LONDON — Life as a young fashion designer in London is for the genuinely robust of heart, and on Thursday the Centre for Fashion Enterprise hosted a forum here highlighting the myriad challenges they face — and the traps they fall into.
Among the speakers at the daylong Fashion Talks event, which took place at Century Club in Soho, were Thomas Tait, Agi Mdumulla and Sam Cotton of the label Agi & Sam, men’s wear designer Craig Green, Matthew Drinkwater of the Fashion Innovation Agency, and Wendy Malem, director of the CFE, the business incubator that has supported designers including Tait, Erdem Moralioglu, Mary Katrantzou and Marios Schwab early in their careers.
“No one is going to come and bang down your door – you have to ask for help and support,” said Tait, recalling how he wrote pleading letters to the Italian textile mill Jackytex to give him fabrics for his first runway show, and how he schmoozed a London gallerist to secure her space as the show’s venue.
Indeed, the Canadian native is a big believer in the virtues of elbow grease. “I see a creative opportunity in art directing a (fashion) show,” he said, adding that designers should also know how to build their own clothing. “If you don’t know how to construct a garment, then you’re not designing the whole garment,” he observed.
Tait also argued that the fate of an older generation of designers has made him see his own future differently. He said designers such as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen were like superheroes to him and his peers.
“And then we saw them fall, we saw it all go dark. We see success in a different way. My ambition is not to go down the same path. I am aware of what I would need on a personal level. This is an industry that can put you — as a person — in the back seat,” he said.
Green, meanwhile, said many designers are in denial about where they are headed. “They start out and they never really feel like their (creative ventures) are going to be a business. And then all of a sudden they’re doing cash flows,” he said.
He also said there is a breed of designer who has chosen fashion “because of what it means, rather than what it is. It should be about the work — not about you.”
Those who spend their days mentoring young designers talked about the problems they regularly witness.
“It is astounding to me that some designers have not even registered a domain name, and are still using their Yahoo email address,” said Martyn Roberts, founder and director of Fashion Scout and director at Graduate Fashion Week.
He added that some designers don’t know how to price their collections and when it comes to factories, they and factory staff are sometimes speaking two different languages.
On a similar note, Demelza Galica, global sourcing manager at Designer Manufacturer Innovation Support Centre, which is based at the London College of Fashion, said that once designers start producing their collections, they need to remove their creative hats and be focused.
“They have to understand there is an enormous life cycle involved in production, and factories are not mind readers,” she said.
Helen Newman, partner at Olswang LLP, who has a long history advising fashion designers and companies, said some designers make the mistake of not registering a trademark for their businesses because of the cost. “And then they realize some nasty rogue — often in China – has registered it already,” she said.