verbal croquis

how to keep a business afloat

Posted in events,opinions by verbalcroquis on February 7, 2006

I don’t claim to be an expert in business, but these are my assessments from what I’ve learned working for different apparel manufacturers, as a designer, production manager, and freelance designer and illustrator.

Why am I talking about this now? Why is it important for the state of the fashion union address? Because in this celebrity idolizing world, where fashion is perceived as naught but superglam runway shows, expensive shoes, and sexy bodies, if you really want to succeed, you need to think above and beyond that. Am I stifling creativity? Look through some of my work on the right hand column and ask me again. Even John Galliano has publicly said that he thinks about the previous season’s sales first when starting to design a new collection. That’s part of why he’s still at Dior after 10+ years while other designers have bounce around design houses like some crazy version of musical chairs.
Here’s the key point: cash flow is more important than celebrity endorsement, hands down. Celebrity endorsement is exciting, gets you press, and it’s great to namedrop when networking, but it won’t get you what you need, which is money.

I used to work for a woman who hung out with likes of Adrian Brody, Ben Affleck, Jessica Simpson. Stylists used to stop by our office to borrow clothes for photoshoots about once a week. Paris Hilton, Nikka Costa, Jewel, Sharon Stone, Ashanti, they all wore our clothes. We still went bankrupt in less than two years. Why? We weren’t factored. We didn’t ship on time. We got orders, people loved our stuff, our line hung in the same showroom as Theory, Diane von Furstenburg and Joie. Our product was excellent, but we were late, our business reputation suffered. Because we weren’t factored, we were constantly struggling for money to push into production. Because we had a poor distribution reputation and weren’t factored, stores pushed for net 60 terms, even then didn’t pay on time. Basically, they didn’t take us seriously as a business. Once we collected money from the stores, we were already behind on the next season’s orders, making us late once again. My poor coworker spent the bulk of his day calling stores for our money instead of what he really needed to do: send out linesheets, press packets, update our website.

Secondly, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I worked for a company that put together design boards for companies lacking or needed a supplement to an in-house design team. We had one major client, and several smaller ones. The one major client got more and more demanding, and instead of compromising or hiring someone else, we pushed the smaller accounts to the side. (I was in charge of design and illustration for our major client and didn’t see much of what was going on beyond that.) When the major client hired a new CEO, they dropped us, because he was restructuring the whole company, including putting together an in-house design team. Be very careful when juggling our main line and your private label clients. That’s also a major part of my job now.

There’s a lot more to say, but for the purposes of this format, I’ll cut it off here. Let me know if you have any questions. I hope I don’t come across as accusatory, absolving myself from all blame for the businesses not working out, but quite frankly, when you’re in your early twenties and just out of school, it doesn’t matter how smart your ideas are, a lot of people aren’t going to heed your advice. I’m very much hoping to change some of that in my new position at my current company.


One Response to 'how to keep a business afloat'

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  1. Danielle said,

    I can’t wait for the next post! This state of the union address is so good!

    I wonder what “factored” means, I’m not familiar with that term?
    I’m so green… there’s probably a hundred questions I don’t know how to ask =P

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