Last night FIT held the Fashion and Finance Forum with leaders from both industries about the essential role of fashion and design industries in the economy of NYC. On the panel were: Paula Sutton president of Diane Von Furstenberg; Steve Madden founder of Steve Madden shoes; menswear designer Ninh Nguyen, Diane D’Erasmo VP of commercial banking at HSBC. The talk was moderated by J. Michael Stanley managing director of Rosenthal & Rosenthal the largest privately held factoring and financing firm in the US.
This is what I picked up tonight:
On the question of which is better- wholesale or retail?
Madden: Best to sell to wholesalers, although he loves the chaos of his stores. He wants to move to LA but retailing is the most exciting in NYC and its the number one retail city.
Sutter: Retail stores is how you protect you image, they are not easy to manager but are critical. She encourages everyone who works with her from the designers to the merchants to go into the store and learn the customer. Retail and wholesale complement each other because wholesalers see the retail stores doing well and that makes them want to buy the brand.
Madden: they won’t all survive- the ones that build better more interesting sites will win
On Social Media:
Sutter: Diane is perfect for online because she engages with customers. Mobile is the next step.
Nguyen: Social media is so important for young designers. It’s all about networking in person and on social media.
In Terms Of Copying Design Ideas:
Sutter: We are past that. Today designers are streaming their shows live online for everyone to see.You have style.com and other similar websites that post a collection right away. All you can do is evolve and make a great product. Product is hero.
Madden: First sign of success is when you are copied (i find this funny coming from him).
Sutter: What pushes you to do it on the collection level is wholesalers asking for it (it starts with the consumer asking for it, which leads to wholesalers asking for it. consumers have the power!) The main office is a geothermal building and the company does conserve.
Madden: Crash in 2008 set back sustainability.
Nguyen: It’s hard for young designers who are starting out because most have limited funds and eco fabrics like organic cotton are more expensive so they choose conventional fabrics.
On Bringing Manufacturing Back to the US
Sutter: Always looking for opportunities in New York. The issue is turn around time and factories in NYC can’t handle volume for DVF. She would like to use more factories here but the resources are not here. They are using some factories in LA for some denim work.
Madden: Americans don’t make shoes anymore, the industry will not come back.
D’Erasmo: HSBC supports sustainability but they are looking for companies that fit into the supply chain and have the history and stable profit to loss. In every business it’s always about profit and loss.
On Getting Started
Madden: Go to work in a store and see what people want to buy.
D’Erasmo: Take a global perspective. Americans tend to think everything is about America, the world bigger than the US.
Trade volumes have increased by 73%. There is more international brands coming to the US than US brands going out!!
Sutter: Sweat equity counts. Go for the jobs that you could learn the most- curiosity is important, try everything, learn to read a profit and loss sheet. Learn.
Something else that I learned: Steve Madden makes most of TOMS shoes.