‘I Have To Find £5,000 To Put On A Catwalk Show. And A Scathing Review Could Financially Ruin Me’. The Reality Of Being A Young LFW Designer

Doesn't sound so fun now, right?

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by Pandora Sykes |

I studied fashion design at university and I’ve been a fashion designer for three years. This is my sixth season showing at London Fashion Week. For my first, I spent five months making a collection – alongside my part-time job in retail – and arranged a presentation, all without a PR. I just blagged my way, asked friends of friends to get some journalists and PRs to come. My backstage was* also* my front stage; it was all the same space and it was so tiny. Turning it back to front made me an hour late....

Thankfully, a PR spotted me during that first presentation and my label’s grown since then. But I’m pretty unusual, because I’m still totally self-funded. I have projects on the side that ensure I have a revenue stream and then, like most designers, I just plough any cash I have back into my business. It’s tough, but I love it so I carry on doing it. Every season I have to find a way to wheedle the prices down. A catwalk show will cost £5,000 minimum and a presentation £3,000 (and that's about a 10th of the budget of what the average designer starts a show with). I spend the most money on models – about 60% of my budget – because I’ve learnt over time that awkward or inexperienced models really won’t make your clothes look as strong.

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I start designing my collection three months before a show and it comes back from the factory with about two weeks to go. Then I spend the two weeks prior to the show adjusting zips and seams and checking it all fits properly. Nothing’s ever perfect. In the weeks leading up to it, I am in the studio from 8am till 11pm and I will definitely pull a couple of all nighters in the last week, especially the night before. I can never sleep that night, anyway. The actual day goes by so quickly, there’s no time for tears. But sometimes afterwards, I’ll get emotional if things haven’t gone so well. Once I worked with a stylist whose vision I really wasn’t sure about, then I got a terrible review and I was so upset with myself for not putting my foot down in the first place.

I’m broke after every single show. And a scathing review could ruin my career

Things like that just happen, though. The last two seasons I’ve had models who just haven’t shown up. Once I was looking at Style.com after a show and found out that one model who hadn’t turned up – the agency claimed she had gone AWOL – had just walked in a much bigger show instead. They’d lied, even after they’d signed a contract with me. But there’s nothing I can do about stuff like that. Another time, when I was paying for models with cash – £600 for two – the model booker just nicked the cash. The agency claimed they had no proof of payment, so I was forced to pay them again. That, along with factory samples going missing, leaks and floods and stains costs me a lot of money but it’s unavoidable.

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In terms of a FROW, there’s a crew of fashion journalists that I tend to see – every designer pulls different journalists, it just depends what they like – and quite a few bloggers. A lot of designers, particularly the edgier brands, are really dismissive of bloggers because they see them as commercial. I find them really valuable. I use them as free marketing, to be honest. They have a bigger following than half the magazines do on social media and the photos are much more beautiful, as most bloggers are pretty savvy about taking pictures, too. Editors put up blurry, crappy photos, whearas blogger pics are good enough for me to re-post.

I’ve just started gifting bloggers, which has been super successful, as they post from whatever country they are from and that ensures e-commerce sales in those countries and therefore makes my buisness more global. The bigger the brand, the more they give away. Some huge brands give away all the same stuff to the entire blogging community – and pay the huge bloggers to wear stuff.

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A scathing show review can ruin your career. There’s one glossy magazine editor who is really tough on me and I’ve never figured out why. One of my friends who is also a designer says it’s because she’s trying to push me harder, but I am not sure. She cornered me at an event a few seasons ago and asked me why I had never invited her to a show. But when I then got really cross with my PR, they said they HAD invited her and she’d just never replied. She also accused me of ripping off a designer that I’d once assisted. I just replied that of course I might have a similar aesthetic, as that was the reason why I felt attuned to working with that brand in the first place. Still, it’s terrifying because you know a damning word from her can ruin a fledging business like mine.

My family always come to the show to support me. It stresses me out knowing they’re there, as I just want to run to them and hug them afterwards and I can’t – I have to do interveiws and talk to journalists and stuff. We go for dinner together after, though. The last thing I feel like doing is partying afterwards. I also try and go to a few other shows during fashion week – you want to support your friends. It really isn’t a competitive environment, as everyone is doing such different things. That said, I do feel jealous sometimes of young designers who already have a ton of stockists like one season in. I watch those designers like a hawk, like Regina Kyo. She’s just doing the kind of things where as a designer you think, ‘Damn! Why aren't I doing that?’

I’m broke after every single show. I’ll have invoices coming in for the entire month afterwards and that’s terrifying. But – three years on – I’m finally breaking even. I have moments of feeling like I’m not getting anywhere – but I said that to my parents the other day and they pointed out that I had three people on my payroll. That’s three more people than I had three years ago.

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Follow Pandora on Twitter @pinsykes

Illustration: Hisashi Okawa

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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