Designer Nili Lotan on the ‘pure freedom’ of owning her 20-year-old brand

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As CEO and designer of her nearly 20-year-old namesake fashion label, Nili Lotan has found success in the luxury fashion industry by going against the grain of fashion industry norms. The brand is reportedly on pace to bring in $100 million in revenue this year.

“The motto of my business is that I make everything in the U.S. — that, in itself, means that luxury is built into the seams,” Lotan said on the latest Glossy Podcast. “I’ve been growing the business, and as my business has evolved, I’ve [gone from exclusively focusing on] timeless luxury essentials to being a full lifestyle and multi-category [brand].” The brand launched handbags in 2020. Next, it will roll out menswear, this summer, and additional accessories, in September.

Lotan targets “an ageless woman,” calling her brand’s clothing an expression of a nonchalant attitude, which she believes is hard to find in a luxury fashion brand. “But the majority [of my customers] are 40- to 45-years old. And those are all working women who run a busy life the way I do. … I try to give her everything that she needs, and I try to give myself everything I need.”

Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

On how Covid has benefited the brand

“The biggest challenge once you’re in Covid is to really figure out: What do you do when factories are shut down? What do you do when stores are getting nervous and they feel as if they don’t need as much merchandise as they ordered pre-Covid? Cooking was my way of relaxing. I think why it worked [to document that for my Instagram followers] is because my brand is pretty much based on my communication with my followers and my clients. It gave me an opportunity to really connect even deeper. One of the ways to connect deeper was by sharing those activities that I was involved with during Covid. … That gave women the opportunity to connect with me without feeling pressure to buy. Rather, it was: ‘I just like you as a woman, and I’d like to be your friend.’ And that, of course, brought business.”

On being completely self-funded

“I’ve 100% owned this business from day one. I started the business with a very small investment of my own. Until today, [I’ve taken] no loans. I don’t owe anybody a penny. I’m 100% owning it, and it’s a really big business. It’s nice to be in a position where you can make decisions for yourself. … And to sum it all up, when people ask me what’s driving me to do all these things, it’s one word: freedom. … The ability to do what you want to do, when you want to do it and how you want to do it, is pure freedom. … To see the company where it is today, where I have complete freedom, and to take it where I want to take it — good or bad, to take my decisions and run with them – there’s nothing that’s more empowering than that.”

On expansion plans

“I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and I’ve been doing something good. Everyone agrees with me that nothing needs to change, but just to grow, in the sense of having more people to help on each team. And therefore, I need someone who will help me manage that team. So I hired a COO, and she is basically overseeing production, operations, logistics, retail and wholesale. … I’ve done very little PR through the years, almost none. And only in the last two years have we actually started to strategically put me in PR, whether it’s podcasts like yours or interviews, just to tell the story. A lot of people are not familiar with the story. And actually, what I’m doing is I’m telling a story. My collection is my story, it’s my life.

We are looking at how to grow the international business digitally, too. We see a lot of activity in our international digital business, and it just shows us that we definitely have room and opportunity to grow. And [opening] physical stores in Europe is one of my dreams. When that’s going to happen, I don’t know. But opening a store in Paris and stores in the U.K. is definitely something I’d like to do.”

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