5 Questions for Chinese Laundry’s Mark Jankowski

Mark Jankowski’s daily routine at Chinese Laundry is all about balancing the load.

As the director of design for the Los Angeles-based brand, owned by Cels Enterprises Inc., Jankowski manages six different collections: Chinese Laundry, the lower-priced CL by Laundry, urban street collection Dirty Laundry, sport-inspired Wash, kids’ line Little Laundry and upscale Elise by Chinese Laundry.

“There is no typical day, and that helps keep it fresh. It’s a lot of pouring through prototypes, sketches and detailing,” said Jankowski, who was previously a buyer at Edison Brothers stores and president of retail for Steve Madden before joining Chinese Laundry in 2006. “There is a ton of shopping, travel and factory visits to round out my schedule.”

So how does Jankowski navigate the company’s large portfolio? “I drink a lot of coffee,” he joked.

But indeed, Jankowski has some busy months ahead. Chinese Laundry will continue to act as the official shoe sponsor for the Miss Universe competition later this year, after first forming the partnership in early 2011.

The firm also is gearing up to show the spring lines at upcoming trade shows, including Magic in Las Vegas next month, when it is expected to debut a capsule collection. “We are launching something pretty cool later this year,” said Jankowski, who declined to provide further details. “It should add another layer to the brand.”

Here, the designer weighs in on balancing the many brands under the Chinese Laundry umbrella, the travel perks of the job and why differentiation is key.

Why has Chinese Laundry created so many lines beyond the main collection?
It’s really as simple as identifying opportunities in the market and trying to create a reason for being. Each division has its niche product and targets. We try to offer a compelling lineup strategically to our wholesale partners. Also, we try to keep the divisions separate [through their] styling, materials and target end-use customer. Sometimes it’s easier said than done.

Do all those collections keep you on the road a lot?
Between shows, shopping and development and design trips, I travel maybe 175 days a year. I attend most trade shows, both domestically and overseas. Trend shopping internationally involves a lot of mental note-taking, tons of photos and lots of lugging around purchased samples. All these materials are then filed and downloaded so they are available to our entire design team. If we overlap a trend between the different lines, then we strategize how to keep things different and fresh so that we don’t cannibalize ourselves. Timing is also a very key piece of the puzzle. [If we debut styles] too early, we risk being the first one at the party, but if we are too late, we miss the [party].

What is your company’s approach to price these days?
It goes something like this: the right shoes at the right time at the right price. That formula works. I’ve learned over the years that it’s best if you don’t get pigeonholed into a set price point. It’s harder to maneuver [in the marketplace] if you do.

How is production handled for each of the lines?
Each brand has its own set of go-to factories. In China, each province basically has its own production specialties and capabilities. This makes leveraging production a little harder, but it’s the right thing to do. Getting the right product into the right factories should always be the goal.

What is your philosophy on following footwear trends?
It’s almost impossible to stay on trend at all times. It’s the nature of the beast. When it does work, it’s just the most awesome feeling. The hardest part of the job is knowing a trend is happening but choosing to intentionally miss it to stay true to the brand. You just can’t be all things to all people. Otherwise, you run the risk of watering down the label.

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