We were very lucky to interview Lisa Springsteel, a shining light in the fashion industry. She has had a superb career, and is now able to share her knowledge with fledgling designers. Her brilliant book “Becoming a Fashion Designer” is a must read for fashion fans, aspiring fashion designers and all our beachwear designers!
When did you start your career in the fashion industry?
I began my career in the fashion industry when I moved to New York in 1994. I did one of those spontaneous things that you sometimes hear about people doing,that is very uncharacteristic of someone like me who typically thinks things out strategically. I picked up and moved to New York from Florida without a job, determined to land the fashion position of my dreams. And guess what? It worked — many times over!
What is about fashion that you like the most?
I love the idea that it all begins with a concept and after much hard work, focus and dedication, becomes a product that can be seen on people and in stores around the world.
What was it like to work for some of the top brands within the fashion industry, such as Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, J. Mendel, and Victoria’s Secret?
Each of these jobs provided me with the most incredible and memorable experiences! There was nothing more exciting for me than to sit in design meetings with Ralph Lauren himself; his attention to every little detail is still mind boggling to me today. I don’t quite think even his loyal customers realize how much thought and perfection goes into every step of his design process. If it isn’t quite right, it is rejected and has to be redone until it gets Ralph’s final stamp of approval. During my time at the company, I was sent to the Ralph Lauren Greensboro, North Carolina research facility to work with textile experts to perfect a particular dyeing technique that Ralph wanted to achieve for one of our men’s woven shirts. It was truly an inspiring educational experience, in every sense of the word.
At J. Mendel, we had a huge celebrity client business and it was very exciting to work with celebrities to dress them for the Oscars, all sorts of red carpet events, for magazine covers like Vogue, etc. I was the Fabric and Trim Manager at J. Mendel and in addition to working with the design team to research, source, customize and develop the fabric for each of the runway collections, I was also in charge of arranging the fabric for the custom gowns that were made for each of the celebrities. It was very rewarding to have personally selected the cobalt blue silk crinkle chiffon fabric for actress Terri Hatcher’s gown that she wore to the 2005 Emmy Awards, and to be a part of the design team who created her custom gown in a mere 2 days. She looked stunning and it was a very proud moment for me!
What was your role when working at Ralph Lauren?
I was the Fabric Archives Manager, which just so happened to be a position that was created by Ralph Lauren himself. He had always dreamed of having a archives and resource centre that housed all of the fabric and trim that was used in each season’s collections, that could be used as an inspirational and cost savings tool for all the various design teams, across all labels throughout the company.
It was a true honour for me to have been given the opportunity to create (from the ground up) and implement the first ever fabric archives and resource centre for Ralph Lauren Corporation. It was a revolutionary concept back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I worked at Ralph Lauren, but today it is a lot more common among apparel companies.
What inspired you to write the book, Becoming a Fashion Designer?
It happened accidentally, actually. I was pitching a book concept to Wiley (who is now my current publisher), and although they loved my initial idea, they asked me to table it and instead invited me to write, Becoming a Fashion Designer. That is the equivalent of asking a child if they would like unlimited candy, a thousand new toys and a trip to Disney World. The resounding answer, of course was YES! I was simply honoured and thrilled and literally jumped up and down in my living room when my contract was signed and my book deal was official.
When did you decide to become a fashion consultant for emerging fashion designers and a fashion career advisor?
Shortly after I completed by book, I realized there was a void in the number of resources available for designers who are trying to launch their own collections. I am unique in that I guide each of my clients step-by-step through the very difficult-to-navigate process, by taking their vision and making it a reality, resulting in a commercially viable apparel collection.
Most consultants provide educational resources to help individuals launch their collections, but don’t actually work one-on-one with the designer to launch their lines like I do.
I specialize in the areas of branding, website and logo development, media kit and social media channel creation, product development and design, global fabric/trim sourcing, research and development, public relations and retail placement.
In terms of career advising, I also noticed a lack of help for those people who are struggling to land a fashion job, need help managing or progressing in their fashion careers, or for those who are trying to transition into a fashion career. Since I have worked in the fashion industry for 20 years (the bulk of which has been spent in the New York fashion industry), I have first-hand experience and can provide my clients with expert knowledge and insider advice.
How long did it take you to complete your book?
From start to finish, almost two years, with an entire year and a half dedicated solely to writing the manuscript. It was a long, but very rewarding process!
What are the key challenges for emerging fashion designers?
Money is and always will be the biggest challenge. Whether a designer is funded by a venture capitalist, an angel investor, by themselves, from their friends and family or a combination, it takes a considerable amount of money to launch even a small capsule collection.
The good news is that there is hope with the advent of crowd funding, along with other options that enable more and more aspiring designers to launch their own labels. Another challenge is knowing where to start. There is not a lot of information out there on how to make it happen, so it is key for designers to collaborate with consultants like myself who can impart the knowledge to guide them through the process.
Lastly, until recently, it was very difficult for designers who are just starting out to meet the very hefty minimums, from fabric purchasing to sample making and production that is so common among vendors and factories. Nowadays, so many more factories and fabric mills are realizing the importance of serving the ever growing population of new talented designers who are on the rise. It is refreshing to see the changes taking place that are making it far more possible for emerging designers to make their collections; minimums are being lowered and I am seeing more and more factories and fabric mills that are willing and happy to work with emerging fashion designers. Cheers to that!
Why do you think it is important for fashion designers to have guidance and support in launching their collections?
Launching a collection is a very difficult process, involving many moving parts. It is also costly, so with the guidance of a consultant, an aspiring designer can save both valuable time and money by learning from an expert on what to do and what not to do. There is also nothing better than having a partner to collaborate with and to know you have a “fan” cheering you on every step of the way!
Which is the biggest recommendation that you would give to someone looking to start a new fashion business?
Educate yourself. Learn the business – not just the creative side, but the business side. Get a BFA in fashion design. If you can’t do that, take continuing education courses in fashion design and business principles. If you can’t afford courses, learn online by conducting research from reputable sources. And just when you think you’re done researching, research some more. Intern if you can, then work full-time for a fashion company so you can learn the ropes and gain firsthand experience before setting off on your own. Collaborate with a consultant. Hone your craft. Join fashion design related organizations and associations. Network like crazy. Create a business plan. Determine what makes your collection unique. Brand yourself – well. Have faith and never give up!
Do you have to have a degree in fashion design to launch your own collection?
No! Most of my clients do not have a fashion design degree and have come from completely different industries. They do, however share two things in common: an innate love for fashion and a void in the marketplace that they want to fill.
Who/What was the biggest influence in your career?
My answer to this question is not typical. For me, it was not a specific person, but rather the entire New York fashion industry that I credit with being the biggest influence in my career. The reason? Because it tests you day in and day out to become a better, stronger, more confident, resilient and determined person. Like the city itself, the New York fashion industry is driven by the best of everything.
In the case of the fashion industry, it is made up of the biggest, most recognizable household names in fashion. And with that comes the most talented people from around the world, working on a tiny island with big dreams, resulting in an overlying competitive spirit that drives you to be your very best, or in some cases, the very worst. I have seen many people come and go, but if you can take the heat, the possibilities are endless.
Which fashion designers and industry insiders were interviewed for the book?
I was beyond honored to interview Manolo Blahnik, Reem Acra, Dennis Basso, Ralph Rucci, Anna Sui, Daymond John from ABC’s Shark Tank, Kay Unger, Pamella Roland, Stuart Weitzman, Nanette Lepore (who also wrote the foreword), Zang Toi, Peter Som, Bibhu Mohapatra, Deborah Lloyd (Chief Creative Officer of Kate Spade New York), Chris Knott (Founder of Peter Millar), Todd Thomas (Costume Designer for the Victoria’s Secret fashion show), Robert Verdi (Celebrity Stylist and T.V. Personality), Fern Mallis (Founder of New York Fashion Week), Maggie Norris of Maggie Norris Couture and Randolph Duke (Hollywood Fashion Designer and former Creative Director of Halston).
Are there any exciting book updates that you can tell us about?
I am excited to announce that the translated versions of the book in Mandarin for the China market and Arabic for the Egyptian market are due to publish mid-2015!
Where can I purchase the book?
The book is available worldwide both in paperback and digital formats, including versions for Kindle and Nook, at select Barnes & Noble locations, as well as a plethora of online bookseller websites. The main retailers that carry the book online are Barnes and Noble, Walmart, Staples, Amazon, Apple iTunes, Google Play and in Australia on Booktopia and Amazon Australia.
What is your favourite colour?
Without a doubt, hot pink!
Do you have a personal quote?
“Hold on tight to your vision as an aspiring fashion designer. Keep the faith, keep striving, keep preserving, keep believing.”
What’s next for Lisa Springsteel?
I have a very interesting creative project in the works that is unfortunately too new to elaborate on at the moment, but fasten your seatbelts and stay tuned!
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