PARIS, France — For a long time, designers were deliberately shielded from all business considerations, so as not to restrain their creativity. After all, couldn’t they rely on the expertise of a solid partner from a good business school?
Those days are over. Anyone intending to thrive in the fashion industry can no longer do so without a minimum skillset, so they understand the major stakes and make the right decisions for a business that, often, bears their name.
First, a budding designer must translate his project into a business plan, in line with the financial means available to him. Next, the designer must dive into treasury management. Funding production without having been paid by stockists is one of the beauties of this industry — the designer needs to understand the basics of accounting, business planning and negotiation.
We have witnessed too many brands come to an end due to poorly-defined legal partnerships. The designer needs to protect himself by figuring out the split in capital share between investors and registering the brand’s property.
A designer must reconcile his creative urges and his resources to create a collection. He will need to understand market segmentation to define price positioning and follow his target margins. Then, his mission is to find industrial partners that are a perfect match for his collection, negotiating to obtain the right product, quality, and production time. Finally, distribution can guarantee the success of a project. A designer must select the right clients for the brand’s positioning, and negotiate sales conditions.
So, where do young designers learn these skills?
In the past, especially in Paris, young designers used to join a fashion house and slowly work their way up the ladder, hoping to find a mentor who would show them the ropes. This has changed over the years, as more and more candidates apply for fewer and fewer positions.
At the same time, fashion schools have come to realise the importance of integrating business skills into their curriculum. Let’s not be naïve though — not all schools approach this issue in the same way. Fashion schools are not, and should not try to become, business schools. Creative skills should remain at the heart of what students learn, and schools should teach management skills, applied to the specificities of the fashion industry: supply chain, purchasing, retail and customer relationships.
One of the key issues, therefore, is to hire expert faculty members with profound and up-to-date knowledge of the industry. This is by no means an easy task, and not all schools are able to rise to the challenge. Only a few schools actually manage to teach enough business these days. Much remains to be done.
Patricia Romatet is the director of market studies and consulting at Institut Français de la Mode.