WHAT WILL BE in for fall? From what was on the runway during New York Fashion week, it looks like cautious optimism.
During the week-long fashion fest, which previews looks for autumn, designers staked out distinct territories. While trendy Zac Posen skewed conservative, choosing not to feature a single gown, Ralph Lauren (RL) and Michael Kors traded their depression-era smocks and floral prints for furs and blaring colors. Meanwhile, Francisco Costa, the creative director for Calvin Klein, showed business-like wearable, tailored suits and outerwear.
Alison Lewis, the founder of the two-year old line, Lewis, skipped the shows altogether — but after having to trim prices on her trendy daywear last year in response to the downturn, she says she is feeling a little more confident. In the last few months, Lewis says she has picked up 20 new accounts — both department stores and boutiques in the U.S. and Europe — and logged a jump in sales. In 2009, the company took in $40,000, up from $12,000 in 2008. She expects the label to bring in $65,000 to $85,000 in 2010, and to turn a profit within two seasons.
SmartMoney asked Lewis about the ups and downs at her label. Here are her condensed answers.
You’ve worked as a designer for a small label prior to launching Lewis in 2008. How has that experience helped you?
When I launched my previous label, Mooka Kinney, I had a partner who had worked in public relations. Though we eventually split up, she introduced me to a number of influential fashion editors, and helped me get more attention for myself as a designer. That experience gave me the opportunity to try some things, make mistakes and learn what works. I also learned that in fashion everyone is looking for the next new thing, which helped me most when I came out with Lewis.
Business: Lewis, a fashion label.
Location: New York
Year founded: 2008
Number of employees: One part timer
Web address: lewisnyc.com
How has launching your own label, at the height of the downturn, helped or hurt your business?
Prior to the downturn, I could sell a cotton dress for $400 and no one would blink an eye. Now stores want you to bring your prices down. At first, that notion bothered me. However, I soon realized that even bringing the wholesale price down $5 or $10 might mean I can sell 50 to 100 more dresses. The more I produce, the more I’m able to bring my prices down a bit.
Buyers are also more apprehensive about brining on a new line. They want to meet with you two to three seasons before taking you on. They want to know you’ll still be around.
Some high-profile designers appear to be more confident about the economy these days. What do you see; are people willing to buy $400 dresses again?
I don’t think so yet. I hope that people will keep doing creative things going forward, but I have noticed that some designers are becoming more focused on what sells rather than the art of fashion. Plus, the rise of sample sale web sites such as Gilt Groupe may have had more of a transformative effect on people than we realize. Even if the economy gets better, if people know that they can pay half price if they wait longer, I’m not sure if they will be willing to pay full price again.