So earlier this week I went to a talk on Irish Design in the Bank Of Ireland in association with Dublin Fashion Festival presented by Brendan Courtney, fashion stylist, designer, and presenter of the popular show Off The Rails. On the panel was photographer Barry McCall, buyer Aisling Kilduff owner of the The Design Centre and Constance Harris top fashion specialist. It was quite safe to say I was sitting with the creme de la creme of the Irish fashion world.
It was kind of like an open panel situation where Brendan asked the panel questions and each of them replied and of course if you were brave enough members of the audience could stick up their hand and ask a question. All the questions were about how to succeed in the fashion industry as a new emerging designer and I was furiously tapping on my phone trying to take down all the valuable advice they were handing out so listen up and pay attention!
Q1: How to stand out from the pack of newly graduated talent?
Barry (B): For Barry as a photographer who loves to shoot editorial he said he looks for the avant garde, the wow factor in a well themed and organised collection. He also said to be enthusiastic and get your pieces out there as much as possible by sending in look books to buyers and contacting the press.
Constance (C): For Constance it's all about having the confidence to create a collection that is purely you and your creative vision instead of recycling looks from other designers collections. When she judges a collection she looks for a whole over all theme that is consistent within a 30 piece line.
Aisling (A): As a buyer Aisling looks for a new, fresh talent that really takes advantage of their skills. Retail quality is also a big factor to consider.
Q2 What is more important? Talent or Ambition?
According to this panel it is equally important to have both drive and raw talent. Aisling warns that there is a chance that your ambition could come across as too cocky and she advises to let down your ego and listen to comments from buyers and consumers.
Q3 Common pitfalls new design graduates can fall into.
C: When at first trying to get your work seen by people in the industry keep your look book photography simple and clean. Also when sending photos of garments to editors or stylists through email attach the photo as a simple .jpeg format as it can be easily opened and viewed quickly. It's important that your collection has a minimum 15 pieces as it's just starting off but later on 30 pieces is standard to aim for.
A: Aisling stresses that it's all about finish and the over all completion of the pieces. As a buyer you don't just look at the outside of the garment you look at how it's sewn up, what it's made of and how it fits on that target market.
B: It's important to do your homework about the client you're going to see, know a bit about what they're popular for and why you think you'd be a great fit for them. It's sometimes better just to find one client who you really think you'd be great with and keep on hounding them.
Brendan (BR): The whole design and sale process is a very lengthily and stressful period but take it in your stride and take on advice from anywhere you can. It's also a very very good idea to do out a rough 5 year business plan that will help you stay on track and have a clear idea of where you want to go and how you'll get there.
Q4 How has the fashion industry changed since the Celtic Tiger?
C: During the Celtic Tiger people forgot about Irish talent because they had the money to fly in models and designers from over seas but now the industry is looking at more ethical, sustainable fashion. Irish talent is getting more and more appreciation and sometimes the Irish market is so tough to succeed in you have to move to places like London or New York to make a name for yourself and then return.
A: Consumers want to buy Irish and support home grown talent so it's important not to forget your roots and let the Irish market become familiar with your brand.
Q5 Is going into a partnership a good idea?
BR: Partnership is the way forward. In reality the design process makes up about 2/3% of the over all cycle and it's helpful to have that other half to help out with the financial dealings and other parts of the production cycle that can be ignored. It's also great to have someone to challenge you creativity and mix their talent with yours.
Q6 The business of bankruptcy
BR: Bankruptcy is part of the learning curve of a new designer but to avoid it as much as possible start looking for investment as soon as you're out of university. Now it seems there is more of an opportunity not to fail because of all the aid and help that is available.
C: Always do your market research and be confident that what you produce is actually what your target consumer wants.
Q7 How and when to approach buyers.
A: When the collection is finished and put together. Bring in a look book and make sure you're ready to start producing if your buyers are interested.
C: In terms of how to approach a buyer always look the part, there's no room for jeans and converse when meeting the people at Brown Thomas. Also always always always remember to say thank you no matter what, send a hand written card or even just an e-mail. A small thank you goes a long way.
And just a few photos. (Please excuse the bad quality I only had my iPhone with me!)
Sorry that was a bit of a long one but I thought it was necessary. I really enjoyed the talk and getting a bit of background info on what's happening in today's world of fashion and I hope you enjoyed reading about what I learned too!
Thanks for reading,