Friday, May 2, 2008

Fashion week and paying the bills...

You know how much I love Sydney Morning Herald's Small Business section online. Here is another fantastic article about Fashion Week... Photos and article copied from

Fashion featured in the Kylie Hawkes collection

How to razzle dazzle, and pay the bills

Anneli Knight
May 2, 2008 - 11:00AM

The glamorous runways of Fashion Week are a dream for young designers, but it's a hard slog and high risk to get there.

Statistics from industry body Council of Textiles and Fashion reveal that more than half the small businesses in the textiles, clothing and footwear manufacturing industries fail within three years.

"It's a tough game, it's survival of the fittest," says the council's executive director Jo Kellock.

"There is very little room for margins of error."

Val Horridge, senior lecturer in fashion at the University of Technology, Sydney, says young designers might be inspired by creative pursuits but often learn some tough financial lessons along the way.

"Lots of times as a creative person people don't have enough of a business ethos behind them to understand just how cutthroat it is out there. And just how far your money needs to go, pinching Peter to pay Paul," she says.

"They have a skewed idea about how business is for a designer."

Designers need a synergy of artistic ability and a proportion of business acumen to run a successful fashion label, Horridge says.

Fashion school graduate Kylie Hawkes has been selling her eponymous women's daywear label at Sydney's Paddington and Kirribilli markets for more than a year and has just started wholesaling a range to boutique stores.

"The statistics are hard to face for someone in my situation. It's clear why people would get halfway through and just pack it in," she says.

"There is a lot of cost to set up a small business, you feel like you're pouring money in. And it's just about being sleep deprived.

"I don't have some of the resources that some of the other labels have. I don't have a PR machine behind me."

Hawkes has learnt most of her business skills at the markets - "at a level I couldn't muck up" - but says in hindsight she wishes she had taken a business course to teach her cash flow and bookkeeping skills.

All challenges aside, having your own fashion label is the dream for young designers, Hawkes says.

"It essentially amounts to complete creative freedom provided you can make enough money to keep doing what you're doing."

Lucy and Nick Ennis have found success with their urban streetwear label, Nique, which they've been running for eight years. The couple started out with no formal fashion training by selling "hoodies" on consignment in stores.

They've since opened two stores in Melbourne with a third scheduled to open this year. They produce three collections each year of up to 120 garments and supply their label to over 100 wholesalers in Australia and New Zealand.

"Its very labour intensive, it requires lots and lots of people to make it run smoothly. To produce a good brand you need a good infrastructure, not only to get quality right but to make sure everything is firing,'' says Lucy Ennis.

She says the local fashion industry has changed significantly over the past decade, with manufacturing moving offshore and with a lot more competition among young designers.

"When we started there weren't a lot of small labels around, there were a lot majors. Then there was a turn towards underground brands and now there is a glut of young labels starting up.''

The fashion council's Kellock says when the Australian market moved offshore a gap emerged in the market with fashion boutiques and consumers looking for unique products.

"I think [young designers] have probably got more confidence and they are encouraged by some of the successes they see - the industry has encouraged niche businesses.

"There is room for all of them to survive, what they need to do is look at their business practices and how they are marketing themselves."

Kellock says formal training in both fashion and business will minimise the risk of failure.

There is an emerging trend with designers building brand loyalty through novel approaches, such as ethical practices or organic, Kellock says.

"There are lots of opportunities still but we need to be smarter about how we work, we need to be smarter and build business models that are sustainable. It's going to be interesting to move forward."

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