Launch Collective’s Shira Carmi: Vogue is no longer a guarantor of success

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Designers design — but they rarely know the business of design.

That’s where Launch Collective, a management firm that has launched the businesses for designers including Monique Pean and Tanya Taylor comes in.

Launch Collective founder Shira Sue Carmi joined this week’s episode of the Glossy Podcast to discuss why the entire industry is changing as you know it, and why designers need to shake themselves out of the Parsons-Barney’s-Vogue trifecta.

Edited highlights below.

Designers have to break the cycle they’re used to.
Launch Collective’s job is to tell people about marketing and business processes and consult smaller designers on building brands. But Carmi said that everything is changing so fast and that’s where it’s getting interesting for young designers who are still so enamored by what she calls the “old process.” Here’s how it went: “You got to Parsons, come up with a degree, make a collection, launch at Vogue, always Vogue, get an exclusive at Barney’s for one season, open up distribution, apply to the Vogue CFDA Fashion Fund, win, get some money, talk to [Theory CEO] Andrew Rosen, get investment, and you’re a success.” That process does not work any more, said Carmi.

What does work is having an audience.
It seems like a simple thing, but for young brands in the fashion space, it has for a long time been the case that the Vogue or department store deal guaranteed success. Carmi said the model has flipped entirely: “What makes success likely is an audience who wants to buy your clothes.” That means that designers need to spend a lot more time on non-design work, like building an audience, or a story.

The hoopla over the saturation of designers is not important.
Plenty of fashion purists, including CFDA CEO Steven Kolb, have said that too many people think they can become designers despite not being classically trained. Carmi disagrees: That matters even less now, she said. “The importance is now on creating a differentiated product. If you have an idea, others can help you design it,” she said. “But if you’re not able to actually reach your consumer and speak to them, it doesn’t matter how much training you have as a designer or how many years you worked at Ralph Lauren.”

E-commerce has created real issues for small designers.
The reasons why the industry is in flux are obvious: e-commerce, for one, and social media, for another. And when those things were introduced, brands either shunned or embraced them. But it took time for its real effects to be felt. It used to be that small designers wanted to be in one store in every town — that was the dream. E-commerce makes it easy for small brands with under $3 million in revenue to be carried in 10 places. Carmi recalls talking to a buyer who said a brand like that was “overdistributed” so they didn’t want to carry it. “Today you’re overdistributed at a small size,” which never was the case. “This industry is based on desire. You have to create unavailability all the time,” something that’s hard with e-commerce.

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