By  on October 17, 2008

NEW YORK — It’s all about smart decisions and fiscal discipline.

That emerged as a key theme Wednesday night at the Business of Fashion panel hosted by Saks Fifth Avenue and MasterCard with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The four panelists discussed ways to build financially viable businesses, particularly in the depressed economy.

The panel, moderated by New York Times reporter Stephanie Rosenbloom, consisted of Sarah Tam, Saks’ associate divisional merchandise manager for advanced European and evening collections; designer Robert Lee Morris; Jon Cetnarski, MasterCard’s senior vice president of information products, and Melissa Krinzman, managing partner at Venture Architects LLC, a New York-based firm that focuses on developing business plans, financial projections and investor presentations for companies that seek financial backing.

Krinzman recounted eavesdropping on a conversation about the economy between two ladies who lunch. One said that she wasn’t likely to be affected by Wall Street’s woes, but wondered whether she should back out of her weekly flower orders for the home as a precaution. Her companion advised her against it, since it would hurt the flower vendor she had helped support for years. The other woman responded that she might not get flowers for the rooms she doesn’t go into.

“Do you do nothing, do you cut back or do you make smart changes?” Krinzman said, adding that when speaking to potential investors, business owners should have a clear plan. “You have these expenses, but be able to defend them from a dollar standpoint,” she said. “Also, spend every dollar as if it’s your last. It’s about planning right now.”

Morris recalled how he sought an outside partner to start his business in 1977, but failed to secure one. Instead, he launched and built the business on his own. “Now we are being courted by investors…these talks are going on,” Morris said. He added he is uncertain whether he needs an investor, but likes that it would enable him to build his team and start advertising.

Saks’ Tam told the crowd, which included designers Jason Wu and Gemma Kahng, Panjiva’s Josh Green and industry veteran Gloria Gelfand, that despite the economy the luxury retailer continues to seek out young talent. “If you are a designer with finance issues, be upfront about it,” she said. “We will work on prepayment terms.

“It’s important not to make false promises on delivery dates and products you can’t produce,” she said.

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