Nanette Lepore has built a powerful brand over the course of 20 years. The story of her rise up the fashion ranks is an important and inspiring one for all young designers, but especially for those here in the UAE.

On her recent visit to the region for Fashion Forward, Nanette discussed the Dubai Design District (d3) and how the cosmopolitan city is set to become a premium style hub.

“Dubai can be a fashion capital,” Nanette said boldly during a conference at season two of Fashion Forward. The reaction from the crowd of young designers in the audience was palpable. Her emphasis on homegrown talent, as opposed to mass retail, was a welcome and encouraging message. She reinforced the point that because the Dubai government was so proactive in the development of d3, local design has the opportunity to flourish in the international market. That is, as long as local manufacturing is nurtured along with designers.


Nanette explained that  sticking to the local business model will be extremely successful in the region. Locally manufacturing means you can produce small runs and you have shorter turnaround times. This in turn means you can cost-effectively manage a smaller amount of stock. Smaller runs and closer suppliers also give you the added advantage of being able to adapt designs and production in reaction to how the products are selling. By starting small, and staying small for as long as possible you will have the opportunity to build a reliable consistent brand, which are prized traits for retailers.

Nanette grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. The daughter of two highly creative parents (her father was an Abstract Expressionist and her mother was a school teacher), art and the art of making was part of her everyday life. Describing her family as “hippies”, Nanette recalled during her presentation how her parents would make furniture and get involved in building projects. Community and craftsmanship were essential to her family, but later would become the foundation of her success as a designer.


After studying fashion design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Nanette held a few unpleasant job roles in New York City. Eventually, she convinced the owner of her favourite boutique to give her a job and with some hard work, it wasn’t long before she was accompanying her boss on buying trips to Europe. This was when she fell completely in love with fashion.

Nanette found herself most inspired by London designers. With very little money she saw how they were still producing and selling high quality garments. Nanette learned the key to their success – small runs manufactured by local artisans.

With that knowledge she set up her first store in the East Village. Close to The Garment Centre in New York, she had a wealth of talent on her doorstep. She built relationships and spent time down at the factories learning practical tips and tricks for designing and making better fitting, better looking clothes. It was these relationships and attention to detail that really helped Nanette stand out in a competitive market.

Sadly in recent years, the majority of US manufacturing has been outsourced to the East. The people that had helped Nanette become a success are now almost completely out of business. However, channeling her bohemian roots, Nanette has started rallying to save The Garment Centre and create awareness about the importance of local manufacturing. Joined by other prominent NY-based designers, they are driving home the point that it is nearly impossible to be successful as a young independent designer without the help of local business.

In short, Nanette believes now is the time that all young designers need to become activists for change – in an increasing global market of mass manufacturing, coming up with creative solutions and enlisting the help of local government, local resources and local and social media is best way to be successful. 

Follow Nanette Lepore on Twitter and Instagram – @nanettelepore

Images: Nanette Lepore AW13