Designer Rebecca Minkoff and Hillldun Corp. chief executive officer Gary Wassner covered a number of issues weighing on the fashion industry Thursday morning at the 20th New York Fashion and Design Conference. The pair helped kick off the two-day event at the Museum of the City of New York. Here are a few highlights from their discussion.
The Potential of Plus-size
Rebecca Minkoff: We’re seeing a groundswell of an underserved market, especially across sizing. We had larger sizes a few years ago. No one was buying them so we stopped making them. Then someone asked, “Why aren’t you making larger sizes?” So we started making them again. Big brands are taking incredible strides forward like Nordstrom. They won’t buy an apparel brand unless they go up to a size 20. Other companies like Universal Standard are making really incredible, high-quality stylish clothing for plus-size women. It’s just going to become normal. It will just be a size.
Selling in Stores and Online
Gary Wassner: Statistically, 87 percent of all sales are still done at retail…without print advertising and brands having to reach the consumer directly, which is a plus and a minus because of dollars and cents, we have to look to all the opportunities to build a brand. Having wholesale distribution gives you free marketing. Every person who walks into a store sees your brand. Futurewise, 50-50 is reasonable [for a ratio.]
R.M.: We have four [freestanding] stores in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. We don’t have plans to open up more. We want to solidify the key locations where our customers are. In the next year or two, we’ll test locations with pop-ups, working with landlords who are desperate for revenue share and we don’t have to commit to a long-term lease to see how it is. Just like you test things in e-mail subject headings, we’re going to test locations. Maybe it will be a pop-up that is always moving.
G.W.: I meet with so many brands every week. Sustainability is at the top of everybody’s list today….It’s going to be more of an important dialogue for everyone. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m working with a lot of individuals. Debbie Harry and these two British designers [whom he declined to identify afterward] are creating a fully sustainable collection made from salvaged plastic bottles from the Hudson River. It can be done. The fabric is soft, pliable, beautiful and it can be draped. In the next year, you’ll see it.
Design in the Sharing Economy
R.M.: We’re a big customer of Rent the Runway — what they have done is incredible. We’re looking at using a Facebook group or Instagram group where we’re taking our customer along the design journey with us, and hand-selecting a group of women to give us play-by-play how we evolve from a sample to what patterns and prints go on. That’s something we’ll be launching next year. We want to be able to start talking to our customer in the very beginning, switching direction as we go, according to what she says is good enough.
R.M.: We definitely have increased our nylon offerings. It’s now 15 percent of our business, and we hope to grow that. Vegan is definitely something that we’re talking about internally now. There is an incredible company that you can research that is called Modern Meadow. They’re growing their own leather, using collagen, yeast and formulas I don’t understand.…If the company really gets going, you could knock out the shipping time. You could be growing the leather in the factories you’re making the bags — thus, cutting down on pollution.
G.W.: Cornelia Guest has produced a collection of jackets and bags for years that are purely vegan. They’re not ridiculously expensive. They’re really well-priced.