“There is this fetishization of being a young designer and you have to live up to the mark.” It’s the day after LVMH invited what felt like the entire industry to meet their twenty competition finalists, and Charles Jeffrey is hinting at one of the core issues the Prize raises: what does it mean to be a young designer and why do they need help? Besides an evening dedicated to networking with fashion’s most experienced professionals and eating too many delicious hors-d’oeuvres, the prize offers its winner a €300,000 grant and a 12-month mentorship. That is a lot of money and a lot of attention, especially for designers who, in some cases, are still paying back student loans.
There has never been a better time to be young and set up your own label, or so it seems. It can be difficult to keep track of reality through all the young designer profiles and the ever-growing amount of support systems; and the life of an independent business owner is easily romanticised. To keep our heads from spinning after all that champagne, 1 Granary decided to talk struggles and challenges. What better place to do so than in a room filled with emerging talent?
“What is difficult is figuring out how to do production, how to actually run a brand, manage money and cash flows. I think that’s something that’s actually lacking in fashion schools. If you want to have your own brand, you should be able to take a course where they’re going to explain this to you. Not just marketing, which is quite instinctive, but proper business classes.” Faustine Steinmetz
“There is an illusion of grandeur and scale for business in terms of wanting to have a real stake in retail but also knowing your limitations as a new designer.” Samuel Ross, A Cold Wall
“Especially in New York, a lot has happened in the last couple of years. The fashion industry has more time for emerging designers. In the past few seasons, a lot of the bigger brands from the schedule have left, so there is more space for young talent. But most people in this room still struggle with production and financing. When you’re a smaller label in a factory, you’ll receive your orders later in the season because they prioritise their big clients.” Matthew Adams Dolan
“Right now, people are really invested in young designers. They want to see what they have to say, because young designers are the ones pushing the conversation about alternativism, identity and assimilation forward, which is very exciting. It is challenging that there are so many young designers right now and everyone’s competing with one another, but at the same time, you also form a sense of community.” Neil Grotzinger, Nihl
“What’s great about running our own brand is that we’re creating our own world and it’s a new and fresh look. We’re from the Caribbean, and you can see it in our clothes. The advantage for us is that we dare to be ourselves because we’re not bound to anything. We don’t have anything to lose, we don’t have to hit targets or anything like that. We don’t have to make concessions. Of course, we don’t sell as much as an established brand, but we’re working towards a way to get in the middle ‒ to be able to sell but not lose our creativity.” Rushemy Botter & Lisi Herrebrugh
“We’re very flexible, we can move around and adapt ourselves. That is something that we really try to take advantage of. But we are small, especially when it comes to the product we’re proposing. It’s quite luxurious so we can’t compete with bigger brands in terms of pricing, timing and deliveries.” Lea Dickely and Hung Lak, Kwaidan Editions
“The system is changing so we can find alternative ways to belong to it. There are possibilities to find innovative ways to put your work out there.” Akiko Aoki
“There is this fetishization of being a young designer and you have to live up to the mark. There are so many expectations. I’d be more interested in hearing from other people with different backgrounds who worked in the industry for a while and then did their own thing. That term ‘young designer’ ‒ is it related to age? Is it related to how long you’ve been out there? Is it how you’re perceived as being kind of popular, or in demand, or in the public eye?” Charles Jeffrey
“Even if you know about the technical part and what your aesthetic is, who your woman is, you have to figure out how to run a business and no one tells us that at university. You have to start selling your clothes, you have to produce them, you have to manage the team, you need to be really organized, and you need to be able to deal with money.” Marta Jakubowski
“The biggest challenges are definitely production and sales. Going to the factory and thinking about merchandising, that is another war besides design. It’s good to be young in the beginning because all the platforms ‒ especially in New York and London ‒ are paying attention to young designers and young talent. I can’t imagine being a graduate from Parsons and not having that support, it would be so hard.” Snow Xue Gao
Interviews Camila Abisambra
Images Bram Van Beek