When Malcolm Harris, one of the designers behind the Katsumi & Malcolm label which was once financially backed by Madonna, wanted to launch a new brand, he knew he needed to do something singularly different.
Harris is the man behind Cut, Sew & Blog which has got young fashion insiders and the blogosphere buzzing and is already spawning internet spoofs. By turning to web 2.0 technologies and using sites like Myspace and Youtube to promote his new label, Malcolm may be the first fashion designer ever to build his entire business strategy around the use of the Internet, as opposed to treating it as a cosmetic afterthought. He recently answered a few questions from the Business of Fashion to explain the rationale behind this strategy.
We first heard of Cut, Sew & Blog while perusing the comments in Cathy Horyn’s On the Runway blog and then received an email from Malcolm himself, inviting us to check out the blog. When a commenter on the Business of Fashion mentioned the Cut, Sew & Blog again in our own comments, saying her young colleagues at Style.com were addicted to the blog, it was time to take a look.
Cut, Sew & Blog is a personal — sometimes very personal — look into the thoughts, ideas and inspirations that constitute Malcolm’s world; the world of Mal Sirrah. From a detailed account of the breakdown of his relationships with Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley and supermodel Naomi Campbell to the passion behind his support for the Designers for Darfur initiative to only showing his collection for S/S 2008 online, Malcolm has taken risks not often seen in the fashion industry.
To the contrary, many young designers are the product of carefully crafted PR images, designed to create a sense of distance, mystery and aspiration in the minds of potential customers. Instead, Malcolm has taken a completely different approach, going straight to his end consumer, bypassing the filtering roles of gatekeepers, fashion critics and the mass media. The result is a sometimes raw, often meandering and occasionally uncomfortable peek into Malcolm’s world. But, it makes for a compelling read and his internet strategy is ambitious, thoughtful, and distinctive. We’ll be watching to see how things progress.
1. You stayed out of the fashion scene for years and then decided to come back. Why, and why now?
I left the fashion industry for five years until my return in 2005. In my previous company Katsumi and Malcolm, I found myself enjoying a very successful business that no longer provided me with any personal or creative happiness. After dibbing up my soul between the investors, editors, buyers and celebrity clients, I felt as if I had been robbed of all power and strength. I could no longer live up to the brand that was quickly becoming my prison. So I gave it all up
This time around I am making a conscious effort to make a niche/sanctuary for myself that allows me to strike a professional, creative and spiritual balance. The current climate within the fashion industry is perfect for a brand like Mal Sirrah that focuses on our motto – Changing the World – One Dress at a Time.
2. You have a myspace page, upload videos to Youtube, and pen a blog. In doing so, you are actively using the Internet in the promotion, sales and marketing of your business. Why did you decide to go about it this way? How do you use these tools to your advantage?
I strategically chose to maintain an online presence for several key reasons. Firstly, the grassroots loyalty that a designer is able to build via these various outlets is truly unbelievable. I can assure you that when the traditional magazine editors and department store buyers have decided to move on to the next "big thing", a designer’s connection to an online community and/or client base will continue to grow as long as you are able to keep your base interested and engaged. Not to mention, for a start-up, an online presence can lower, if not cut out, the initial cost of hiring a public relations firm that for the most part still sticks to antiquated forms of generating buzz/press. Your online community is also quite willing and able to spread the word on your behalf; thus magnifying your reach beyond quantifiable measure. Through my online presence I have nabbed important features in The New York Times, WWD, The Washington Post and many others. I have also been able to generate global sales which I would have never been able to accomplish if it were not for my online presence. I was even invited to Dubai, UAE last year to present my collection for one of the Royal Families (The Al Ghurairs) and am currently in negotiations with another Royal family to design an equestrian collection.
3. You provide a very personal look into your thoughts, feelings and ideas through your blog. How does it feel to be exposed like that? Do you think it works in your favour?
When I decided to return to the fashion industry, I also decided that I would live in my own truth. I would be fearless, exposed and happy. There is something quite magical that happens creatively and professionally when you connect to people on a real and personal level. In less than two weeks of having Cut, Sew and Blog, I have already been offered reality television shows from two major networks (Bravo and The Style Network), featured in articles and stories, and most importantly have been embraced by the blogging community.
I have also received from my profile and listing of the blog on the network aSmallWorld offers to connect me with potential investors, sponsors and major consultants. Therefore, I would say that not only has this move worked in my favor personally it is also working towards solidifying the direction of our brand. We are now starting to build an emotional and spiritual connection to the name "Mal Sirrah" as well as to our amazing logo of a heart shaped (red, gold and green) earth birthing two baby cheetahs. Yes, I would say it is working in our favour.
4. Now that you are back on the scene, what one thing do you think has changed the most in fashion during your absence?
I think what has changed within the fashion industry the most during my five year absence has been the advancement taking place on the internet especially as relates to the "business" of fashion. The ability for designers to reach their customer base without the traditional hierarchial organization or institutions has changed the landscape of industry forever and also for the greater good. No longer do designers have to feel as if they are at the mercy of editors and/or buyers, we now have the power to do one single thing that has made all the difference – UPLOAD!!!
As a disclaimer I will say this: At at the end of the day, I could be wrong about all of this, but for now it really feels good believing it…
A sample of the Youtube videos about Mal Sirrah
Photos and video courtesy of www.cutsewandblog.com.