NEW YORK — Amira Rasool and The Folklore Connect hosted a panel titled “Unlocking Retail: Captivating Buyers’ Interest” Thursday night at Shopify’s SoHo showroom.
The conversation traced industry expertise from the founder and buyer perspective regarding the arc of a breakout brand.
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Sharmaine Harrison, senior buyer at Saks, and Chrissy Kim, buyer for women’s advanced and emerging designer at Bergdorf Goodman, offered up morsels of advice to incoming creatives for getting prime selling space in stores. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs Sade Mims, founder of handbag brand Edas and Emefa Kuadey, founder of Toronto-based women’s fashion label Israella Kobla, gave the flip side on getting noticed as a brand and keeping up strong wholesale relationships.
Buyers, Harrison said, want to land the next emerging brand that generates that “buzz in your ear.” But as Kim noted, new designers should be really clear about the void their filling in the market. “Do your research first,” she said.
“The more information the better for the buyers,” Kim added. “As an emerging designer, it’s so important to have that control in the beginning because you want to make sure you have a distinct point of view and DNA.”
And presentation is everything. “I like to see how you present yourself, so I can tell my team,” Harrison added. “We all know there are a lot of logistics to starting a brand, making money and getting into business. So [let’s] make sure that together there is open communication to get to that final end goal we all want to get to, which is success.”
Designers looking into wholesale should also come to buyers knowing how they fit into the retail matrix, or positioning on the sales floor, Harrison said.
As far as getting into retail, it’s about in-person connections.
“I was very on the ground,” said Edas founder Mims. “Especially when starting out, I do think it’s important to see the sales associates, speak to the people in person, in real time. I think things get so lost online and these days, it feels so digital. There’s something about that in-person connection that is so valuable.”
Throughout her journey, Mims said she’s also been keen to bring retail buyers back to her Williamsburg studio. “Invite people into your world so they can see your evolution in person.”
Kuadey experienced the opposite when starting Israella Kobla. Instagram led to her first order with a small Southern boutique, and the rest has been a collaborative dialogue with her consumer. If reviews came in noting pants were too long, for example, Kuadey and her in-house sewers changed the design. “I do take into consideration feedback that I receive. All of these larger retailers have such a vast consumer base,” she said, adding that that direct communication with customers is key to making a brand accessible to a broader base and more shopping channels.
The panel showed that strong relationships mean everything between buyer and brand. “Once you’re in our retail, we are married,” Kim joked.
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