To be a successful fashion designer, you need talent and a business model. But combining the two can be easier said than done. The runway is littered with those who have tried and failed.
As New York's famous Fashion Week wraps up, THAT MONEY SHOW visits with young designer Peter Som, who dreamed of launching his own signature collection by age thirty and beat that goal by two years.
He's been compared to some of fashion's giants, but is that enough to make it into the big leagues? It's a make-or-break show for Peter Som. The future of his business demands success on the runway.
Peter Som's elegant, classic designs already stand out from magazine pages, and his clothes can be found in a growing number of specialty stores in the United States and Japan. According to Anna Gardner of Bendels New York, "There has been a lot of buzz about Peter. I think in retail in general he has been named as a possible next Michael Kors, which I think Peter should be extremely flattered by. I hope he makes it."
Making it in the high-stakes world of fashion means more than just creating great designs. Fashion is a highly competitive and expensive business. With a new designer's finances hanging in the balance, any show could be his last. "I knew doing it wouldn't be easy, and that promise has fulfilled itself. There are definitely a lot of things to juggle. I don't have a business partner. I don't have formal business training," said Som. "You have to be able to drop a telephone call, switch gears and go to your invoices, or go on your computer and look at your costings. You really have to be able to switch gears 20 times a day. I'm pretty good at changing hats."
Like many small-business owners, Peter Som must manage his company's public relations, assess the commercial potential of his products, and research the lifestyles of his customers to know what they want and are most likely to buy. According to Peter, this is the main factor contributing to his rising success. "Know your customer. It sounds like a really easy thing, but both of these designers know their customer, know their lifestyle, and they know exactly what they want. That's really important, both design-wise and business-wise."
When asked what sets him apart from other young designers, Som replied, "I think I'm one of the few young designers that's not doing shock clothing. Young designers usually get pigeonholed as designing really crazy clothes -- things are torn, things are burned -- and I don't do that. I couldn't even if I tried."
Peter's revenues totalled two hundred and fifty thousand dollars last year, tiny by industry standards. This year he hopes to double that, and finally make a profit. "I'm definitely in sort of a growing pain stage because every season you're getting more orders than last season, but that means you have to put out more money to produce [the products], so you're always one step ahead of yourself."
At this week's fashion shows -- the famous Seventh On Sixth -- Peter Som, along with every major American designer, presented his fall 2001 collection to New York and the world. But these fashion shows are as famous for expense as they are for the exposure they offer designers. According to Som, "The tents are not cheap. I look at it all as a means to an end. In this business it's so important to have your face out there and your name out there. The amount of press that I got from last season really was very strong in both print and television. So, to me, it's worth it."
A typical runway show averages a hundred thousand dollars. To get the best models, makeup, and production, major designers can spend up to a million bucks per show. That's not an option for Peter Som, who has figured out a way to get top-quality production for about twenty thousand dollars. "Most all the models work for trade, which means they get clothes instead of money. ... Mac [a cosmetics producer] is doing my makeup, so the makeup person is being paid for by them. The hair person is for trade. The D.J. is a friend of mine, so he's doing it free." Som continues, "Ultimately, what I'm doing is running a business, and the business has a definite creative side, but you can't do it without the business side. There are so many people out there who want to be designers, who want to be successful as do I, but if you don't have that business side it's not gonna work."
He's got critical acclaim, industry notice, and his second major runway show under his belt. So where does Peter Som see his business going over the next few years? "I plan to succeed," says Som.