Supporting and enhancing fashion designers across Europe
UF Voic­es — Kristi­na Ilievska

A fash­ion label is essen­tial­ly a business”

As an ambi­tious com­mer­cial agent and fash­ion con­sul­tant trav­el­ling the world, Kristi­na Ilievs­ka knows like no oth­er where young design­ers should focus on nowa­days. After meet­ing her dur­ing Fash­ion Week­end Skop­je, we had a chat with her in Brus­sels about her expe­ri­ence and per­spec­tive on the cur­rent Euro­pean fash­ion cli­mate as a Unit­ed Fash­ion Voice. 

Good Morn­ing Kristi­na, how’s your day so far? 

It’s been great. I have quite a packed busi­ness trip this time, and keep wak­ing up in a new city almost every day. I arrived in Brus­sels yes­ter­day – I’m here to see the brands that we rep­re­sent in stores, as well as to research new labels. I trav­el quite often for work and was lucky enough to be able to meet with you as well. It’s been a pro­duc­tive day so far. There is some­thing tru­ly spe­cial about Euro­pean sum­mers. The ener­gy is always right. 

What is it exact­ly that you do and how do your work­ing days look like?

I work inde­pen­dent­ly as a com­mer­cial agent and con­sul­tant. I’ve been free­lanc­ing since last Octo­ber, and have been for­tu­nate enough to already have a few run­ning projects. One of my main projects is the Paris Men’s Fash­ion Week. This year I’ll also do New York and Copen­hagen. Busy sum­mer ahead! I’m also con­sult­ing for brands and retail­ers about the whole col­lec­tion process, prepar­ing for mar­ket week, and dis­tri­b­u­tion of the brands in stores. Because of the fre­quent trav­els, I have a dif­fer­ent office every day. I often find cozy nice cafes or work at my clients’ studios. 

What did you do before? 

I’ve been liv­ing in Paris since 2011. I stud­ied Busi­ness then and was slow­ly start­ing my career in fash­ion. In 2013, I moved to Japan where I worked for a Japan­ese con­sul­tan­cy and show­room that was very active dur­ing the Paris and Tokyo fash­ion weeks. I was respon­si­ble for a few brands, as well as aid­ing in orga­niz­ing the show­room dur­ing the fash­ion weeks. The three years spent in Japan gave me a very sol­id work eth­ic, under­stand­ing of the busi­ness side of fash­ion and many valu­able con­nec­tions. Today, Paris is still my main mar­ket, but I am also active in the oth­er fash­ion weeks, so you can real­ly find me any­where these days. 

Work­ing inde­pen­dent­ly has worked quite well for me so far. I’m focus­ing on the things I’m good at and it is so moti­vat­ing to see the results instant­ly. I have the pow­er to pick the projects I believe in and do things that ful­fill me and with which I can grow as a professional.

How can you describe your rela­tion to fashion?

Fash­ion has been an inter­est of mine ever since I can remem­ber. I’ve always want­ed to work in fash­ion and went through Busi­ness School, because I want­ed to prop­er­ly devel­op my knowl­edge and to be able to work in the field. All of my many intern­ships were in the fash­ion world. And then I was also assist­ing run­way shows in Paris at the begin­ning, before mov­ing to whole­sale busi­ness. It’s been a long jour­ney to get to where I am today.

Does your work have an impact on your per­son­al style? 

It def­i­nite­ly does. I most­ly wear the brands I rep­re­sent. My per­son­al taste is rather clas­sic and min­i­mal­ist, I would say. I wear a lot of black, but I add sol­id col­ors from time to time. I always have long days, so I try to be com­fort­able. It took me a long time to real­ize that actu­al­ly most of my clothes look the same — tai­lored pants or long silky skirts, and fit­ted shirts, com­bined with a nice bag and der­bies. The more com­fort­able the out­fit, the more I feel like me. I find the qual­i­ty extreme­ly impor­tant. I buy things that could last forever.

Are there any ten­den­cies or changes in the fash­ion sec­tor in Europe that you find remarkable? 

I find it very inter­est­ing how every city in Europe have their own niche in a way. Con­sid­er Paris, Lon­don, Ams­ter­dam, Berlin, Milan — their fash­ion styles are very dif­fer­ent and unique. I do feel Brus­sels and Antwerp par­tic­u­lar­ly stand out, espe­cial­ly with all the Bel­gian design­ers that have tak­en over the fash­ion world. 

I love it how one-hour train ride might take you to a com­plete­ly new uni­verse with dif­fer­ent streets, archi­tec­ture, art and fash­ion. There is so much diver­si­ty. In Asia, that’s true as well among the big cities. In the States, I per­son­al­ly love the New York style. The ele­gance and intel­lect com­bined cre­ate a strong look. 

Are there cities that you rec­om­mend from your experience?

Yes, I think it real­ly depends on the brand’s uni­verse and per­son­al­i­ty. Paris has been con­sid­ered as the main mar­ket for estab­lished brands. But if a brand under­stands that it has a spe­cif­ic mar­ket that would be more suc­cess­ful than oth­ers, it would def­i­nite­ly be advis­able to find an agent / fit­ting store / influ­encer to work with in that par­tic­u­lar city. Milan can be inter­est­ing for spe­cif­ic young brands, Lon­don as well. There are so many influ­en­tial fash­ion cities, and it depends on the brand and their main mar­ket to decide where it’s worth going.

For exam­ple, Ger­many and Italy are the cities that have the most retail stores, not only in the cap­i­tal, but in the oth­er cities as well. In Ger­many the prices in Berlin are low­er than in Cologne, Ham­burg or Frank­furt, for exam­ple. Peo­ple in Berlin won’t spend as much as in the oth­er cities. In France, the UK and the Nether­lands most of the retail stores are based in the cap­i­tal cities. In Scan­di­navia, Japan­ese and Scan­di­na­vian brands thrive. Doing the research helps the brand know which mar­ket to focus on and to find the best way to extend their clients and busi­ness in general. 

How do you see sus­tain­abil­i­ty evolve in fashion?

Of course, sus­tain­abil­i­ty is becom­ing more and more impor­tant. I feel peo­ple today have become real­ly con­scious of the food they con­sume, what mate­ri­als they buy and envi­ron­men­tal­ism in gen­er­al. It’s true for myself as well. I don’t eat meat any­more and I avoid using plas­tic. I work out, tak­ing care of my men­tal and phys­i­cal health. Sus­tain­able fash­ion fits in with this lifestyle per­fect­ly. Evolv­ing from a young brand to a high-end fash­ion pow­er­house isn’t easy. The trans­for­ma­tion requires many sac­ri­fices and hard choic­es, but it’s all worth it in the long run. I feel that this shift is the right time to prop­er­ly decide on sus­tain­abil­i­ty and how it could be achieved when cre­at­ing it with­in the brand. Sus­tain­abil­i­ty can also be used as a brand image to attract a wider audi­ence. It’s nat­ur­al for busi­ness­es to seek out the cheap­est mate­ri­als around to pro­tect their bot­tom lines. But we do high fash­ion, and the fab­rics picked for the col­lec­tions do not depend on the price, but rather if it’s fit­ting, high qual­i­ty and if it’s unique enough. Choos­ing to work with sus­tain­able mate­ri­als is more dif­fi­cult finan­cial­ly, and the pro­duc­ers might have to reduce mar­gins in the short term. How­ev­er, sus­tain­able cloth­ing com­mands high­er prices and also attracts cus­tomers that are will­ing to pay much more for prod­ucts that they know have been sus­tain­ably sourced. 

What three tips can you give to begin­ning fash­ion designers?

My three big tips are — know the busi­ness, find your cus­tomer, and work on your brand image from the very begin­ning. You have to think like an entre­pre­neur. A fash­ion label is essen­tial­ly a busi­ness. Most fash­ion schools have busi­ness and man­age­ment lec­tures that give a grasp to the design­ers on what they need to know in order to run a suc­cess­ful busi­ness. But the main focus is on the design. It might be a good idea to take both sides seri­ous­ly, and work on them simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. One of the rea­sons why I went to a busi­ness school instead of a fash­ion school was so that I could become more busi­ness savvy and grow faster. Young brands that have been quite suc­cess­ful are most­ly tal­ent­ed design­ers that are also entre­pre­neurs, or design­ers with a busi­ness part­ner. In the lat­ter case, the work is quite well divid­ed and the design­er can ful­ly focus on the col­lec­tions, and the entre­pre­neur can do the busi­ness part with no interruptions. 

Sec­ond­ly, decide on your cus­tomer. Have a clear idea of who will be wear­ing the brand and how to approach them. With­out know­ing your tar­get cus­tomer, you can­not move for­ward mean­ing­ful­ly when start­ing your fash­ion busi­ness. A way to start would be to research the trends, styles, col­ors, and fab­rics of the spe­cif­ic mar­ket. What is their pur­chas­ing pow­er? How often do they shop, and what items do they shop for the most? Find­ing the answers to these ques­tions would give a bet­ter idea on what to focus on in order to grow the brand organ­i­cal­ly. Set the right prices. Know­ing the mar­ket will allow you to do this. Which brands would be placed next to your brand and why? Research your com­peti­tors. Who are they and what do they do well? What are their weak­ness­es? Why do peo­ple wear them? Who will the brand be placed next to in a store? What is the exact posi­tion­ing of the brand? 

Mar­ket your­self well online and dur­ing the fash­ion weeks. Insta­gram is so impor­tant these days. When I research, I go first on Insta­gram to see how the brand has placed itself. To get an organ­ic fol­low­ing, make sure your social media fits with the brand’s universe. 

That leads me to my final point — brand iden­ti­ty. Find your niche detail that makes the brand rec­og­niz­able from oth­ers. The col­lec­tions need to bring fresh ideas to each sea­son, yet at the same time not stand out too much from the pre­vi­ous ones. Have con­sis­ten­cy in the col­ors, shapes and fit­tings. The pro­duc­tion por­tion is quite impor­tant also. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some­times fash­ion week is around the cor­ner, but the fac­to­ry is late, or hasn’t fin­ished every­thing, which puts the brands in a very unfor­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion. This might take time, but it’s def­i­nite­ly worth think­ing it through to find the best solu­tion on how to deliv­er on time, and deal with the min­i­mums and quantities. 

My final advice would be to not stag­nate at one phase of the busi­ness. Instead, work on adjust­ments and improve­ments that are required to take you a lev­el for­ward in a com­pet­i­tive way. In order to do that, you would need a lot of feed­back from influ­en­tial peo­ple in the indus­try and clients. Try to imple­ment their con­struc­tive sug­ges­tions for the advance­ment of your busi­ness. Have it all fig­ured out – the brand image, what it stands for, clients, influ­encers, and social media. If you do this, you have a good foun­da­tion for success. 

Images by Ani­Di­mi / Fash­ion Week­end Skopje 

Text by Unit­ed Fashion 

For more infor­ma­tion, you can con­tact Kristi­na via her Insta­gram : @klsvk