Sep 20, 2019 | By Athena Chen
Mar 31, 2017
By WGSN Insider
While launching a brand is often the ultimate goal for young designers, the reality of running a business in today’s challenging and competitive climate is a lot harder and less glamorous than it seems. Fashion Factory aims to prepare its students for such a reality, providing insight and access to top industry figures. Founded in 2013 by knitwear designer and seasoned consultant Liudmila Norsoyan, Fashion Factory focuses on the business and production side of the industry as opposed to the design/creative part only – currently the only institute of its kind in the region.
Tell us a little bit about the state of fashion in Russia right now?
There has always been as appetite for international brands in Russia, but in the past few years we have seen a real shift as more people are favouring local brands and designers. This happened mainly because the Russian Ruble was weak and everyone got priced out and started buying local and now, even though the market is picking up again, people are so used to buying local labels that approximately 90% of stores work with Russian designers.“The crisis was almost a blessing in disguise for local talent as it has opened up opportunities.”
Why is Fashion Factory’s concept unique?
There are plenty of fashion design courses in the region, but none really focuses on production and manufacturing, which is a shame as the production market is currently booming in Russia after many years of crisis. Our aim at Fashion Factory is to support the growth of the Russian fashion industry, particularly in the manufacturing arena, and to really help raise the bar quality-wise, so that it can become a big player within the international stage.
We also want to help new designers make less mistakes as it’s so difficult to start a brand: we want to use our own and our network’s collective experience to future-proof their businesses. We offer courses and seminars but more importantly we share contacts of suppliers, warehouses, factories, photographers, stylists etc…
We have a database and a forum (called Hacking Fashion) with more than 1000 members to connect professionals and share info, not only contacts but also questions and personal experiences. Everyone is much more open to the idea of sharing and collaborating, something we are really proud of.
What is your current reach? Is it very much Moscow-centric or do you have a presence across the region?
The project was centred around Moscow at first but it has very quickly spread across the region, especially because it’s even harder to network and get insight the further you go from the capital. So, now we embrace almost all the post-Soviet countries: Armenia, Karachay-Cherkessia, Siberia, the Urals, the Far East, Central Asia, Belarus etc. The combination of an online and offline method of teaching, including visits to the factories, allows us to create thorough educational programmes that cover almost all practical aspects of the fashion industry.
What are some of your most popular courses? Anything to do with the financial aspect of owning a business: strategy, margins, how many collections you need to sell before making a profit, delivery dates, range planning etc.. And also all courses and lectures around marketing and social media strategy. There’s plenty of scope for young designers in the region because there are plenty of investors looking for talent and projects to invest in, but the young generation needs to understand the full picture in order to have a successful business.
And how do you help with that?
We are very open and honest about the challenges of owning a business and we also try to highlight the array of career prospects within fashion that go beyond design and owning a brand. You might be better suited to being a knitwear technologist than a brand owner. “We actually invite small business owners to talk honestly about how hard it is and some young people realise it’s better to go for technology and manufacturing jobs rather than struggling with having their own brand”. We are also expanding the number of courses and lectures about buying and merchandising and pattern cutting. We have a very practical, hands-on approach with intensive programmes, which include retail safaris in Moscow, manufacturing tours and we give them practical tasks and career guidance. Essentially we show them the real work and how it actually is.
What would you say are the main challenges for emerging brands/designers in Russia?
Delivery dates is one of the main problems: they are always late delivering their collections and by the time they do, the buyers have spent most of their budgets. Assortments planning, picking the right product, budget planning are also some big challenges…a lot young designers make no profit because they just don’t plan properly. Also, a lack of understanding about what starting a brand entails is a big issue: everyone wants to be a designer, they think it’s very creative and easy but actually there’s so much more to that. A lot of them lack basic business skills but they don’t or can’t hire business-focused people, which is often the most difficult part to fulfill. Absence of factories that are able to deliver good quality at competitive prices is also a big challenge in the region and of course the retail market is hard for everyone at the moment.
There are many interesting new designers coming out of the region getting traction within the international stage… Why do you think this is happening now?
The new generation has a much more open mind and travels a lot more than during Soviet Union times. More young people speak English and of course, they have access to social media so it’s a lot easier to get exposure on a global scale. “They are a lot more tech-savvy and braver than before, they bypass traditional channels with fresh ideas and they have a go-getter attitude that wasn’t as prevalent in the past (for many reasons, predominately political ones).Many of them grew up during difficult years and I truly believe that struggle and scarcity breeds imagination and ideas”.
Also, fashion is a reflection of what is going on in the world and at the moment we are seeing a lot of uncertainty and fear globally. Russian style is very strong and direct with strong colours and graphics, so I believe that’s why it feels very current and it’s getting traction with the international audience.
What about concepts of sustainability and responsible buying, how relevant is it to Russia?
More and more people are starting to think about sustainable fashion and also timeless fashion, there is definitely a customer for it in Russia. A lot of people choose to buy Russian brands as opposed to international and spend more time researching something unique, locally produced and with a story behind it. There is a new wave of young designers using Instagram to share every step of the creation of their collections: from initial sketches to factory shots of the production etc. They want to share the whole journey and interact with their followers so people connect with the product in a different way as they know the story of the item. A bit like open kitchens in restaurants, it’s about that transparency and connection. Also a lot of young designers are collaborating and helping each other rather than being in competition, which is quite a new concept here, particularly as they are working with unknown names as opposed to big brands: it’s not about famous names but about ideas and creativity.
Finally, any new names to watch?
Medea Maris, Alisa Kuzembaeva, Evgenia Kim, Sergey Stifonov, Asiya Bareeva, 12Storeez, Asya Malberstein, I Am, Sorry I Am Not, Dima Neu, Gourji, Bohemique, Graviteigt, Brusnika, Hooligansimachev, Ysya Minochkina, Evgenia Linovich, Kseniya Seraya, A La Russe and AR Nuvo.
To find out more about the Fashion Factory head here.
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