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The global pandemic has left young businesses and emerging designers more vulnerable than ever. Innovation and adaptation are just some of the ways you can safeguard your growing label, but support from the power players can certainly help.

MATCHESFASHION is helping a group of new talent thrive through these difficult times with the launch of The Innovators Programme. Developed by Buying Director Natalie Kingham and Head of Menswear Damien Paul who work closely with all designers that MATCHESFASHION brings on board, the programme ensures that brands receive support across social, content and marketing throughout the year whilst also providing business mentorship and financial support – the global luxury platform has set aside £1.8 million (approximately Dhs 8.4 million) towards the programme.

The 12 names were chosen for having a powerful brand DNA and a global appeal. Below, we speak to three key womenswear designers as well as Kingham about how this programme is supporting and elevating young talent to greater heights.

Natalie Kingham – Fashion & Buying Director, MATCHESFASHION

The Innovators Programme matchesfashion

What makes a new designer stand out?

 

It is important that designers have their own unique point of view and DNA that they stick to. To be a great designer isn’t necessarily about following trends but about being authentic and being true to your own vision.

With so many brands on the market, how can new designers stand out?

I think all new designers are brave to start their own brand and launch a new collection, especially now. I don’t think designers need to necessarily be brave or bold with their designs but instead with their vision. At MATCHESFASHION we look at everything from brands that will speak to our fashion-pioneering customer to brands that will speak to our purist customer, for example a successful brand could be a minimal T-shirt brand where the cut is fantastic and the fabrications are amazing.

What is the key value of The Innovators Programme?

I think overall, each designer will receive robust support from MATCHESFASHION across the business including buying, PR, marketing and social. I think knowing that they have this support over the course of a year means that they can plan ahead and will allow them to have more financial stability. As part of the year long programme we will be giving each brand a lot more visibility so that their story, ethos and what they stand for can really be conveyed to our customer so that they understand the brand and want to invest in a brand of the future. We will also offer mentorship over the year in a very organic way depending on what they need; it will be very personalised to them.

What have been the biggest challenges for young brands during the global pandemic?

Financial stability is probably one of the biggest challenges these brands have had to face during this difficult time. Younger brands do have the opportunity (because they are small) to be more flexible and agile but like everyone during this pandemic planning for the long term when the short term is so unpredictable is challenging. This is one of the reasons that we set up this programme for next year, to help futureproof some of the amazing young talent out there.

What is the bravest decision you have made in your career?

I think it is brave to pick up new brands, you never know how the customer will react so it is important to really believe in the designer and in the product. It is great when it does really resonate with the customer and a highlight for me would have to be when we launched Vetements, we believed in so much, so it was fantastic to see it become such a success story.

Michael Halpern – Founder & Designer, Halpern

The Innovators Programme matchesfashion

What is the greatest value of The Innovators Programme?

Being a part of The Innovators Programme is incredibly exciting!  At Halpern, I have worked with MATCHESFASHION from our first season, and we even did a really incredible trip to Dubai with them to begin to introduce Halpern to the customers there.  It was such a wonderful experience and being a part of this programme will strengthen our relationship even more.  Our brand will benefit from the amazing amount of exposure on the site with all of the brilliantly added marketing that goes into a project like this.

Did this support give you the confidence to take Halpern to the next level?

I think any store that invests in you will help take it to the next level. Whether that investment comes in the form of a project like the innovators, deepening the buy or even building up face time with you from a business perspective.

How do you balance the creative and the business elements of growing a brand?

I think for any creative person running a business can be daunting in the beginning. At the end of the day, I am a classically trained fashion designer with roots in couture and a love of making things, so learning to run a business with employees, production runs, and complicated financial situations was a hugely steep learning curve for me. Thankfully, I have been able to be surrounded by brilliantly smart people who really know the ins and outs of this business to help me grow my company to where it is right now. The MATCHESFASHION Innovators Programme will help strengthen this path even more.

 

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What is the bravest decision you have made?

The bravest decision I think any designer can make is to start their own company.  Running a fashion brand is an enormous responsibility in a market that is constantly volatile, so putting yourself out there is a huge risk.  Thankfully, we have been so wonderfully received over the past three years of business, so continuing to grow and design the types of collections I love is something I am so grateful for.

What can we look forward to from Halpern next?

At Halpern, fantasy and glamour is at the heart of where I design from.  Whether that fantasy is wearing a fabulous dress or suit out at night or hosting at home in a zebra print caftan by the pool, that sense of whimsy and luxury is what we will continue to present. Optimism and hope are really important factors for me, and these ideals will be always represented in the collections.   

Thebe Magugu – Founder & Designer, THEBE MAGUGU

The Innovators Programme matchesfashion

What is the greatest value of The Innovators Programme?

I think The Innovators Programme equips its designers with support across all the critical departments. Visibility I think is an important aspect of building a brand, and MATCHESFASHION – with its sophistication in logistics and high digital foot-traffic – can allow for massive application of any brand it focuses on. As we are at the beginning of our journey, programmes like this are worth their weight in gold.

Did this support give you the confidence to take Magugu to the next level?

In times like this when one continues to operate in uncertain times, I think it acts as a slight relief that one of the stockists – particularly one as big as MATCHESFASHION – will commit for 12 months to buying the collection and providing opportunities across marketing and mentorship. This would certainly make one confident – because confidence is brought on by a sense of stability. I also enjoy the learning component brought on through the mentorship this programme will offer

How do you balance the creative and the business elements of growing a brand?

I think the two cycle into one another. If fashion as a business is about selling product, I think creativity allows you to differentiate what it is about your product from the rest. That being said, I think creativity also gives the brand a sense of soul – without the aesthetic propositions, the new approaches and out-the-box thinking – the brand will have nothing that drives it or even determines its values. Creativity in large part is problem solving and business without it renders a brand stagnant. I always try and make sure whatever I do has a creative integrity because that allows people to connect with it, thus encouraging a sale.

The Innovators Programme matchesfashion

What is the bravest decision you have made?

Starting a brand. Breaking into the fashion industry is still as tough as ever and often students are discouraged from starting their own business and rather steered toward working for another company. Simply telling myself ‘whatever comes’ and marching down to South Africa’s business registration company was the bravest moment of my life.

What can we look forward to from Magugu next?

Thoughtful projects. I’ve been thinking a lot about my impact within my community over and above employment. I have been looking at making socially conscious projects and initiatives. I am also excited about the Summer collection, which is based on a series of interviews I conducted with confessed female spies.

Kévin Germanier Founder – President & Creative Director, Germanier

The Innovators Programme matchesfashion

What is the greatest value of The Innovators Programme?

What I am strongly interested in is the mentorship not only to work with the buying team but also social media and marketing teams. I love learning from experienced people. This programme is unique as we are able to communicate and share ideas closely with each other, that human side that sometimes we miss in the fashion industry, this transparency is healthy and will only benefit both sides of a partnership. We, as Innovators, are breaking the rules and it is such a nice feeling to know that people are supporting our businesses.

Did this support give you the confidence to take Germanier to the next level?

Definitely. It is always easier to go big and adapt your creativity to more commercial pieces. Knowing that MATCHESFASHION celebrates creativity helps innovators to be even more creative. I feel extremely motivated and I feel like I can take some risks, as I know that they will be by my side and guide me in order to create the best products.

How do you balance the creative and the business elements of growing a brand?

I’ve found myself loving making commercial pieces. I do enjoy problem solving, limitations and challenges. Therefore, it is always super tricky to adapt my creativity to a more commercial product. Retaining your DNA and creativity whilst making a commercial product is a great challenge. That is the essence of this programme to be honest. After each season you are learning what is working and what is not, what to keep and what to drop. But also, surprisingly enough, what you think will work might not.

 

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What is the bravest decision you have made?

Learning to say ‘no’. It takes courage to say ‘no’ as a new designer because you are terrified that the opportunity will not come back again. However, if you are looking to build a sustainable business it is vital that your base is strong.

What can we look forward to from Germanier next?

More drama and more colour! We have amazing products coming up and strong accessories and we will work by drops and not collections anymore, which will allow us to be more flexible and even more creative.

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