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Who Needs Investors? 7 Tips for Bootstrapping Your Fashion Business

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Who Needs Investors? 7 Tips for Bootstrapping Your Fashion Business

NEW YORK, United States — One of the most talked about fashion shows this year didn’t come from a brand backed by LVMH or venture capital, but rather a designer whose seed capital was her tax refund.

Hanifa, a Maryland-based womenswear label founded by designer Anifa Mvuemba in 2012, went viral in May after presenting its new collection of feminine, flattering separates and evening wear on a dynamic 3D digital model. It was a rare example of a fashion show that used digital technology as more than a gimmick.

In the weeks that followed, Hanifa generated widespread media coverage and saw more than double the usual online orders for a new collection.

For Mvuemba, who started her brand without a design background or industry connections, the show and its reception validated her unconventional approach to the fashion business. Hanifa, named after the way Mvuemba’s first name is pronounced, began with an image of a dress design posted on Instagram in 2012. She was working in retail at the time and, with the money from a tax return, taught herself to sew and started making clothing for friends, family and clients who found her on social media. It grew from there.

She produced every piece herself until 2018 and still sells only direct to consumer. And she still lives in a suburb outside of Washington, D.C., where she has more space to work and lower living costs.

“The whole time, I’ve just been flipping what I was making,” Mvuemba told BoF. “And I was just putting right back into the business — try something else, or try a new garment or a new collection. And each time, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Mvuemba is part of a cohort of designers who have found their own way into fashion, turning a passion project into a real business slowly but surely, with little or no help from outside investors.

Often when a designer is described as “self-funded,” they can still tap wealthy family and friends, or savings from their past lives as bankers or lawyers. Designers who truly start from scratch often find themselves blocked out of the fashion establishment because they don’t follow the traditional (and costly) steps. It’s not just about money: the industry establishment connections needed to get a brand off the ground is another barrier, particularly for Black designers and designers of colour.

While Mvuemba’s journey with Hanifa has been intense and laborious, it also insulated her from an increasingly troubled fashion system, which for decades pushed designers to follow a set path from fashion school to wholesale distribution and a slot at fashion week.

It’s also a path more aspiring designers are likely to take as the pandemic triggers mass layoffs throughout the fashion industry, and a recession threatens to close off many sources of funding.

For fashion entrepreneurs just starting out with little or no safety net, success will depend on the ability to creatively solve problems and the strength to block out the noise and focus on their customers.

“You need so much tenacity and fortitude,” said Brandice Daniel, founder and CEO of Harlem’s Fashion Row. “There is no straight line to success with entrepreneurship. It is a journey that is gonna take you on some high highs and low lows. So you need something that anchors you that entire time. And that’s going to be your ‘why’ — why are you doing this in the first place?”

Research, Plan, Prepare

The rules for starting a fashion business are largely the same whether a founder has an investor or is starting from nothing. But for those that do not have a big pile of cash to fall back on, a thorough understanding of the market is even more essential. The more research a founder does, the less likely they are to waste money on their path to finding the right approach to making products and selling them to customers.

Sharifa Murdock, the co-owner of Liberty Fairs trade show who has counselled emerging designers for more than dacde, advised founders to set a general plan for the business at the outset, even if it’s too early to plan out revenue targets.

“It’s very important for you to have some sort of structure to the business that you’re about to start so that you do not make mistakes,” Murdock said.

She recommended using family and friends as a testing ground for initial products, to get feedback and determine if people will be willing to buy your product before investing too much in the business.

When Reuben Reuel started his womenswear label Demestik eight years ago, he said his plan didn’t go much further than “make pretty dresses and make money.” He launched with one shirt design and one dress in colourful wax cotton prints, which he sold on Etsy, a marketplace for handmade and artisanal goods, and his business grew from there. He’s sold 20,000 pieces to this day.

A look from Demestik by Reuben Reuel | Source: Courtesy

“Everything was trial and error,” he said. “I just knew how to hustle.”

But Reuel knew his modern approach to traditional prints stood out, especially in a wide size range (every style is available in XS to 2X). The designer also spent time from the very beginning giving customers individual attention, knowing it would gain shoppers’ loyalty.

“It’s not just [going to be successful] because you have this creative idea of a pretty dress: there has to be something else that’s going to attract consumers,” Reuel said.

Mvuemba said she offset her lack of experience by educating herself. She read books and articles and watched videos online about finance, marketing, manufacturing, Photoshop, Instagram and everything else that goes into running her own business.

“I didn’t really have the business background, the financial background,” she said. “I just knew I have something here and maybe I should try something.”

Identifying that special something, or what will differentiate your brand, is also extremely important, said Abe Burmeister, founder and creative director of online, direct-to-consumer label Outlier. The business is known for incorporating technical and industrial fabrics, the kind of which is more likely found in outdoor apparel, in everyday menswear staples. He and Tyler Clemens started the business twelve years ago with a small amount of savings while still working full-time jobs, and they continue to run the business without outside investment.

“You have to want to do it and you have to want [to create] something that doesn’t exist,” said Burmeister. “Otherwise what’s the point?”

Focuses on Finances or Find Someone You Trust to Help You

Bootstrapped brands cannot afford to be careless with their finances.

“If you’re starting without capital, really you are starting with a cash-run rate of weeks,” said Outlier’s Burmeister. “You have to be profitable from the get-go at some level, you can’t just keep pouring more money into it and not getting anything back.”

But many creatives struggle to manage their finances, and it can take time away from designing. Mvuemba advises founders to recognise their own weaknesses and find a trusted person to help them budget if that isn’t one of their strengths.

In 2015, three years after she started Hanifa, Mvuemba took a yearlong break because the business had become too overwhelming to manage completely on her own. After she returned, she hired a financial advisor to help her budget and plan.

“It was one of the greatest things I ever did and it helped tremendously,” Mvuemba said, even though she was nervous about being able to afford the help. “I had to understand that it was essentially an investment … And it would actually allow me to have more free time to do something else so that the business will grow.”

At first, Reuel’s approach with Demestik was simple:

“I knew that if I was going to create a collection, it had to be at a certain price point, I knew that the fabric had to be at a certain price point, the manufacturing had to be a certain price point,” he said. “Whatever I was producing, I would be able to sustain myself and live.”

But as his business grew, Reuel developed a more structured plan, and he recommends founders hiring an accountant and set a forward-looking strategy. He acknowledged that enlisting and trusting outside help can be difficult.

“I think a lot of creatives, a lot of designers who are independent and especially Black ones, we live in a survival mode because we don’t have the access, we don’t have the information, and we’re also trying to hold on to this thing that we have created,” he said. “Giving that trust to somebody else, it’s not that easy.”

Murdock said founders who cannot afford to hire someone to help them can look for free classes for small business owners online, but should not feel like they can’t ask for help.

“[Look] on LinkedIn and find someone that you admire and see if they’ll help you,” she said. “There’s always somebody out there that is willing to help [entrepreneurs].”

Find the Distribution Platform that Makes Sense for You

In today’s data-driven and competitive digital environment, a direct relationship with customers could not be more valuable. Founders have many e-commerce platform options at their disposal, from Shopify to Instagram.

Murdock said that while starting off selling products on Instagram on a case-by-case basis can make sense for bootstrapping entrepreneurs, e-commerce platforms can provide more data and other services that are essential to understanding the customer and reaching them.

Before launching Demestik, Reuel knew he wanted to look beyond the traditional fashion business model, intermediated by department stores and showrooms that keep brands at a distance from their customers.

He decided to build his brand on Etsy, a marketplace for handmade items and crafts, where he found a global audience that appreciated his small-scale approach and was willing to pre-order fashion, helping cover the costs of production.

“I have been in New York City long enough to see brands come out into the industry, have all this press, have all this buzz … But at the end of the day, how much are you actually selling to actual humans?” Reuel said, adding that his driving goal has been to build a business that financially supports himself.

The connection I have made with my customers is something that no one can ever take from me.

If he followed the traditional system, “I think that I would have saturated the market and penetrated the market too soon, prematurely, and I wouldn’t have been able to really discover who that customer was,” he said. “The connection I have made with my customers is something that no one can ever take from me.”

Prioritise Imagery

Visual imagery is key to building any brand, but especially a fashion business that does not have the money to pour into paid marketing to get the word out to potential shoppers. The content brands post on social media platforms needs to grab audiences’ attention and entice them to find out more.

“The customers are actually seeing the garments first on Instagram or online before they actually see it in person,” Mvuemba said. She taught herself graphic design, Photoshop and video editing to make her online content stronger. “The more I would post pictures of the garments or details, the more inquiries I will get and the more followers I would get and it just kept growing from there.”

Reuel also credits his early product images shot by Kia Chenelleto the early success of his brand, thanks to the way he styled the clothes to how the model danced in the images. “Fashion is all visual,” he said.

Build Relationships

Scrappy founders bear the weight of the challenges of building a business primarily on their own. But just because they can’t afford to hire someone to help doesn’t mean that relationships aren’t key to their success, whether it’s asking for advice from a potential mentor or negotiating more favourable terms with vendors.

Daniel stressed that founders cannot build a business without help, noting that fashion designers in particular tend to think they have to go it alone.

“You’ll be surprised — there are so many people that are willing to be on the ground floor with you in starting a business if they believe in you,” she said. “And if they see you going at 100 percent, people are willing to… donate their time, donate their expertise.”

When she entered the fashion industry for the first time, coming into it with no connections, Daniel was able to “build relationships out of thin air” by going beyond the basic approach of a cold email or direct message. She sent people cupcakes to their offices or hand wrote them notes. She also reached out to book “coaching sessions” with people she wanted to speak to, even if they were not career coaches, which signalled that she respected their time enough to pay for it. Most said it wasn’t necessary and met with her for free, but appreciated the gesture.

There are so many people that are willing to be on the ground floor with you in starting a business if they believe in you.

Relationship-building is key even beyond finding mentors or people to hire. In the early years of Demestik, Reuel’s strong ties with, for example, fabric suppliers allowed him to put a hold on purchasing fabrics while he waited to see what his pre-orders would require.

“Like my first boss in New York told me … be nice to everyone,” said Reuel. “You never know who you’re going to need, when you’re going to need them.”

Build Off Reliable Sellers with New Designs

Outlier’s Burmeister advises that founders focus first on creating a product that more than a few people want to buy and that can be easily reproduced as more customers discover the brand.

“It’s very hard to survive creating only new things,” he said.

But founders need to balance the staple products and the new releases to “sell a story” of the brand and keep customers coming back for more. “There needs to be some level of excitement around what you’re doing, and the beauty with clothing is that it can go in so many different directions,” Burmeister said. “Once you have that energy and establish it, you have to figure out how to keep that going.”

Have a Long Term Mindset

Perhaps the most important advice for founders is to take their effort seriously, and plan for long term success.

“You have to go into it with the assurance in your mind that you’re going to make this happen by any means necessary,” said Murdock.

That means not cutting corners, like forgetting to register the business name and trademark, or not worrying about taxes. These oversights will become larger problems later on. And in order to have the tenacity required to survive, especially in as challenging an industry as fashion, founders need to operate under the assumption that they will be successful.

That mindset is easier to describe than achieve, especially in as insular an industry as fashion.

“Even with everything that I’ve done, I always felt like I was doing something wrong, or I wasn’t doing it the way that I was supposed to do it,” said Mvuemba. “But I think this year, I realised, ‘Man, I actually have something … I want to do it how I want to do it.’ The 3D fashion show was a result of that.”

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Fashion

Fashion Briefing: Fashion’s emerging founder-investors are mega-influencers – Glossy

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Fashion Briefing: Fashion’s emerging founder-investors are mega-influencers – Glossy

Fashion’s OG Instagrammers are building empires and, at the same time, growing their influence beyond the industry.

After being schooled for years on the workings of the fashion industry, mega-influencers including Danielle Bernstein (2.7 million Instagram followers) and Rocky Barnes (2.5 million Instagram followers) are graduating to careers less reliant on brands. To take it to the next level, they’re leveraging their prowess and communities, driving deals with effective business partners, and evolving their focus, based on the industry’s direction and their own passions. The emerging results, for both Bernstein and Barnes, are personally-backed brands and investment portfolios set to expand based on early successes.

“The plan is to grow, in a big way,” said Bernstein. “I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I’ll always want to introduce new businesses and categories to my brand. And I’m angel investing and joining the board of advisors for so many companies. That’s the future of the creator economy: harnessing and creating community around your existing followers and then figuring out how to monetize that.”

In 2019, upon inking a licensing deal with New York-based clothing company Onia, Bernstein launched the Shop We Wore What e-commerce site, populated with her expanding We Wore What fashion collection. The collection has been at the center of much recent controversy, due to allegedly including copycat designs. According to Bernstein, she turns to vintage pieces, editorials and travel for inspiration. Bernstein’s also become an investor and advisor for hair supplement company Wellbel and CBD brand Highline Wellness. In May, she became active on Patreon, offering exclusive video content to paying members of her community.

In addition, Bernstein heads up We Gave What, a charitable arm of her company. In 2019, she launched tech company Moe Assist with a project management tool for influencers, though its social accounts have been inactive for two-plus months. When asked for comment, a spokesperson said Moe Assist is in a new fundraising stage and “should have news to share shortly.”

Barnes, meanwhile, partnered with Reunited Clothing to come out with her apparel company, The Bright Side, in December. And she recently became a first-time investor-advisor, for 6-month-old SMS shopping platform Qatch. She announced the partnership in an Instagram post on Monday.

“I feel like a grown-up,” she told me, before confirming that she’s interested in investing in more companies. “Diversifying my business has been a really big [focus] for me. I interact with so many different brands and companies on a daily basis. Using my market knowledge in ways that can help other people is fulfilling and exciting for me. And I especially love when I can be involved with a company from the beginning.”

Building on their content creator role in fashion is a natural progression, both said. And it plays into many industry shifts: On its way out is fashion’s DTC era, largely fueled by Harvard Business School and Wharton graduates using a plug-and-play, marketing-heavy business model to launch brands. More consumers are prioritizing quality, differentiated products, making industry experience and style expertise greater virtues among insiders. At the same time, consumers are increasingly taking shopping cues from relatable, platform-native celebrities, moving on from authoritative editors and more closed-off celebrities.

The school of collaborations
The collaborator-to-founder shift isn’t the newest thing. Other longtime influencers that have made the pivot include Arielle Charnas, with Something Navy; Aimee Song, with Song of Style; Rumi Neely, with Are You Am I; the list goes on. Most often, the names behind these brands don’t have formal design and business training — for her part, Bernstein said she “went to FIT for two years, but didn’t study design and production.” But, for years, they’ve worked hand-in-hand with companies to bring their visions to life. And along the way, they’ve come to know what resonates best with their vast communities, from marketing to merchandising to product.

“My most successful collaborations have led to the largest share of my business,” said Bernstein.

Bernstein’s partnership with Onia came out of her swimwear collaboration with its Onia brand, in May 2019. On the collab’s launch day, it drove $2 million in sales, and an included style was the brand’s best-selling swimsuit of the summer. Also in 2019, Bernstein collaborated with Joe’s Jeans on multiple denim collections. The launch day of the first, in March 2019, marked Joe Jeans’ best sales day to date, said Jennifer Hawkins, the brand’s svp of marketing and innovation on a Glossy Podcast in October.

Both served as learning opportunities for Bernstein, who said — as with all of her collaborations — she took full advantage: “It was never just [uploading] a post, and then I went away,” she said. “I always wanted to know how the performance was, in terms of sales, and asked questions: ‘Can you share the analytics?’ ‘What did you see on your end?’ ‘What worked and what didn’t work?’”

She added, “They provided a ton of data, in terms of what I could sell and what the market was missing.”

Likewise, she said, she always followed and shared with partner brands the Instagram Insights and Google Analytics numbers around her corresponding posts. Doing so gave all parties a 360-degree view of a collaboration’s success.

“I’ve learned what works for brands so they get the largest return on their investment,” she said.

For example, she’s learned to lean on her audience’s tastes, versus rely on her own, by allowing them to offer feedback throughout the design process through Instagram. That’s included the selection of fabrics and colors and the fit sessions with models. She only spotlights her favorite styles and what she wears in her own social posts, as a play for authenticity.

According to Bernstein, the collaborations with brands allowing her to play an advisor role — by guiding them on influencer partnerships, marketing and messaging — are always more successful. And they often turn into longer-term investment or advising partnerships.

Bernstein chose to work with Onia on the We Wore What collection based on its prioritization of quality and fit, and ability to keep to affordable retail prices. Currently, prices on the We Wore What site range from $20, for a scrunchie, to $228, for a vegan leather jumpsuit.

Barnes was also ready to go out on her own after finding the right partners. Her Reunited Clothing partnership came after working with the company to create her Express product collaboration, in early 2019. On its first-quarter 2019 earnings call, interim CEO Matthew C. Moullering said the company had seen “a strong start to [the] collection both in-stores and online and [believed] it [was] helping to introduce the brand to a new audience.”

“Having your own brand is terrifying,” Barnes said. “But I like that I’m in control and not so dependent on doing the day-to-day posts promoting other companies.”

But, she added, “One of the huge benefits of working with all these different brands on all these different projects is that we’re constantly getting introduced to new people and seeing who we like working with.”

Barnes’ internal team consists of her husband, who’s the “business brains” of the company, she said, and an assistant.

Like Bernstein, Barnes stressed the need for outside support in the production process: “I love such quirky, crazy things, but I also understand what is realistic for a buyer and a normal girl buying clothes,” she said. “The experience of taking ideas and making them work for a bigger group of people was my learning curve going into a business. It’s important to have a good, diverse team around you who can make your idea something that’s marketable.”

For its part, We Wore What has seen “200x growth in the last year,” as it’s expanded to new categories, Bernstein said. Its ready-to-wear, swimwear, resort wear, and activewear are now sold in “dozens and dozens of retailers around the world,” many of which offer style exclusives; they include Revolve, Bloomingdale’s and Intermix.

“Launching my own brand was putting the proof in the pudding for the power of influencers, when it comes to selling product,” she said.

As with her Joe’s and Onia collaborations, Bernstein sees a rush-to-buy with We Wore What product drops. “The first 10 minutes is when we see the biggest portion of our sales for the entire collection,” she said.

To build buzz, Shop We Wore What’s Instagram account (213,000 followers) features in its Stories the line sheets of the soon-to-launch styles, allowing customers to thoughtfully plan their buy. Doing so has led to lower return rates, Bernstein said. The company’s marketing mix also includes text messages and emails, VIP discounts and user-generated content.

Bernstein has a staff of four people, which include a chief operating officer and a brand coordinator. She said she prioritizes establishing partners with skills and expertise she doesn’t have, so she can learn from them along the way. Ideally, she’d have learned about tech packs, fittings and production logistics in school, but she’s training as she goes.

Moving forward, Bernstein said she plans to extend the size range of We What What styles, which are currently available in sizes XS-XXL, and launch collections with collaborators to sell exclusively on her brand’s DTC site. In addition, she aims to eventually open “experimental” physical retail, starting with pop-ups.

As for her investment-advisor portfolio, she’s currently in talks with companies centered on the concepts of “being able to sell your closet and even rent your closet.”

As for Barnes’ Bright Side, she said it will hit “a bunch of new retailers this year.”

Moving beyond fashion
Up next for Shop We Wore What is a new product category that will hit before the holiday season. Considering her passion for home furnishings and decor — based on her @homeworewhat Instagram account (7,500 followers) and recent press coverage of her new SoHo loft — it’s a safe bet that a home-related category is in the cards.

Likewise, Barnes hinted at a future Bright Side home collection, following her recent, two-year home remodel, which she’s getting set to debut on social media.

Lifestyle brands are the clear goal.

“I would love to be a combination of Rachel Zoe and Martha Stewart, just having my hands in everything and creating this really beautiful lifestyle where you can entertain and be fashionable,” Barnes said. “That’s kind of the dream.”

She added, “Fashion is where my heart has always been, but I’m growing as a person and there’s so much more in my life right now: my family, my home — and I’m getting older, so beauty [and skin care] makes sense now. Sharing all of that with everyone seems so natural; it would be weird if I only did fashion.”

As for future investments, though Quatch fits perfectly into Barnes’ world, with its fashion-tech focus, she said she’s open to investing in any company where she sees opportunity.

What’s more, she has no plans to retire from social media, though she has yet to tackle TikTok.

“People’s need for content has only increased, so I’m posting and creating content more than ever,” Barnes said. “But I’ve learned to become more of a hard-ass with brands. The companies that are willing to work with me and [facilitate] the most like authentic relationship possible are the ones I move forward with.” Reunited can attest.

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Marcelo Gaia on Mirror Palais’ First Pop-Up and Beyond

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Marcelo Gaia on Mirror Palais' First Pop-Up and Beyond

In an age where fast fashion is king and our feeds are constantly over-saturated with a rapidly-changing array of trends, Marcelo Gaia, the owner and lead designer of Mirror Palais, is forging a new path. Since founding the brand in 2019, the New York-based designer has taken social media by storm. After accumulating a large and devoted fanbase that includes the likes of Kendall Jenner, Ariana Grande, Bella Hadid, and Dua Lipa, Gaia has established Mirror Palais as one of the most-coveted labels on the internet.

marcelo gaia

Mirror Palais founder and designer Marcelo Gaia

Heido Stanton

However, more than just being a popular social media brand, Mirror Palais stands for something greater than a revolving door of trends and has quickly solidified its own unique position in the fashion world. Made in New York City with deadstock fabrics and fair trade cottons and silks, the label is humanizing the design and construction processes. Operating on a made to order system for its RTW collections, it strives to minimize waste and excess supply at every step.

mirror palais

Mirror Palais Collection II campaign

Heidi Stanton

mirror palais

Mirror Palais Collection II campaign

Heidi Stanton

Mirror Palais has also proven to be just as thoughtful and distinct in its designs. Inspired by the most influential women in Gaia’s life, the brand celebrates the female form in novel, fun, and enchanting ways, with sizes ranging from XXS to 2X. Some of the label’s most unique and beloved designs include the famed underwire polo tops, sultry lingerie-inspired mini dresses, and Brazilian bikinis embellished with eccentric florals and ‘90s patterns.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Now, Gaia is bringing the Mirror Palais experience into the real world with the brand’s first pop-up in New York City. Launching on October 22, just in-time for the label’s second anniversary, the brick and mortar will be located at 27 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side and will give shoppers the opportunity to experience the brand’s second collection in-person.

Ahead of the opening, CR spoke with Gaia to reflect on the past, present, and future of Mirror Palais.

mirror palais

Mirror Palais Collection II campaign

Heidi Stanton

mirror palais

Mirror Palais Collection II campaign

Heidi Stanton

CR: Mirror Palais is arguably the most in-demand small designer brand right now, with a quickly-growing following. With such a high level of popularity, how are you managing producing new garments and designs under such pressure, while still staying true to a small-scale, environmentally conscious image?

MG: I think the biggest thing is that I’m super transparent with my clientele and with my following about everything that’s going on. So, I never feel that I have to promise something that I can’t deliver and even if I do fall short, there’s this understanding that the business is growing during such an unprecedented time. … I have an amazing communications manager who has been with me since I started the company, and she’s taken over communicating with our customers, which is pretty much the most important part of our business because we’re made to order. We make sure that, whoever they are, they know that their order is very important to us and that we’re going to do everything in our power to accommodate them. So, it’s basically that everything I do comes with the client, the Mirror Palais girl in mind and then everything else trickles down from there.

CR: Along the same lines, Mirror Palais has been seen all over Instagram and TikTok, as well as on numerous celebrities including, Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid, and Kylie Jenner. How has this widespread exposure via social media helped the brand, and in what ways, if any, has it harmed it?

MG: I think that some people get it wrong, in that, there’s this idea that celebrities are necessary for implementing a brand into a higher status. With my own experience, I’ve found that not to be the case because, before I had any celebrity wearing my clothes, I was already amassing a strong community and following just based off of the story that we were sharing online. So, with the first celebrity moment, which was Dua Lipa in one of her music videos, it was one of those moments when, anyone who maybe needed that affirmation that we were legitimate because the business was founded on Instagram, was like, “okay, maybe this is someone to take more seriously.” I think it ultimately helped with that sort of endorsement. … Perhaps one of the ways that it might harm our business is that people have a perception of the business being bigger than it is. It’s like “oh, if so-and-so is wearing their clothes, they must be this big corporation,” when, really, when we started it was just me in this little tiny room with a garment rack. We’ve grown, but we’re still a really small team and we have four full-time employees. So, I guess that’s where we are harmed a little bit, with putting unrealistic expectations on us even though we’re still so young.

CR: Wow, only four full time employees? Well, you are clearly making it work.

MG: We are, we are. I’m a really conservative person and I don’t want to make any promises that I can’t keep. So, the idea of bringing people on is like a ship, right? I don’t want to bring on more people that I can feed, or more than the boat can actually handle. So, I’m just trying to find that balance as a business owner, and it is definitely difficult to do creative and business at the same time. But, I have an amazing team that are supporting me in all of those ways.

CR: Considering the saturation of specific trends in the fashion world as a result of social media, how do you go about keeping the Mirror Palais image unique? More specifically, where do you look for inspiration in order to ensure that the brand continues to stand out and have an identity of its own?

MG: I love old films, they’re a huge inspiration for the brand. I think that the Mirror Palais story, the feed, can kind of roll out like a movie story might and I try to capture moments that may not have been used in terms of the imagery. I just trying to capture something that might resonate with someone in a different, less commercial or contrived way; maybe catching those little moments in between the shots. I don’t retouch my images, so I was really careful to not go a traditional route with my imagery. I was really just shooting people who were helping me, my friends in my clothes and we would just go out onto the street and we’d go get a coffee and then I’d take a video that would go viral. And it wasn’t as if I’d set up this big-budget shoot or anything, I was just being in the moment with a friend. I think just trying to deliver more, I know people hate the word “authenticity,” but I guess just trying to show something that you don’t exactly see anymore. Even that has become more popular. I feel like I just try to capture those little in-between moments and that’s what really resonates with our following.

CR: When you’re designing new looks, what sort of individual do you envision? Essentially, what kind of person is the “Mirror Palais” muse?

MG: Initially, I envision my mom and who she is, and especially who she was in her younger years. She grew up in Brazil and moved to the states, and she kept this insane archive of all of her clothes wherever we moved. It was a big source of inspiration and exploration for me as a young gay man. I would go into her closet and secretly try her clothes on. I got this intimate sense of what it felt like to be a woman. I’ve just been surrounded by women by whole life: I was raised by my mom and older sister and in grade, middle, and high school I only had female friends. I also only really have close female friends now. So, I think that I exist in the world as a cis-man, but my point of view is very much female. In a way, I think I am just trying to create what I think the women in my life would like to find in a thrift or vintage store. I did a lot of thrifting when I was younger because we didn’t have a lot of money. So, that was how I created my fashion identity: through my mom’s stuff and going to thrift stores. The idea of finding that one thing that stands out and getting super excited about it is the moment that I’m trying to recreate with my store and with my designs.

CR: This week, you are opening your first pop-up for the brand in New York. What does this mean to you as a New Yorker to be able to open a brick and mortar in your home city?

MG: I never thought that it would ever be something that was possible for me. It’s amazing that I’m getting to do what I love the most, which is getting to go shopping with my friends. I feel like all of my customers and all of my followers are like my friends and they are going to be coming by and we’re going to be playing dress-up! And I hope that people are going to be able to find something that they really love. I feel really hopeful that the experience in-person will be even greater than the experience online and I’m really excited. It still hasn’t really hit me yet. I was having a meeting with Susan Alexander right before this, who is also opening her first store. I’m 27 Orchard St and she’s 33 Orchard St. And then across the street is Sandy Lee Yang. So, I feel like there this is the new wave in New York fashion and I’m hoping that I can connect with as many people as possible to determine how we can do things differently than the people who came before us.

CR: What can shoppers expect from the Mirror Palais pop-up with regard to its aesthetic, design, and overall vibe?

MG: It’s a very clean layout. It’s a white box gallery space at the Larrie gallery, so, it’s just going to be super clean and there are going to be little Mirror Palais touches here and there. There’s just going to be a lot of playing and the clothes themselves are really going to contrast with that stark white, which I think will be really fun. I feel like you’re going to get the chance to experience the brand in-person, which is basically us, my team, us girls hyping each other up. Basically, that’s what happens in our office every day when we get new samples and everyone in the office tries everything on. And we’re going to be debuting our new campaign by Heidi [Stanton] on Thursday [October 22nd]. We did this really cool images that I have been kind of hoarding, just waiting for the right moment to release. So, we’re going to do those in-conjunction with some wheatpastes around the city. We’re going to be all over downtown for a little bit, which I’m excited to do.

CR: Considering this pop-up is a huge milestone in the brand’s trajectory, what’s your next goal or milestone for Mirror Palais after opening a physical space?

MG: My long-term goal would be to create a space where people can come to create a customized wardrobe with our shapes. At the turn of the century, when designers started opening their ateliers, especially in Paris, the made-to-measure movement with high-end designers was something that seemed really cool and is something that I don’t think most of us have access to. So, I would love to create a space where people can come by, see the shapes, and try-on the different sizes that we have. We carry XXS to 2XL, so we would have someone to measure you and create a really intentional experience with your wardrobe acquisition, so everything that you’re putting into your closet is made for you and has a really special memory attached to it. Hopefully, that will make you want to hold on to it forever and ultimately, create less waste, which is something that is important to me and should be important to every designer right now. It’s about how we can be more conscious about what we’re putting out into the world and I think that, if you’re really in-love with your clothes, then you treat them better and they won’t end up in a landfill.

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Fashion

The Best Street Style at Paris Fashion Week

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The Best Street Style at Paris Fashion Week

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

At Paris Fashion Week, photographer Christina Fragkou captured street styles during the nine days of shows and events.

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @louispisano

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Hera is wearing Daily Paper pants and jacket with Goossens jewelry and an Off White bag.
Instagram: @herapradel

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I just wanted to be comfy. I like earth colors — nothing too vivid!”
Instagram: @ogqueen

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: amyyaa_

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Cõvco: “I’m inspired by my mama.” Tshegue: “I’m inspired by chaos.”
Instagram: @_covco and @tshegue_official

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“Different influencers inspire my style … Oh, and TikTok.”
Instagram: @elviedesu

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Jessica is wearing an Ottolinger top and shorts, Doc Martens, and a Dior bag.
Instagram: @jessicaaidi

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Sofia is wearing all vintage. “I’m inspired by party life.”
Instagram: @sofsanfe__

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Aleali is wearing an Ottolinger shirt and pants, a Mowalola purse, and Miista boots.
Instagram: @alealimay

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I’m a walking disco ball; I need dance!”
Instagram: @yumasui

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I love corsets, and I’m very into ’60s vibes, especially when it comes to shoes!”
Instagram: @aim_.d

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Courtney is wearing an Ottolinger outfit and Gucci shoes.
Instagram: @alwaysjudging

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Maria is wearing Ottolinger.
Instagram: @maria_bernad

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Kiddy is wearing a Prada top, jacket, and gloves; Mugler pants; and Ann Demeulemeester shoes.
Instagram: @areyoukitty

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Cindy is wearing Ottolinger and Rick Owens shoes.
Instagram: @cindybruna

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @susiebubble

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @sachaquenby

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @parlonsstyle

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Courtney is wearing a Courrèges leather set.
Instagram: @alwaysjudging

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Ellie is wearing a Coperni top and bag.
Instagram: @slipintostyle

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Scottie is wearing a vintage look that’s “a little Audrey Hepburn.”
Instagram: @scottielarsonn

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Devon is wearing a vintage outfit with a Maison Margiela bag. “I believe in being sustainable and don’t want to add to my footprint, so I dress mostly vintage. I styled this outfit entirely around this perfect jacket. I wish I had this when I was a kid.”
Instagram: @devonkaylor

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Kristen is wearing a Loewe dress and a Munthe coat with an Ottolinger bag.
“Today is vacation style: Miami and retirement homes and White Lotus!”
Instagram: @kristenvbateman

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @louloudesaison

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Jamie-Maree is wearing a Balenciaga outfit.
Instagram: @airtomyearth

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Selma is wearing pants and a jacket by Patou with a vintage vest, a JW Anderson bag, Gucci necklaces, Nanushka sunglasses, and Yeezy shoes.
Instagram: @selmakacisebbagh

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“My friend who owns a vintage boutique dresses me. He wanted me to be out of my comfort zone because normally I dress very femme, and this is all men’s clothing!”
Instagram: @la_dingue

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Petra is wearing a Résumé dress with ASOS shoes and a Cala Jade bag.
Instagram: @petrahenriette

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Louis is wearing Coperni.
Instagram: @louispisano

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Nina is wearing a Hyein SEO outfit with a Coperni bag and Celine boots.
Instagram: @ninauc

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Gala is wearing a Coperni outfit with Giuseppe Zanotti shoes and Valentino sunglasses.
Instagram: @galagonzalez

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Tiffany is wearing an outfit from the Attico with a Chanel bag.
Instagram: @handinfire

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Linda is wearing an Ivy Park x Adidas jumpsuit and Zara shoes.
Instagram: @letscooktonite

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I don’t really have an inspiration today. I just wanted to wear my Crocs and highlight them, so I wore all black!”
Instagram: @17xpk_

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“My inspiration is retro, ’70s, ’80s. It’s a little bit of a mix!”
Instagram: @missgeburtz

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Hillary is wearing Collina Strada.
Instagram: @_collina

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I couldn’t decide what shoes to wear so I wore one of each.”
Instagram: @selenaforrest

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“To be honest, I just wanted to match my hair!”
Instagram: @hannahparent

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @clementine.bal

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I just came from Geneva and wanted to get some new clothes. I went to my friend’s vintage shop and gave him the freedom to dress me. I was his doll.”
Instagram: @spiceandcurls

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @angel__emoji

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Symone is wearing Vivienne Westwood.
Instagram: @the_symone

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Michelle is wearing a vintage dress, a Balenciaga jacket, and Louis Vuitton boots with a Loewe bag.
Instagram: @laffmichelle

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Miss Fame is wearing Vivienne Westwood with Earnest shoes.
Instagram: @missfamenyc

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Linda, left, is wearing a vintage Yves Saint-Laurent top, a Raey jacket, Róhe pants, and Prada shoes with an Hermès bag. Erika is wearing a Celine top, a By Malene Birger coat, and Christopher Esber shoes with an Hermès bag.
Instagram: @lindatol_ and @erika_boldrin

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Alex is wearing Loewe.
Instagram: @alexgoyaa

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Taqwa is wearing Fendi.
Instagram: @taqwabintali

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Tiana is wearing a vintage top and skirt, Pretty Brain Vomit tights, and tabi shoes with a Telfar bag.
Instagram: @ sade.stan

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Caro is wearing Loewe.
Instagram: @carodaur

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Yilan is wearing a Maisonprin sweater, a vintage cardigan, Zara pants, and Alexander McQueen shoes.
Instagram: @yilun_hua

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Sarah is wearing a Vivienne Westwood shirt, a Samsøe & Samsøe skirt, Doc Martens, and Ray-Ban glasses with a Coperni bag.
Instagram: @sarahloufalk

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Emma is wearing an Aureliane outfit with Zara shoes and a Lancel bag.
Instagram: @ emma.siaut

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“Lately I’ve been loving monotoned outfits. I also love some faux fur.”
Instagram: @pilarmadimin

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Lisa is wearing a Victoria Beckham blouse and Studio Sut trousers with Bottega Veneta shoes and bag.
Instagram: @lisa.aiken

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Caro is wearing an Hermès jumper, the Attico shorts, a Giambattista Valli jacket, and Miu Miu shoes.
Instagram: @carodaur

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Emili is wearing Lanvin with a JW PEI bag.
Instagram: @emilisindlev

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @reishito

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Chloé is wearing a Loulou Studio top and Rotate shoes with a Chanel bag.
Instagram: @louloudesaison

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Eugénie is wearing Prada.
Instagram: @eugenietrochu

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @jaimetoutcheztoi

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Emna is wearing a Ludovic crop, a Rouge cardigan, Louis Vuitton pants, and Ghazal shoes with a By Far bag.
Instagram: @emnitta

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Tiffany is wearing a Rick Owens skirt and a shirt by the Money shirt with Balenciaga shoes and an Hermès bag.
Instagram: @handinfire

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Johanna is wearing a Zaza Design dress, an Escada coat, a Be Goldish necklace, Hugo Boss shoes, and Stella McCartney leggings.
Instagram: @johannakeimeyer

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Devon is wearing Jojo jeans with a vintage hat, dress, and gloves.
Instagram: @devonkaylor

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @ st.einberg

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Chiara is wearing a vintage blazer, a Jacquemus top, and Alanui pants with a Tory Burch bag and Bottega Veneta shoes.
Instagram: @chiaratotire

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Jenny is wearing a Miu Miu dress over a Prada top.
Instagram: @jennymwalton

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Monica is wearing a vintage coat, Falke socks, Miu Miu shoes, and Rendel sunglasses.
Instagram: @monicaainleydlv

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Alaa is wearing a vintage skirt, Chloé shoes, and an AKA coat with a Paco Rabanne bag.
Instagram: alaa

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Thássia is wearing Miu Miu.
Instagram: @thassianaves

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Kay is wearing Lacoste.
Instagram: kaaymbl

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Lena is wearing a Miu Miu look with Alexander McQueen boots.
Instagram: @lenamahfouf

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Courtney is wearing Miu Miu.
Instagram: @alwaysjudging

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Blanca is wearing a Lacoste outfit with Nike shoes and a Y/Project scarf.
Instagram: @blancamiro

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Snehal and Jyoti are wearing Chanel with custom pants.
Instagram: snejyo

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Lauren is wearing Lacoste.
Instagram: @theimpossiblemuse

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @annarvitiello

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