A Harvard Business School assignment about Neiman Marcus got Ammara Yaqub, a former investment banker, to shift her focus to fashion.

The designer worked in sales at Zac Posen and as a buyer for Louis Vuitton and Saks Fifth Avenue before launching an eponymous womenswear collection on her own. But she started getting frustrated with department stores, as well as with the lack of control, which led her to overhaul her company. “Ammara” is the name of the designer’s recently launched direct to consumer line of contemporary blouses and tops, mostly priced between $275 and $390.

We asked Yaqub to share her perspective as an upcoming designer who has distanced herself from the fashion industry’s norms.


Yaqub in her New York City showroom.

The most difficult part of starting a business: “It’s not finding the success, it’s sustaining it for a long period of time. That’s even more difficult — doing it over and over and over again.”

The decision to go direct-to-consumer: “I wanted to focus on a particular product — shirts — because I wanted to be known for doing one thing really well. But if you do that, department stores don’t know where to put you. They’re confused. For the customer, there’s no confusion around that.”

Amazon or Barneys? “Amazon. Online retailers have a tremendous advantage, and they have access to everyone. They know what their customers are doing, and why.”

On shopper fatigue: “People are always shopping. There’s discount fatigue. If a product is finished, we’ll take it away. We’re not going to train our customers to wait for a sale.”

Why e-commerce is outsmarting brick and mortars: “Online companies are inside your head. If you tell a salesperson on a department store floor what you like and what you don’t like, it’s never going to reach the right person.”

What comes first: The customer or the design? “Thinking ‘I will make a collection and someone will buy it’ is an old world, imperialistic view. People who win are going to be people who understand what customers are looking for and can take that into account when designing something.”

Social network of choice? “Instagram. A lot of Instagram. Some Facebook, but it’s really a lot of Instagram. We’ve had luck with organic influencer marketing — we haven’t paid a single person to put on the clothes.”