How does a young talent break into the competitive shoe industry? Some key emerging names offered up brand-building tips for new shoe designers at a panel co-hosted by FFANY and FN last week in New York.
The group included Nicolò Beretta, the designer behind Giannico, and Sarah Flint, creative director of an eponymous line. Other participants were designer Den Ly, winner of the FFANY & Arsutoria Joseph C. Moore Scholarship, and Kelsey Lyle, associate fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. FN fashion editor Shannon Adducci moderated the discussion.
Here are four pieces of advice the group offered up for fresh designers.
Focus on working with the right manufacturer: “At first it was hard because I had no technical knowledge. I just had a strong creative mind,” Beretta said. “Manufacturing is always the most difficult part. It’s hard to make someone understand from scratch what your idea is.” The designer said that after changing his production strategy, his collection is now produced at one of the best factories in Italy. “It’s super-organized, and from an aesthetic point of view, it’s amazing.” Lee said that he has focused on studying and learning about the Cambodian footwear landscape. “The industry is blowing up,” he said.
Keep tweaking your business model: Flint, who just took her business direct-to-consumer, said she realized she had to change her strategy to take the brand to the next level. “We had incredible wholesale partners, and we couldn’t have gotten to where we are without them,” Flint said. “But we weren’t really optimized to grow. Even if you’re luxury, you’re optimized at $300 to $600.” To bring her price point down, she decided to go directly to the consumer and eliminate the middleman. “We didn’t want to change the quality, and we wanted to talk to the consumer more directly,” Flint said.
Offer something different from anyone else: “Our customer loves newness and novelty,” Lyle said. “Overall, it’s important for a retailer to see a lot of breadth in the collection. We also want to see the collection grow over time. I typically see designers for a few seasons before we bring them on.”
Find someone you trust to help you create a long-term strategy: “I like to be an entrepreneur. I like the challenge,” Beretta said. “The most difficult part is creating the plan to get out there and decide what’s most important. You have to make a lot of choices. My mother has been very helpful in helping me manage that.” Flint said her father helped her get her business of the ground. “I didn’t get a business partner until my fourth year,” she said. Flint also found it useful to bring in one of her older board members to help navigate tough discussions. “The industry in the U.S. is accepting of young people,” Flint said. “But it was very challenging in Italy, and fundraising was also challenging.”