In a standing-room only session at the Texworld USA and Apparel Sourcing trade event at the Jacob Javits Convention Center this week, Mercedes Gonzales asked the designers and creative directors in attendance if they “want to be rich or famous?”
The founder and director of Global Purchasing Companies said during the “Fashion 101: How to Start a Fashion Line” seminar that there’s an ethos in the industry — which germinates early in higher education — where aspiring designers want to launch collection after collection and “not be concerned about making money.” That dedication to the creative aspects of fashion won’t pay the rent, Gonzales said, adding that the current demand to source fabric and materials that are sustainable (socially and environmentally) is noble, but financially challenging.
Instead, Gonzales urged the attendees to walk the show floor and find vertical manufacturers to help produce lines. She urged the designers to focus on specialty and fashion boutique retailers, perhaps later eyeing department stores, while also developing an e-commerce platform — but only after developing relationships with retailers and meeting orders.
“Then, what you sell online is pure profit,” she said. “That’s the only way you are going to make money.”
Oh, and “keep your day job,” Gonzales said.
She also advised that aspiring designers look at the example of Ralph Lauren and develop a brand that resonates on a deep, emotional level with consumers.
For the next hour, the session, sponsored by Lenzing, explored the pain points of launching a fashion collection as well as the nuts and bolts of running an apparel brand — “things that are not taught while you’re in school,” Gonzales said.
“This [session] started about nine years ago when I was asked at a trade show to do a quick workshop called ‘what a buyer wants,’” she explained. “And the first thing that they said is that ‘you need to have clear line sheets’ and everybody in the room went blank. And these were brands showing at this trade show. So there is a lack of really practical information. You can go to school for four years and then get a Master’s degree in merchandising, and still don’t know best way to stock cotton fabrics, or where circular knits are from.”
Regarding the question of wanting to be rich or famous, Gonzales said at her firm, which helps retailers and designers develop and launch brands to the market, clients that want to be famous are turned away.
“I can tell you there are dozens and dozens of CFDA designers that really don’t have two nickels between them,” she said adding that rich people don’t set out to be famous. That’s not their goal. “Just ask Bill Gates. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg. Was their goal to be famous? Absolutely not. So this is the mentality that I want you to have. Everything that we do has to be only for the purpose of making money. That is it.”
So what does a buyer want? Basics.
“They want quality,” she said. “They want timing and they want price.”
Which is why sourcing becomes critical, Gonzales said. Fitting is another critical element.
But what about narratives? Skip it, she said.
“A good story isn’t enough,” Gonzales said. “I love that everybody has a good story. ‘Oh, this is made by a sustainable tribe of mini-people that live in the Swiss Alps, and they can only sew when the moon is full.’”
For a buyer and consumer that may sound cool, she said. But a better use of time and energy should be spent on getting the right fit and the grading on products.
And when it comes to brand attributes, Gonzales said “the look book is the heart of the emotion of the brand” and that developing an emotional connection is key “because at the end of the day if all of us never bought a single piece of clothing again, I promise you we won’t be walking around naked.”
Citing the success of Lauren, Gonzales said, “What is he really selling you? Emotion. This is what we have to sell.”
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