Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Highly localized: A discussion with Amanda deLeon

For those of you who have been long-time readers of kOs, you may remember a time when a new interview seemed to be posted every month or so. I miss those days. To me, the most fascinating part of fashion is the minds of those behind it all. Knowing the story behind a dress and, more importantly, the story of the person behind the dress somehow makes the dress more magical, more a piece of art and a historical record than just a pretty piece of cloth. And with kOs focusing on younger designers, it's incredibly interesting to watch a designer grow into their own and develop both their craft and a following. New Orleans-based Amanda deLeon is one such designer, who I first met through Etsy and am now watching via photos from various Fashion Week events and online press. Amanda's passion and commitment to her work is immediately evident in even a short email conversation, so I was happy when she agreed to do a follow-up interview to share with you. If you haven't yet, pour yourself a cup of something wonderful, read the first interview here (from over two years ago already!), and then continue to get to know Amanda through her answers below...


You've moved from selling on Etsy at a lower price point to selling on your own web shop at a higher price point. Do you feel Etsy was a good starting point to get your name out in the online world? Or is Etsy more of a self-contained world that is best for those not looking to create a long-term sustainable label?
At the time I was selling on Etsy, I was trying to begin my transition from producing one-offs to developing a line that could be manufactured in a larger quantity.  I was also using Etsy as a way to fund where I wanted my brand to go.  It helped me to afford luxury fabrics and begin my relationship with a production pattern maker.  Those two things alone are huge investments.  I knew that Etsy wasn't the correct venue for my brand, but it was a starting point.  It forced me to ask myself questions that I wouldn't have if I had started with my personal online shop.  
I was having to cut my prices so low, to compete with the other sellers, that I was practically paying people to take my pieces.  It seems that with Etsy's efforts to create a world for artisans and crafters to sell there goods to a larger market, they have involuntarily created an indie sweat shop.  It is also a breeding ground for copycats and price cutting wars.  I also feel that Etsy forces you to have a certain aesthetic.  It is not a venue for high end products, for sure.
My new interest is Kickstarter, and I've noticed some designers using it to either start new labels or fund future collections (such as George Bezhanishvili's 'Reasonable Luxury' project). What are your thoughts on using Kickstarter to fund your own label, what goal would you want to set, and what would you offer your backers?
Kickstarter is an avenue that I am in the midst of exploring.  I'm just trying to figure out how I need to approach it.  I want to have a hardcore game plan on how I would use the money.  I wouldn't want to get overzealous and spend on frivolous unnecessities.  Every cent will count.  I would like to offer backers something worthwhile.  I expect that I would give pieces from my collection to larger donations, but I would also like to offer something interesting and special for smaller donations.

Still on the thread of Kickstarter: Amanda Palmer raised over $1 million with her Kickstarter. After receiving countless questions/comments on where the money was going, she posted a breakdown of how the funds would be used to show that she wasn't walking away rich from the whole thing. Could you give us a breakdown on why the price of that gorgeous Aqua Sack Dress is $1280? After designing a high-end piece, do you ever consider creating a more affordable version to offer as well?
1 million dollars!!!  That's amazing to see that there are so many supporters that are willing to give to see others succeed!   
As for the retail value of my Aqua Sack Dress, there are so many elements that I have to consider in my pricing.  I use premium fabric, and that in itself comes at a premium price.  In the case of this particular dress, there is a lot of yardage of silk used.  I also produce my pieces locally, here in New Orleans.  Labor is the most expensive calculating factor, but it is extremely important to me to manufacture locally and to pay a fair wage.  Sewing is a dying skill and deserves to be revived in a healthy way.  My goal is to not only sell my pieces, but to help the growth of local manufacturing and create jobs.  The manufacturer that I have been working with has quality sewers and are paid a quality wage.  It's not only very important to me to produce locally, but it is also imperative that I work with a manufacturer that understands the importance of their workers and work environment.  Production patterns are also a huge expense, but well worth the cost because fit can make or break your brand.  All of these pieces would not exist if I didn't have good equipment and tools.  This equipment also needs TLC...regular cleaning, maintenance, and repair.  Now, the list gets to more of the behind the scenes expenses. I'll just list them below with notes.
  • So, now we have fabric yardage, labor, patterns, equipment and tools.
  • Photography - To create a look book, it takes hours of time setting up lights, background, etc.  It also takes several hours to shoot.  But, what takes the most time and energy is the days of editing.  I am lucky that my husband has helped me with photographing my look books, but he pays a big price for that service.  Hours of setting up, shooting, editing, filing, all on the dime of his equipment and technology that isn't going to pay for itself.
  • Model, makeup, hair - I need all of these to create a legitimate look book, and if you don't have good ones, it can reflect poorly on your brand.  I work out a trade, for one of my pieces, if I don't have the cash to pay them for the session.  However, that traded piece costs me money.  And people cannot pay their bills with a dress.
  • Sample fabric yardage - If you want to design a piece out of a certain fabric, you have to by a certain amount of sample yardage (depending on what company that you are ordering from).  Then you have to test that fabric for shrinkage, bleeding, and overall quality.  You may not even use that fabric, depending on the quality after testing.
  • Sales Rep - The sales rep needs to be paid a certain percentage for their time spent selling.
  • Marketing - Traditional and web.
  • Small stuff that no one thinks about - Studio rent, electricity, internet, insurance.  All of these are needed to run my business.
  • And last, but not least, my time, and my creativity.  I know my pieces are expensive, but they are also built with an artful mind and integrity.
I am starting to make some one-offs again.  The price point is significantly smaller because the pieces will be made out of discontinued fabrics and some fabrics I have collected over the years.  Also, the designs are not pieces that I would normally place into a collection.  These pieces will be most likely placed under a different label, but I haven't decided that just yet.
You mentioned that you use local labour to manufacture your pieces. Do you still sew any pieces yourself? Into what part of the whole process do you devote most of your time as a designer?
For now, I still sew most of the garment, but I leave the finishings (hemming, buttons, etc.) for the manufacturer.  I do, however rely on them when orders are too much for me to handle on my own.  But, I really enjoy my time at the machine.  It's very therapeutic.  I spend lots of time developing my initial patterns to send off to my production pattern maker.  It is important to have a professional pattern maker edit any issues that arise from my errors.  It is also important to have a pattern that is able to be read by anyone that is a sewer.  It's like blueprints, everyone on site needs to know how to build it.  Also, much of my time is spent researching ways of getting my name in front of more customers.
If you could change one thing about the fashion industry, what would it be?
I feel that there is lack of education on the dirty underbelly of the fashion industry.  It's not all about outsourcing to get a cheaper made product...That's not what burns me up.  Everyone, no matter what country they live in, deserves to have a job that pays a fair wage.  The real problem is that when you are getting your products for cheap, someone is paying the price for it.  Whether it be that manufacturers have to close down their factories because of lack of cash flow from having to repeatedly put in low bids for jobs, or that manufacturers are paying their employees an unethical rate.  Everyone has to be able to afford to live.  
People that have the money, are the ones with the power to turn the industry around by supporting sustainable businesses, but they are just not educated about it.  It's just a shame that the ones that respect and adore the art of fashion are usually the ones that don't have the money to support it.


To keep up to speed on Amanda's goings on, 'like' her Facebook, follow her blog, and check out her website. While her Etsy shop has now been closed, remember that Amanda's online shop is up and running!

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