GIRLS RULE: COMMERCE VS. CREATIVITY

Byline: Karen Parr

NEW YORK — When the first Girls Rule show hit in fall 1994, co-producer Oliver Dow said he thought all the designers were “going to be discovered by Spike Lee or something.”
That didn’t happen.
But for producers Dow and Darren Greenblatt, the point has been to keep showing. After six consecutive seasons at Bryant Park, they feel they’ve gotten media coverage, earned respect and scored orders.
A group of young designers sat with WWD recently to talk about life in the streetwear trenches: the highs and lows of 7th on Sixth’s Girls Rule show, the tenuous balance between creativity and sound business, and the amazing success of Delia’s, a New York junior catalog company.
This group said they’re giving the retail community a fresh take on fashion, and that the independent youth of today is choosing them not to be one of the crowd, but to stand out from it.
Oliver Dow, Girls Rule co-producer: This is an important market and you have to be just as creative to design a $20 dress as to design a $500 dress.
Darren Greenblatt, designer for New York streetwear firm Yumthing and Girls Rule co-producer: You have to be more creative. It’s easy to design when you’re using fabrics that are $70 a yard. At the junior level, these are the same people who could be designing as an assistant at Donna Karan. They just decided to go their own way.
WWD: If you could be at Donna Karan or Calvin Klein, why juniors, why streetwear? Darcy Lee DePoy, designer for Costa Mesa, Calif., snowboard fashion firm Cold As Ice, which had a 1996 wholesale volume of $2 million: We’re coming from the snowboard market, so it’s just as natural to go into streetwear — it’s the same age group. And product can only be at such a price point for this age group.
Sharon Zaslansky, designer for Carlsbad, Calif., streetwear firm Ton, which had a 1996 wholesale volume of $2.5 million: People call Ton a junior line because of the price. I just make clothes in that price range because I think that’s what most people can afford that are my age.
Greenblatt: Streetwear lines seem a lot more personal. It’s like these kids are discovering something. You maybe don’t see a DKNY ad and think that was something made for you. It’s for mass consumption, like Starbucks.
WWD: Why does this generation identify with brands that are not so identifiable to the mass market?
Sylke Larsson, designer for Long Island City, N.Y., streetwear firm Coolwear, with a wholesale volume of $35 million: It’s kind of like a secret — like, I look really cool and it’s not designer.
Ela Tarcan, designer for Yumthing: It’s smaller everything, independent everything is popping up, in film, music and fashion. And we are empowering these younger people to have a voice.
Greenblatt: We shake up a small set.
Zaslansky: The key is to hang onto your identity. Being in small specialty shops establishes your identity so that when you get bigger, there’s something for people to still identify with.
Greenblatt: With these little companies in the junior market you’re going to see ideas that may never go that far, maybe six pieces at Patricia Field, but you’ll see a lot of creativity.
WWD: If you’re selling six pieces at Patricia Field, how do you stay alive?
Greenblatt: You balance that with 1,000 pieces to Delia’s catalog (group laughter).
WWD: Ah, Delia’s — the mother lode. Ela, you talked about empowering the teens. A lot of designers mention Delia’s, but who else is empowering you?
Zaslansky: Small specialty. It’s young independent designers and young independent retailers, the same message across.
Tarcan: Right.
Zaslansky: We do sell to Nordstrom and Pacific Sunwear. Pacific Sunwear is a fast-growing chain right now, so I would think we’re all onto something good.
Dow: I think there has to be a balance between being so huge, making money and still having individuality. One of the reasons Delia’s is so successful is they have all these brands. Teens want to be different and edgy, that’s why you see them shaving their heads and piercing their faces.
Greenblatt: Even in chain stores, the key is to appear like a mom-and-pop business. Any Urban Outfitters is different from any other. It’s not the Gap, that’s the same structure on every block. Delia’s, a kid gets that in the mail and it seems edgy and alternative. There’s going to be a girl in there with green hair. It shows them it’s OK to be however you want to be; it’s saying, “Relate to us.”
Larsson: We get excited when we sell to the small stores, because for them we’ll design our own little things for each store; we’ll custom it.
WWD: So you do special designs for smaller stores?
Larsson: Yes. The bigger stores have to make it more acceptable for more people. Zaslansky: When you’re setting up your smaller stores, your message gets across much more clearly. With the larger stores, it’s more about what their message is than our message.
Greenblatt: You have to be creative wherever you can.
WWD: And there’s a whole business issue beyond creativity.
Dow: You have to deliver. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if people can’t get it, you can’t go anywhere. Also it has to fit. And if you can develop your relationship with the specialty stores, you don’t have to rely on a Delia’s to buy 3,500 units. You don’t know what’s going to happen from season to season. You make one mistake with Delia’s, you could be out of business.
WWD: What is the range of specialty store orders?
Zaslansky: For small specialty stores, $1,000 to $4,000 orders. Then there are the bigger specialty stores, like Antique Boutique in New York, which would be $4,000 to $10,000.
Then there’s the bigger stores, like Nordstrom and the chain stores, and Delia’s has amazing buying power right now. In my first trade shows with them they were buying 100 pieces. Now they can drop a $100,000 order on you.
Greenblatt: We’re trying to find that balance of small boutiques and get the big orders. Also, we feel like this is a growing industry and there should be more events like Girls Rule targeted to our kind of buyers.
WWD: How much does it cost to do the show?
Dow: We try to raise at least $50,000 for the show.
Greenblatt: And we encourage designers to continue to want to be a part of Girls Rule.

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