You’ve got the talent and you’ve got the ideas, so how do you make the leap from bedroom seamstress to international design sensation? Vogue.me gets career advice from the fashion industry’s kingmakers.
NO BUDGET? CALL IN FAVOURS
“When we started Okhtein we didn’t have a budget, it was just mine and my sister’s savings,” says Aya Abdelraouf, one half of Egyptian accessories design sister-duo Okhtein. “We wanted to start out right, without compromise – but we just didn’t have the money. So we collaborated. We had a strong story and a strong vision, and we went to friends of friends to ask for help making it reality. An old school friend created our logo, we gifted bags to photographers in exchange for shoots, we even did our own PR on Instagram. And it was enough to get us going.”
CREATE A BUZZ WITH THE RIGHT PR
“In the current landscape where there is so much noise, communication is essential for designers to maintain awareness and break through the din,” says Dipesh Depala, Managing Partner of luxury communications agency The Qode. “The first step is to research the leading, mid-range and boutique agencies. Do your due diligence as to their expertise, clients, previous clients and references. The most important thing, that is often overlooked, is to make sure to speak to ex-clients to understand their experience with the agency and how effective they were.”
GET NOTICED BY THE MOST IMPORTANT BUYERS
“We look for a distinct point of view, a recognisable signature,” says Libby Page, Senior Market Editor at e-commerce giant Net-A-Porter. “With the industry showcasing more new designers than ever before it’s important that they offer something we cannot get from our existing brands. We look for the sort of unmistakable design DNA that makes a brand instantly recognizable.”
And how can that be achieved outside design alone? “Storytelling!” says Depala. “Create high quality assets that reflect your brand. Small format presentations and events for press and potential customers is an effective and manageable way to present collections, and careful engagement of relevant and credible influencers can be very effective.”
TAKE YOUR LOOKS TO THE RUNWAY, PHYSICALLY OR DIGITALLY
“We started out with social media, and the sky’s the limit,” says Abdelraouf. “We had interest from all over the world and we liked that we weren’t restricted to showing in one place. But as we were in Cairo with a niche fashion scene we felt we should go where there were fashion weeks, starting off with London. It was perfect for networking and a fantastic learning experience.”
Page is clear that the runway can be both a blessing and a curse: “An amazing runway show can stay with you forever. These moments help introduce the brand to the mainstream media, widening awareness which is invaluable to a new label. However, runway shows are incredibly expensive and time-consuming, and we have seen an increase in designers creating films, digital showrooms and experiential collection boxes, which are meaningful ways to introduce your brand and collections. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the traditional runway format.”
Depala cautions against a sashay down the catwalk: “I don’t believe runway shows are an effective way for new brands to communicate. Not only is it an extremely costly exercise which very few new brands can afford, it also lacks a degree of credibility when a new brand starts with runway shows. Digital, targeted strategies will be far more effective in your brand communication.”
USE SOCIAL MEDIA LIKE A PRO
Liking and scrolling isn’t enough; social media can be a massively powerful tool for a young brand, if you know how to use it. “This has become a crucial part of the communication landscape,” says Depala. “How effective it is depends on how intelligently and discerningly you engage. Quality and strategy is key, especially for social media.”
But if you can harness social media correctly, the rewards can be huge. One of Okhtein’s earliest breaks came from a little bit of luck and a lot of social media savvy. “Emma Watson retweeted an article about our work with underprivileged women,” says Abdelraouf. “I did some research and found out who her stylist is. We took a screenshot of the retweet, shared it on Instagram and tagged her stylist to get her attention – it worked because when the stylist sent us a DM we offered to send two bags, one for her and one for Emma. And that was how Emma Watson ended up wearing our design! That was a real milestone and when we knew we could go global.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Knowing how the industry works can make all the difference when transforming passion into a career. Design school can be a gateway to fantastic contacts as well as training, but it’s not the only way.
“My parents didn’t want me to leave Cairo to study, but there were no options for fashion school here,” says Abdelraouf. “My mum told me ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’. I learned from artisans and I made it happen.
“Then there was the Vogue Fashion Prize which was a very big deal for us. We were surrounded by big names, and when we won it opened a lot of doors for us. But even if we hadn’t won the comments and feedback were useful and we would have left Fashion Prize knowing what to work on – things we had no idea about before. So it was definitely a learning experience for us,” adds Abdelraouf.
REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE
“In this industry you need a lot of confidence, a lot of perseverance and to be true to who you are,” says Abdelraouf.
Depala echoes this with his top tips for new brands: “Differentiate yourself. Think commercially. Have a strong digital strategy including social media. Evolve your brand but stay true to your aesthetic.”
Page recommends pushing the design limits: “It is crucial to have an understanding of the market – what can you create that does not already exist? How can you stand out in a saturated market? This is what we look for when onboarding new brands.”