Tim Coppens: Designers should lead with creating, not running a business

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For new designers entering the fashion industry today, knowing and understanding the fundamentals of running a business is deemed just as important as having the skills to design; many American fashion industry leaders argue that success as a designer is only achievable when there’s an understanding of business elements, including sales, marketing and various business models.

While Belgium-born designer Tim Coppens, who runs his own eponymous label and is the executive creative director of Under Armour Sportswear, Under Armour’s new lifestyle-focused line, acknowledges the importance of being business-minded, he’s much more inclined to encourage new designers to be completely design-driven and creativity-focused while trying to get a brand off the ground.

Coppens joined this week’s Glossy Podcast, hosted by Glossy’s managing editor Shareen Pathak, to discuss his long road to launching a new brand for Under Armour, the difference between the fashion industries in Europe and America, and the changing nature of consumers’ lifestyles and how that has influenced fashion. The edited highlights are below.

Launching Under Armour Sportswear and getting customers to understand it
Coppens, who was announced as the design lead of the Under Armour Sportswear collection last year, unveiled his first collection at New York Fashion Week in September. Included were chino pants with a water-repellent fabric and a knitted-fabric suit jacket with a stretch component that looked like a classic formal blazer. The idea behind UAS was essentially a fresh approach to popular classics, including suits, trench coats and chino pants. Coppens took the technical fabrics Under Armour is known for using in its sports gear, and used them to create original everyday pieces that work with customers’ lifestyles.

“How can we introduce innovation in a way that would actually change the way that people dress? That’s a bigger thing,” Coppens said. “That’s something you cannot achieve in one season.”

The differences between European and American fashion industries
Coppens studied fashion at the Antwerp Academy in Belgium, where students were encouraged  to focus on the creative elements of designing. That way of thinking is reflected by many large European fashion houses that fiercely oppose changes to the fashion calendar due to the see-now-buy-now trend, and instead favor the traditional model of showing collections a season before they’re sold. Coppens said creativity should come first — the concepts and brand can be commercialized later.

“I was creatively and conceptually schooled [at Antwerp], and when you come [to America], it’s business-focused and ‘We have to build a brand, and we have to be able to make money out of it.’ That’s not a bad thing, but it should be balanced out,” he said.

“I think you have to be careful when you graduate and start that you let that design and creative aspect be free. Then, you get the right network around [the business] to create the business around it.”

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