Rachel Zoe, and every other entrepreneur’s struggle to make it without selling out
I am a huge fan of reality TV. I know it’s fake, I know it’s staged (sometimes the acting is so awful, I cringe), but I love it nonetheless.
One of the shows I liked watching is The Rachel Zoe Project (which is now off air), about a celebrity stylist who lives in L.A..
I don’t particularly enjoy her style (boho, hippie chic), but I like seeing her build her empire and seeing how the fashion industry works.
She’s a formidable woman, and underneath those long wavy locks, thin frame and big eyes covered in makeup, she is a marketing and sales powerhouse.
That woman knows how to sell, and she works damn hard, even though it may look effortless and easy.
In one of her episodes where she’s about to sell pieces in her line as inventory to stores like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue to carry, she moans about the fact that NO ONE understands the easiness and wearability of long maxi dresses.
She struggles with the fact that she might have to compromise her design vision (maxi dresses for that hippie, boho, breezy look), to be able to sell her garments to stores that say their customers won’t understand or buy the maxi dress, and want dresses that are to the knee, or shorter.
After the episode, I immediately thought a few things:
1. GOOD RETAILERS KNOW WHAT THEIR CUSTOMERS WANT
It varies from country to city, and from market to market, but most retailers (who are good at their jobs), know exactly what their customers buy and sell.
All retailers are basically doing, are re-selling and marketing stuff that is already made.
They have no other value other than that, and marketing is their business, so they know what they’re doing, and if you are a retailer who doesn’t manufacture anything, you can see immediately in your numbers what flies off the shelf and what doesn’t.
Obviously, when Saks or Nordstrom is telling you: Maxi dresses don’t fly here, it means that they know from experience.
Photo I took in NYC
They don’t want to be caught holding inventory that they can’t move in a timely manner, or worse, end up holding and have to basically put the entire line onto the sale rack because it flopped.
They have a limited amount of money, and they need to get the optimal range of clothes to sell to their customers to make money. Their ideal situation is a 100% of their inventory sold out at the RIGHT TIME (not too early), with nothing going on the sale rack.
They don’t want to sell out too soon (it means they mis-read the market and didn’t buy enough, and missed some major sales opportunities), but they don’t want to wait too long and watch the clothes get discounted on a sale rack, which eats into their fat margins.
2. CHOOSE: STICK TO YOUR VISION OR CHASE FORTUNE?
When you think in your head: What a fabulous design! I’m the best! I’m the best!, and start wondering why no one else is seeing how great your work and genius is, you can simply join the ranks of those past who died penniless paupers.
Great artists like Vincent van Gogh, died without a penny.
Great writers like Edgar Allan Poe, died without a penny.
Great thinkers like the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, died without a penny.
They all followed their vision to the fullest, but no one ever recognized or realized their genius until long past their death.
They were not at all willing to compromise their vision for painting, writing and thinking, but they didn’t see the fame and fortune roll in.
I’ll bet you some people think art like Cloudgate (a.k.a. The Bean) is ugly, in Chicago.. but I find it magnificent!
The problem with people who MAY be geniuses these days, or feel as though they have some sort of creative spark that should be recognized, is that they think fame and fortune should flow in along as well.
Money is not guaranteed, so you have to make a choice to either make clothes for the love of making clothes (fortune be damned!), or to go along the mass market route, and do what people want you to do, with your own twist.
The ideal situation is both meet in the middle, but sometimes you have to take a stand (or not).
3. EVERY MARKET IS DIFFERENT, SO BE READY TO SERVE ALL OF THEM
As mentioned up there, every market is different. What works in one, may not work in another.
Rachel Zoe went to Europe and realized that maxi dresses were the rage there, but she had NOTHING IN STOCK TO SELL, and the pent-up demand meant she was losing money from not having inventory to sell.
This is the part where I rolled my eyes.
Staged or not, nothing irks me more than a stockout, as a customer but also as someone who likes seeing things run well in a company.
Stockouts on products at FULL RETAIL PRICE no less, mean 3 things:
- Someone actually wanted to buy it at 100% full retail price (think of the insane 300% markup!)
- You didn’t have it in stock, so they went away unsatisfied / unfulfilled
- You may not get them back again, as they could forget or just buy it from another designer
There was an EASY opportunity to make some SERIOUS dough, and you wasted it.
Nothing makes me more annoyed than wasted, easy opportunities, especially when clients have their wallets out and are ready to pay.
4. THE CUSTOMER KNOWS BEST (THEY HAVE THE MONEY TOO)
…and even if all the retailers said: NO! We are going to tell everyone how awesome maxi dresses are, and we are buying your inventory, as well as forcing it down their throats in magazines, customers will always decide what is best for them.
As a North American customer who is like that, I don’t follow trends. I also hate impractical, picky clothing, and maxi dresses are one of those impractical, picky things.
My skirt length has to be at the knee.
Too short, and I can’t bend down (in a decent, proper, non-vulgar manner) to pick up change that other people drop. Too long, and when I go to bend down, I get tangled and can’t get back up (true story).
I also walk like a Roadrunner, and when your skinny legs are going a mile a minute, fabric gets whipped back and forth in between your legs, tripping you and creating this strange, form-fitting silhouette in the front that also looks rather vulgar to me.
Customers know what they want. You can convince them to bend slightly to your will by showing cute outfits on how to wear items, but you’ll never force anyone to buy anything that they don’t already want to.
5. THERE IS ALWAYS A MARKET FOR YOU
I hate maxi dresses, but my sister loves them. Who knew? She says they make her look taller, and she’s tiny at 5′.
(I told her heels make her actually look taller, but she said long dresses give the illusion of sky-high legs too).
Whatever it is, there is a market for what you are selling. You just need to find them, appeal to them, and get them to be loyal to you.
No matter how niche it is, it exists.
SO WHAT WOULD YOU PICK AS AN ARTIST IF YOU WERE FORCED TO CHOOSE? VISION OR MONEY?
Me? I pick not having a creative career, so I don’t need to choose. 🙂
If I were forced to choose, I’d bow out on my vision (do it on the side) and take the money first. I need to eat after all, my belly doesn’t take too lightly to being empty.
My vision when I work, always seems to align with money in my pocket and to save money for the client in the long run anyway.