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A Buying Director's Advice for Emerging Designers

Browns' Ida Petersson shares her insight on how emerging designers should approach this unprecedented show season.
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  • BoF Team

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LONDON, United Kingdom — "We have a real responsibility and I urge buyers not to forget this. If you believe in this industry, you need to support younger emerging designers. We have to think bigger than the bottom line. I'm most worried about the young designers," Ida Petersson, Browns' Buying Director, shared in a BoF Live event on her lessons learned as a buyer in the times of the pandemic.

“Small brands are key to our industry. I’m asking, ‘how do they show?' It’s time for us all to consider how we want to work, and what makes sense for our businesses. It is not the time to abuse the balance and dynamic of these relationships. Emerging talent really is the future of our industry," she continued.

A veteran fashion buyer, Petersson’s career began at Harvey Nichols. After 10 years at the London department store, she moved to e-commerce site Net-a-Porter before moving to Farfetch-backed London concept store Browns, where Petersson oversees the men’s and women’s buys and places nurturing young talent at the heart of their buying psychology.

"When you see a young designer being incredibly creative and then getting that exclusive buy, that's the reason why I do what I do," Petersson previously told BoF. "Forgetting about creativity is what scares me. Major brands are in a different situation. They have hefty cashflows and things to fall back on. If we don't support the young talent, they could not be there tomorrow."

Here, BoF shares Petersson’s advice for emerging designers at this time — and a message to buyers.

Concentrate on a Core Product Offering

It’s time to focus on what you’re good at and concentrate on the DNA of your brand. I hope for an abandonment of fashion seasons altogether, as I think they have lost their meaning. Condensing men’s and women’s together is also exciting. Collections will be smaller and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. Don’t over-sample. People want some ‘wow’, but they’re looking for the heirloom/investment piece. Be clever about that.

There is obviously an existing overstock problem too that we need to address. Sustainability hasn’t disappeared — there was a great dialogue around it before the pandemic but we need it now more than ever. This forced “break” from our usual rhythm has caused a slow-down and could really disrupt the seasons. Let’s hope some good things can come out of this. There are so many opportunities that will evolve.

Find Partners, Wisely

I lived and worked through the 2008 financial crisis and there was so many lessons learned, but creativity and meaningful partnerships felt like the winners. Really consider what terms you are willing to sign up for. What is the right relationship for you? Is your pricing considered? If you have been affected by closures across your supply chain, how can you be smarter about your manufacturing processes? Don’t tie yourself or put yourself in a position where you rely completely on one partner — and as we all work from home, it’s a nice excuse to collaborate and work with other local talent.

Lastly, consider tying yourself up with stockists who will help you, not just financially but editorially too. Today, you need enduring support beyond one season. And ask for help. Seek mentoring from peers — designers and buyers. Try to get as much information and insight as possible, and keep that communication going. It’s a difficult time to be starting out — find the showrooms that help young designers so that you can show as part of an umbrella. Buyers will be there as part of due diligence, so it will provide nice visibility.

Short-Term Experiments

Engage in projects that sit outside your remit, but try and protect yourself as a designer. Be clear about who you are and don’t deviate from your DNA. Don’t over-extend yourself. Now is the time to think about how you can support and protect your business in the short-term. What are you good at now? What could you be good at in the future? Think outside the box around involvement in projects beyond your usual offering and category to allow for additional income.

Don’t be afraid to try and fail. We have to try in order to innovate — we have to push forwards. You can’t go anywhere without risk. Understand what you’re up against but take those leaps of faith.

Professionalism Is Fundamental

Big brands have big tech budgets. With fewer cruise shows taking place this year, they have money to play with, so I’m most worried about the young designers. However, we have already used Instagram as a discovery tool to pick up designers who are further away. You can find ways around sampling and other considerations, but there is an element of trust involved in this process.

If you reach out via Instagram, do it properly and professionally. Allow for some time for them to come back to you, given the current situation. If the feedback is negative, try to learn from it and get the most out of it as possible. You can always ask for more insight if it’s just a no and not meaningful. I always encourage my team to explain why something isn’t a good fit.

Keep the Dialogue Open

It’s been a real learning curve. Those check-ins, seeing how everyone is doing, connecting randomly over nothing — all of it is so important. Sharing is key but it is also crucial to take this time to look internally. We are asking, “how are we doing things? Are there new things that can be done?”

I have seen some amazing changes in process coming through the team. Seeing long-term is key. There are so many forums around, panels of buyers, suppliers and other industry players coming together to share their experiences. It’s so powerful to share the good and the bad — it can be like free therapy!

The Best Design Jobs on BoF Careers:

Digital Design Director Virtual Experience, Coach — New York, United States

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Senior Knitwear Designer, Lafayette 148 — New York, United States

Freelance Jewellery Designer, Aeyde — Berlin, Germany

Contemporary Designer, NISM — Los Angeles, United States

Men's Bag Designer, Guess — Bioggio, Switzerland

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