NEW YORK — Staying true to her own convictions, Norma Kamali is embarking on her next challenge: She is seeking investors for a new venture selling an accessibly priced product line on her Web site.
Kamali, who spoke Wednesday at the Fashion Institute of Technology, which hosted FashInvest’s first “Capital Conference: Where Creativity Gets Down to Business,” declined to provide specifics, stating the collection was still in the early stages but that it would be a line under her name.
Kamali said she felt a responsibility to design apparel that women could use for five to 10 years. Some people thought her venture with Wal-Mart featuring $20 jackets and $12 vests was a risky career move, given her existing high-end collections, she said. Kamali boasted the entire outfit she was wearing on Wednesday was from her line at Wal-Mart.
“I felt Wal-Mart wasn’t a risk because it was a challenge I wanted to do,” she said, noting the idea came from her work in the public schools, where she noticed that many moms didn’t go to the parent-teacher meetings. “Some women were so embarrassed that they didn’t go to the school because they didn’t have anything to wear.”
Norma Kamali told attendees one key to success is to “reengineer yourself.” She noted that since starting in 1967, she’s been through many changes, and that to survive, one must “stay true to yourself....Make those painful experiences the most valuable ones.”
Thinking ahead continues to serve Kamali well, as she noted her firm was one of the first to communicate directly with consumers via her Web site in the mid-Nineties. These days the company is using technology to stay ahead of the curve in ways that help her customer shop better. One example is the “try before you buy” service that enables consumers to scan barcodes to determine if an item is within the price range sought, then try at home and garner opinions from friends and family for 48 hours before deciding to buy. The service is even set up to allow the use of Skype to communicate with friends wherever they are located. Purchases after the 48 hours are up are considered final sales.
The FashInvest event featured a gathering of established serial entrepreneurs, those seeking funding and venture capitalists. Founded by David Freschman and Karen Griffith Gryga, both experienced venture capital investors, the conference was set up to allow 15 firms the opportunity to give eight-minute presentations to potential investors, get critiqued on their pitches by a panel of experts and listen to advice from those who have been there and done that.
Neil Cole, chief executive officer of brand management firm Iconix Brand Group Inc., described the company’s evolution from its roots as footwear firm Candie’s, and how he was always intrigued by the licensing model.
“It took 20-something years to make it work. I struck out a few times, at least twice, but I kept going. For entrepreneurs, when you’re beat up, you’ve got to keep going. Today, the company is a licensing model. We only do advertising and marketing. We have no inventory, no capital expenses and over $600 million in income that is guaranteed,” he said.
Some keys to success have been the direct-to-retail deals his firm has done, include three each with Wal-Mart, Target and Sears/Kmart, two with Kohl’s and one with Macy’s. The Material Girl line with Madonna will be launching at Hudson’s Bay in spring 2011, he said, after being introduced at Macy’s this fall.
“A total of $1.3 billion was paid for the brands [there are more than 20 now under the Iconix umbrella], and $900 million was recouped in revenues, and we have $12 billion in annual global sales,” Cole boasted.
He candidly admitted, “I’m not a good operator, sourcer or retailer, but I’m good at marketing. Think of your specialty, of what you’re good at....Find something you love to do and have a passion for doing it.”
Cole is hoping the credit markets will open up further next year so he can make a few more deals in 2011 to add to his portfolio of “iconic brands.”
Matthew Kaness, executive director of business development and strategy at Urban Outfitters, noted in the retail panel discussion that stores and catalogues are moving away from optimizing the density of pages in the catalogue and how it’s more about advertising. “Listen to the customer [because she] is telling you which direction she is going,” he advised.
He noted after the presentation that Urban Outfitters is still eyeing possible store openings for its Leifsdottir concept, but will see how that brand’s handbag collection is received when it launches in February before deciding what the next move will be.
In addition, social media is playing a role in how the firm reaches out to its customer base. “Each concept has a different strategy,” Kaness said, noting the Urban Outfitter customer, with its college-age demographic, is more into blogging and music, while the Anthropologie shopper prefers surfing the Web. That suggests that on the social media front, blogging and music would play a bigger role at the Urban site than at Anthropologie. He also reiterated the company’s stance that it is always on the prowl for small acquisitions as a way of adding concepts to its portfolio umbrella.
Paul Hurley, founder and ceo of online shopping site Ideeli, told attendees, “It really does matter who your venture capitalists are. Getting the money is not the only thing. You need to have good people help you to think things through and you have to have the right people on your board.”
Ben Fischman, ceo of Rue La La, advised the entrepreneurs, “Not all investors are the same. Getting to know the partner leading the fund-raising is critical to any deal.” He also said it’s important to give up some equity and control to build the company, but not when it comes to hiring senior members of one’s staff.
Daymond John, founder of FUBU and co-star of the ABC show “The Shark Tank,” was master of ceremonies coordinating the four three-member panels that provided feedback to the 15 presenting firms seeking venture capital funding. He told WWD that he’s now contemplating investing in industries outside of apparel because of the inflationary costs — up to 30 percent and more — the industry has been hit with so far this year, due to rising labor costs and higher prices for cotton.
His advice to entrepreneurs pitching to potential investors is that the pitches should be shortened. “If you keep the presentation laser focused on just one segment, you would have a much better chance in gaining interest,” he advised.
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye
Did you know: @carlychaikin of "Mr. Robot" has been painting for about a decade? The actress, who plays Darlene on the show, is a self-taught artist who lists Salvador Dalí and Chuck Close as some of her idols. Chaikin told WWD that painting is a form of meditation for her — A much-needed one given the intensity of "Mr. Robot." See a piece Chaikin is working on at WWD.com (📷: @jilliansollazzo) #wwdeye