Building Retail Strategies — One Retailer & One Designer at a time
The evening has turned into a long night, nerves are a little frayed, but the hard-working, ever-so-professional film crew, helmed by genius director and editor Michael Cushnie, is holding it together.
Six designers have been asked to create mini collections influenced by the cultures of Africa, China and India. Guest judge Mercedes Gonzalez — her job is to help guide retailers and designers to success (visit her YouTube channel nyfashionbuyer) -— will afford the winner a year of brand management. Pretty impressive, really, but then again, executive producer Keneea Linton-George is determined to make her ambitious project a launch pad from which Caribbean designers can truly show their creativity and carve out their own niche in an industry that's valued in the billions.
Gonzalez, elegant in a great LBD from South African designer Suzaan Heyns, and sporting dark shades, is happy to be in the hot seat. "I'm having a wonderful time," she shares. "And I am happily surprised at the talent." Gonzalez has also found a new fashion hero — Kay Davitian, who spent 40 years in production, travelling to over 60 countries — and has posted this to her blog. Gonzalez is impressed with the high production standard of Mission Catwalk. "It's well done, and very professional. I'm shocked it's not more globally distributed." Fortune, it is said, favours the brave, and the timing of Linton-George's show couldn't be better — at least for any designer eager to stamp his/her credentials on an industry forever in the throes of change, and in search of the next big thing. "There hasn't been," states Gonzalez, "a more perfect moment to launch a new brand. The retailers are hungry for new, for design, for fashion. The venture capitalists are bored with the returns from Wall Street (less than 2 per cent) so they are looking at "fun, quick-turn investments. Production financing is available for any amount." Eschew all thoughts of VCs throwing away money. Gonzalez is emphatic: "Now they are not going to lend you money for fashion shows or to make samples! You (the designer) must have firm orders and the money used for production." The reality check comes even quicker than the raised eyebrows: "Their percentage can top 15 per cent... Here's how I look at it: you were going to pay a salesperson that much in commission, and truth be told, when you are starting, you are the sales person — so I think it's a good return as long as it's factored in the costing."
With Mercedes Benz Fashion Week set to start 24 hours after the taping of Mission Catwalk, we ask the global buyer for her honest take on fashion shows versus trade shows.
"Fashion shows are only important for building a brand. You can't build a brand if you have no retail sales. I would start with trade shows, then once I have stores under my belt, support them with shows. I get tickets for all the shows, but seldom use them. If I'm hustling from show to show to get a glimpse of what I may or may not be able to buy, it's a huge waste of my time. I can see every look on my Samsung Notebook 20 minutes after the show. My favourite app is The Cut (on the Runway)". Food for thought, we reckon, and naturally a note to self — add her to our friends with benefits, under the listing NYFW tickets. Talk segues into the region, and Gonzalez shares her thoughts on a particular designer, who she's reluctant to name publicly, but whose work she finds absolutely amazing.
The lights dim, Linton-George steps on stage in a peplum design from Season 1 winner Shenna Carby. There's barely time for one last question: The creative industries, are they really worth the effort?
Mercedes Gonzalez has the last word: "There is so much money to be made, but most importantly, it's a fun job".
"Action!" shouts Michael Cushnie.
Final note to self; Gonzalez is looking for three things: Talent, Drive — not passion; some designer told her last week he does passion not fashion... (she wanted to choke him) — and a Story...
Mission Catwalk Season 3 airs on TVJ Tuesday, March 26.