Launching a Brand from Scratch
This week, we continue our conversation with Fanny Grosbois, the young designer behind the Paris-based independent brand Les French Demoiselles, and ask her how she went about launching her own brand and what advice she has to offer young designers who want to do the same.
Les French Demoiselles combines design elements from the boyish styles of the Roaring Twenties with hand-finished lace and traditional motifs from the south of France. Last week, Fanny talked to us about how she is working to keep the brand small and sustainable, and told us about an innovative new fabric made from recycled plastic bottles, which she used in her latest collection.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Not at all! I took a somewhat roundabout route to becoming a designer—I specialized in economics in high school and then majored in foreign languages in university. At one point, I nearly pursued journalism. But after about two years in university, I realized that I was so bored, I was spending more time in the cafe on the corner chatting with friends than I was in class. So I dropped out of school mid-semester and took a job in a ready-to-wear boutique, then went back to high school to take a new specialty: “Fashion, Textiles and the Environment”.
And once you had obtained your degree in fashion design, did you know what wanted to do then?
Well, I already knew that I wanted to move to Paris, so I did. And I knew I wanted to work and get as much experience as possible. So I worked in fast fashion, both with young designers and designers who had a lot of experience. I also worked as a designer myself. During that time I went to China to visit factories and had what you might call a revelation: I wanted to create my own brand and in particular, I wanted to build a fashion brand that was fair to all the workers involved, as well as environmentally responsible.
Can you tell us what you did once you made the decision to launch your own brand?
To launch a brand, you first have to have a solid idea of what you want to do, which I did.
After that, came what I call the "realistic part". Creating a fashion brand is like starting any company. You have to figure out production, meet partners, get help... It wasn't easy but I was able to find a lot of information on different websites and I also did management training, where I learned just about everything involved in being an entrepreneur: how to start a company, accounting, administration, copyright, legal issues, financing... All very glamorous! (laughs)
I talked to anybody I could who had done something similar and asked for their advice—people I met during trade shows, professional contacts, personal contacts...
I figured I was young, I didn't have kids and I had my whole life ahead of me, so it was now or never. I had a really strong vision of what I wanted to create and I had put a little money aside, so I said to myself, "All right, here we go!"
How did you finance the brand? Did you look for investors?
No, I financed most of the project with my own money and I also had what we call "love money" in France, which is money loaned from friends and family.
For me, investors will come later, because I want to go to them with a solid foundation already in place and an established track record, so they can see that the business really works and has growth potential.
How did you go about finding buyers and getting your designs into stores?
I canvassed. I went from store to store with samples and showed them my designs before mass producing anything. Young designers shouldn't hesitate to shop their designs around and ask for feedback, making modifications and improvements based on the comments they get. There you have it: make the rounds and knock on doors.
You also have to study the market. Starting a company means putting together a business plan and looking at the competition, the market, what you can offer, whether or not it exists already... Feel free to ask everybody you know lots of questions: "How do you dress? Where do you buy? How much did you like what you bought? How many times did you wear it? What did you like or not like about it? What would you like to see?" You have to go for it. Don't stay stuck behind your computer, that's for sure.
So, you called the stores yourself and said, "Hi, I have some samples I'd like to show you. Could we make an appointment?"
Absolutely. It's like I said—to make things happen, you have to move and shake and get things done.
And is it the stores that call you now?
Well, Les French Demoiselles is still a very young brand but it's no longer in its first year. There are a few stores that call me now, but in the beginning, it was all me.
Do you have a showroom?
No. I make appointments with clients to show them my collections.
How can a new designer get their name out there?
Try to participate in clothing shows and sales that feature independent designers. This allows you to present your product directly to your clientele. And sometimes there are store buyers, journalists or bloggers in attendance. You never know when you might get "discovered". When I've been featured in the press, this is usually how it's happened.
I’m particularly grateful to blogger Elodie Van Zele who has helped promote Les French Demoiselles from the very beginning on her blog Chut Mon Secret. She’s always got the latest scoop on what’s going on in my hometown of Marseille!
What about increasing store sales? How do you promote the brand?
It depends. Some designers might allot a certain budget to advertising or special events. Personally, I like to hold "ventes privées" (private sales) in people's apartments, which is nice because it lets me interact directly with the women who buy my clothing.
Then there is the internet and social media. I don’t have a newsletter yet but I’m planning to create one. And I’m also hoping to open an e-shop in 2015.
Do you have any advice for young designers?
I would tell them to go for it. And enjoy yourself while you’re doing it. But don’t put anybody down along the way. You can have a great idea but the success of an adventure depends on all the people and partners that you have around you.
I created my brand by myself, but I am not alone. The pattern makers that I’ve been working with since the beginning, the suppliers, the bloggers and my friends are all involved. The photographer that I’ve been working with is also a friend. It’s about whom you surround yourself with.
It’s also really important to like what you’re doing. Then, if you have a great idea, go for it—dare to do the impossible.
Les French Demoiselles is sold in boutiques in Paris, Marseille and Strasbourg, France, and is also available from select online retailers.
* All photos courtesy of Florie Berger.