Business in Fashion

I was inspired by an article in the NYTimes Style section, “Enterprising Business Students Turn to Fashion”. The article discusses the growing desire among MBA-candidates and graduates to apply their business-savvy and years of coursework to the fashion industry…

So, can business grads be the creators of fashion empires? This is the question posed at the end of the article.

Honestly, I am not sure how successful your average MBA grad would be at building a major brand or fashion house. The fashion world, like the world of politics, is ALL about who you know and name recognition. When you consider major fashion house names like Chanel, Prada, Versace, Dior, Saint Laurent, and  even Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, and Donna Karan, they all have one thing in common: they are the result of one small, talented designer building a successful design (and business) empire. They were not created by business men, and that is because at the end of the day true fashion and design is about artistry and talent. Without those two major pieces, I don’t see how any brand or fashion company could exist, let alone be successful…

Now an MBA grad with an  undergraduate degree in fashion design and/or an impressive list of fashion/design-related internships is another story. This person would likely experience significantly greater success in creating a fashion empire, in my opinion at least.

While I have many reservations about the abilities of an MBA to create and lead a fashion empire, I do believe that business-savvy individuals are an asset to the fashion industry, and that their role within the industry may be expanding from working just with retailers to include designers and brands as well.

Graduates sporting an advanced degree in business, marketing, or related field  are increasingly seeking positions with the designers and brands who represent them, rather than restricting their employment opportunities to major retailers such as Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Target. It is easy to understand how a business degree can benefit a major retailer- they are educated and trained to focus on the bottom-line, equipped with negotiating skills, and dedicated to increasing ROI. But when you consider the evolving role of designers in the 21st century fashion industry, it’s not hard to see that having individuals who understand business are just as crucial to designers and brands as are individuals who have an eye for creative, provocative fashion.

Benefits of business-savvy to designers and brands:

  • Designers want/have to make money to survive. When you’re a smaller designer, it can be intimidating to negotiate with buyers from major retailers. A designer doesn’t want to settle for less than their product and IP are worth. A person who understands both marketing and business negotiations  will prove especially useful during these transactions.
  • Designers have their own aesthetic (Duh, that’s what makes them a designer). When trying to sell a product as a designer, you want to find brands, boutiques, companies, retailers who will not only find your current garments/line appealing, but are generally in love with your aesthetic and personal brand. However, with so many designers out there it can be a challenge to differentiate yourself.  A business guru with a specialty in marketing will be especially useful during the buying/selling process as they will know how to portray your aesthetic in a presentation that is targeted to each of the various vendors/buyers.
  • A designer’s main focus should be on creating amazing designs; designers are the visionaries in the fashion industry. They should not and cannot possibly  have complete control over things like the bottom-line, staffing, manufacturing, etc. These are the things that a business-savvy individual can take care of; they can help the designer minimize the costs of manufacturing without compromising on quality, they can assess the role of and efficiency of employees, and handle basic business needs thus eliminating unnecessary stress for the designer.



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