“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