[In case you missed it, here is the first installment of our article.]
To prove that the demand of indie designers is on the rise, we went straight to the industry insider who we knew would have the most expertise on the issue. Stella Ishii, founder and owner of The News showroom, is known for having established one of the most successful launch pads for emerging designers. She has cultivated design stars like Alexander Wang, Vena Cava and Band of Outsiders.
"The demand for emerging designers is really growing compared to when I started working in the industry about 20 years ago," she told us. Take Vena Cava, for instance. Vena Cava is a brand that was started only 7 years ago and is now selling at 88 different locations across America. Alexander Wang launched his first full collection in 2007 and is now selling at 200 stores.
Fueling this rapid expansion of young talent are consumers who are craving newness. "There is an assumption that consumers today are opting for classic styles, but what they really want is a product or design that stands out. Their decision to buy is all about the Wow Factor," said Perrine Ardouin, senior event manager of Fashion Access in a recent interview.
Opening Ceremony, a retailer that has developed a cult-like following in New York, LA and Tokyo, has found huge success by tapping into this market. While it is hard to find sales numbers from the store, their success can be inferred from their collaborations with industry mainstays like Repetto, Levis and Barbour. If nothing else, Opening Ceremony has established itself as the place to go if a company is looking to infuse its brand with a cool, downtown aesthetic in order to reach a new market of consumers.
Elizabeth Beer and Brian Janusiak, owners of Project No. 8, another New York-based boutique focused on selling the work of emerging designers, have a lot of faith in the up and comers that they introduce to the US market. "Initially we spend a lot of time and money on designers who we believe in. In the beginning, they might not sell at all, but once our customer gets used to seeing them at the store, they start to sell out completely."
From a buying standpoint, merchandising a store with only the work of young and unknown designers with no name recognition comes with a lot of risk. But owners of stores like Project No. 8, Début and OC have taken this risk. It has paid off, as customers show loyalty to the stores and trust them to bring the best new talent in the fashion industry to market.
Consumer patterns online are also proving this high demand. Company of We is a prime example of the success of up-and-coming brands. The men's label launched an online only platform in June of 2009. The young brand had limited resources and no marketing budget, but eight days after their launch they were completely sold out of their first 2000 units of merchandise.
"There is enough demand in the market to support all the businesses that are supporting these young designers," stated Lisa Weiss. Elizabeth and Brian of Project No. 8 agree. "People always call us because they have inquiries about specific designers and specific pieces by designers. They see their look books on blogs and want their stuff."
With the increasing number of fashion blogs focusing on indie designers, it's now easier for designers with limited funds to reach a wide audience without putting on an expensive fashion show or spending a lot of money on marketing. But even though demand for the work of emerging designers is at an all time high, designers fail to capitalize on the consumer's enthusiasm due to inefficiencies in the market.
As Stella Ishii shows us the newest snow globe in her collection (a present from Martin Margiela), she shakes it and watches the flakes spread, "This is a business about selling a dream, and that's what opens people's purses." Young designers are able to construct these dreams in fresh and exciting ways that older brands who are tied down with traditions are not able to do.
The Cultivate is a team of entrepreneurs, designers, and artists working towards the dissemination of emerging fashion.
Heba el Habashy and Charles LaCalle will be writing a series for the Huffington Post that will track their journey as they aim to capture the difficulties and rewards of building a business within the fashion industry. They are preparing to launch their company in 2011.