26 April 2011

Town and Country


06 April 2011


On Thursday night IndieCouture Magazine notified me that I had won a full day pass to AFINGO fashion forum. On Friday, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. in order to arrive at Fashion Institute of Technology by 9:30. It was such an enlightening experience to meet ambitious, driven figures in the fashion industry. Hard work pays off and perseverance is what separates the talented designers who succeed from the talented designers who don’t succeed. It was through a process of trial and error that Rent the Runway was born. At first it seemed to co-founder and CEO Jennifer Hyman that designers would never agree to sell dresses at wholesale price to rent out at a fraction of the cost especially during the same time the styles were flooding into Saks and Barneys. But when Hyman and her fellow co-founder Jenny Fleiss had a big break with a prestigious designer who also turned out to be an excellent mentor, the rest followed and RTR was open for business. Some designers who already have money at the beginning of their developmental stages, “do not understand what it is like to grind on a business,” stated Ben Fischman founder of Rue La La.

Those with innovative ideas are most likely to succeed especially when money becomes scarce. Neil Blumenthal, co-founder of Warby Parker, met the demand for a showroom by opening his apartment to customers who wanted to view merchandise prior to purchasing online; thus building a business on excellent customer service and personal relationships with clients. “The best organizations and businesses solve real problems,” stated Blumenthal. The first problem Warby Parker solved was the unavailability of high quality designer glasses at affordable prices. Additionally, Warby Parker gives away a pair of glasses to someone in need whenever a pair is purchased.

“With great power comes great responsibly,” stated Benjamin Parker in Columbia Pictures’ 2002 Spider-Man. Designers should preserve the earth through philanthropy and sustainability. Jill Fehrenbacher, founder of Inhabitat.com, receives emails from uneducated people who do not believe that eco-friendly fashion is a topic worth covering. With staggering World Bank statistics like 20% of the world’s industrial waste results from textile dyeing, sustainability is a topic with great precedence. For Costello and Tagliapietra, co-founders of the line that bears their last names, being conscious of the environment is simply a way of doing business. The duo fashions products from organic cotton and wool, and dye fabric without negatively impacting the environment. Lisa Salzer repurposes lovely “old things” in her line Lulu Frost, in which 80% of productions have an antique, vintage element. Fashion consultant Julie Gilhart raised the question of how we can improve the state of the planet with everything we do. She suggested that attacking large corporations like Nike and HM for poor environmental practices while educating the consumer is an effective beginning. Gilhart also stated that designers who abide by eco-friendly standards should not be dubbed “eco-designers.” Instead simply “call them designers,” she says because that is who they are first and foremost.

Cynthia Rowley who has designed everything from dresses to Band-Aids says that curiosity is the most important quality in a successful designer as well as the drive to not rest one’s laurels. When asked about her proudest moment as a designer, Rowley emphasized that the best moment is now. Always looking to the future was a theme that echoed throughout the forum. Daniel Silver co-founder and designer of Duckie Brown warned that launching and building a line is not easy, especially for a self-funded company like his. The same stores that carry your clothing now may not do so in subsequent years. In the particular case of Duckie Brown, the stores across the U.S. that can handle the brand’s price point and tailored menswear concept dropped from about 50 in 2001 to under 20 today.

Regardless of the obstacles placed in one’s way, the determined, talented, resourceful designer/businessman/businesswoman will succeed. The amazing figures I met reinforced my belief that hard work really does pay off, and that determination and belief in oneself is of the utmost importance. Furthermore, the American fashion industry is the most receptive to new talents.

(left to right) Ben Fischman, Neil Blumenthal, Jennifer Hyman, Darren Schwartz, Aslaug Magnusdottir, Yancy Strickler

(l to r) Nick Axelrod, Cynthia Rowley

(l to r) Julie Gilhart, Melissa Kushner

Lisa Salzer

(l to r) Jill Fehrenbacher, Robert Tagliapietra, Jeffrey Costello

(l to r) Randi Packard, Daniel Silver

(l to r) Fern Mallis, Randi Packard, Daniel Silver, Steven Cox, Adam Lippes



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