyers, they had already used up most of their budget, of which only a small amount is earmarked for unknown designers.  

Eventually, I got fed up with working with the overseas factories, where communication and timeliness were crippling issues.  I decided that even if it were more expensive, I would do production out of New York, with factories I had worked with as a production assistant at Proenza Schouler.  

SS08 had been difficult to sell because of my late samples from HK, so I did a few small consignment orders and moved on to Fall 08.  However, I had the same problems with lateness with a factory in Peru I was working with.  My samples were ready pretty late in the game.  I also realized that I was having a hard time selling knits in New York, so I took a trip out to Los Angeles to visit stores out there.  Some of the stores seemed interested but after the writer's strike, they said that business was slow and were reluctant to place orders.  

I came back to New York feeling frustrated.  I didn't realize the economy was only going to get worse, and having spoken to a couple of stores who agreed to sell my pieces on consignment, I decided to move forward with a modest production run in New York.  

It was my first time doing production on my own.  I worked with factory owners that I knew and trusted, and aside from some issues with dyeing and fabric shrinkage, the production run went fairly smoothly.  Selling it, however, was another matter...