Is the Industry Saturated with Too Many Independent Fashion Labels? Chris Gelinas Weighs In

Chris Gelinas with models at the CG AW14 collection presentation, presented by MADE. Photo: Aria Isadora/BFAnyc.com

With Band of Outsiders and Kris Van Assche both shuttering this week, another independent fashion designer, Chris Gelinas of CG, weighs in on the struggles of the industry.

Good night and good luck? New York independent label Band of Outsiders and eponymous collection of Dior Homme designer Kris Van Assche both closed their doors this week. Van Assche announced the shuttering of his brand in a hand written letter to WWD, adding, “Times are tough for individual labels.”

Bruce Weber Book Launch hosted by Andre Balazs and Nan Bush at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach
Kris Van Assche with photographer Bruce Weber. Photo: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com

2014 CFDA Fashion Awards - Arrivals
Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders with model Hanne Gaby Odiele at the 2014 CFDA Awards. Photo: David X Prutting/BFAnyc.com

With the punishing fashion schedule now demanded by the industry and consumers, designers are feeling the pressure. For those who can’t hack it (and how many really can?) it often means closing shop.

Business is tough when you’re small. You’d think a CFDA Award or an LVMH Prize nomination would help — but the prize money often hardly covers debt of doing business, not to mention the paying cost of production for work required to enter competitions in the first place. So the struggle is all too real, even for the designers who receive accolades and awards for their work.

Take, for instance, Chris Gelinas, designer of CG, who was once first assistant to Olivier Theyskens at Theory, and has also worked at Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, and Proenza Schouler before creating CG. (Theyskens has been highly vocal about young designers not starting their own labels, telling Dezeen earlier this year that the industry is oversaturated.) Gelinas’s label has been recognized as the 2013 winner of the MADE for Peroni Awards (for his very first collection), a 2014 LVMH Prize Finalist, and now USA Nominee for the 2015/16 International Woolmark Prize. It’s impressive, and you’d expect business to be booming. But what do the awards really mean when building a viable brand? Gelinas told us exclusively,

“I think it is harder and harder to compete as an emerging, independent designer in New York. This isn’t to say the hurdles are a bad thing; I think it is good to struggle because for a time it helped eliminate the more superfluous noise and allow those collections made with a lot of passion and determination to gain some spotlight.  Money talks, that’s not new, but these days it screams, and passion, emotion, and creativity aren’t enough to survive. Midtown factories are being converted into hotels and tech companies with deep pockets are happy to pay huge rents creating bigger hurdles just to operate, and putting more pressure on sales.

I personally think the whole conventional wholesale model is designed to make it nearly impossible to get established if you are not incredibly well funded. Deep discounts, charge backs, boring assortments that strip away the message and essence of a collection, compounded with the pressure to deliver more and more; it all robs the design process of enough time to properly craft and create.

The industry has fostered a calendar that relegates our prized ideas to the sales rack in a matter of a couple months, sometimes less. We have trained consumers to want store merchandise refreshed as quickly as their Instagram feed and emerging brands are expected to enable this type of consumption by offering more and more. I have been building my collections slowly with focus on fit and quality, and while those aren’t the glossiest elements or the most buzz worthy, I feel like I am hedging my risk by dedicating my energy to my clients directly. Loyalty is more fleeting these days in an industry obsessed with change and newness, but I have noticed that if you can engage your customer and give her pieces that make her not just look amazing, but feel amazing, she will always be back, and usually with friends.”

Gelinas’s “slow fashion” and personal approach to creating both clothes and a customer is refreshing in a world of Zara, with as he says, “merchandise refreshed as quickly as [a consumer’s] Instagram feed.” We’re watching CG closely, hoping his approach catches fire.

CG AW14 Presented by MADEFW
Chris Gelinas with BlackBook Style Editor Alyssa Shapiro. Photo: Aria Isadora/BFAnyc.com

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