London Community Ambassador Amanda Foley had a chat with London-based entrepreneur Stefan Siegel of Not Just A Label.
“NOT JUST A LABEL” is all about exposing and promoting newbie fashion designers. Do you have a background in fashion yourself?
I gained experience in the fashion and media industry during my Economics studies. After graduation I joined the world of finance, working among others for Merrill Lynch’s Investment Banking arm in London and New York, focusing on the Consumer & Retail sector. The idea to start something new came when one sunny afternoon I realised I did not want to work for a bank any longer, my brother and I also knew a lot of aspiring designers who were telling us about their difficulties and one thing lead to another. We started NOT JUST A LABEL (NJAL) with no clear immediate revenue model, we just wanted to become a credible platform with a legitimate business reason, money was secondary and it paid off.
Can you tell us a bit about how the site works?
NJAL showcases and nurtures today’s pioneers in contemporary fashion. Working as a digital launch pad for emerging designers, NJAL succeeds in providing a free-of-charge space where talent is showcased to a global audience. After launching in 2008, NJAL was quick to become the fastest growing platform of its kind. With over 9,500 designers in 98 countries, we represent the largest conglomerate on young fashion designers. By insisting that no young designer should be forced to pay a large sum to get the exposure they deserve, we provide designers with an all-encompassing digital space to kick-start their careers. NJAL finds its most supportive partners in the leading design schools, publications and luxury fashion brands; credibility is crucial for our business.
How did you come up with the idea for not just a label?
NOT JUST A LABEL is based on an idea that came to my and my brother Daniel. We realised that the Internet can act as a networking platform for future fashion designers and those who are ready to present and sell their collections to the world. The industry lacked such a platform; we wanted recruiting and trend scouting for fashion designers to be carried out on NJAL without geographical limits… literally a global showcase. Even if we all have strong business backgrounds, we saw this project as rather a cultural experiment. To date we still cannot find the right word to describe our business, perhaps because it has never been done. The actual platform and database was just a start, but combining thousands of creatives around the world made sure that the energy and power of this community evolved into a concept that, I believe, creates more and more opportunities by the day. My personal goal is to demonstrate a new way of doing business, by being completely transparent and disregarding politics and borders, we simply erase old systems, and we act as an accelerator and aggregator and put ‘fashion’ back in the hand of talents and artisans. By doing so, we create a new form of luxury, authentic and sustainable.
Did the stylish City of London play a part in the inspiration to create a network for fashion designers?
Yes, I think I could give you a thousand reasons why London is the right city; schools such as Central St. Martins, London College of Fashion and the Royal College of Art provide the highest education in fashion design, nurturing creativity. Not only do the leading schools in this city provide the right education, but the vibrant ecosystem that is vital for young companies to grow. We are also working with the Government on plans to make East London the international hub for emerging designers. Of course there are enough reasons to leave London too, but this might be food for the next discussion. It is however important to say that fashion has also become a global business, we find designers in the most remote corners of this world and by having a good internet connection and a functioning airport, their reach can be global and their inspiration as well as production local: glocalisation in fashion I guess.
Have any designers reached out to you about positively impacting their careers?
With close to 10,000 designers and a network that is highly dynamic, we can most certainly change careers for designers. Our media partners range from Vogue to Wallpaper*, we organize showcasing opportunities globally and designers now even tell us about collaborating with other members on the platform to reduce production costs, profit from synergies and showcase together. NJAL has already discovered the likes of Damir Doma, Mary Katrantzou, Rad Hourani, and Patrick Mohr. On a monthly basis close to 200 new talents are invited to join NJAL and we herd stable of over 800 ‘Black Sheep’ designers who we believe have the potential to ‘fashion the future’.
You must get to attend a lot of exciting events in the fashion world in London (and elsewhere!). What’s your favourite fashion-related event in London every year?
One might expect me to say Fashion Week. But when you cover over 90,000 miles a year to see every fashion week on the planet, you start appreciating events that are boutique and that have an actual impact for the artisans and creators. Graduate shows are always very exciting, but I also love to visit the universities and lecture during the Industry Presentations at the various colleges.
Finally, what advice would you have for any aspiring entrepreneurs?
I wish I had more time and space, it would be a long list of dos and donts. Just remember that trends come and go, starting up a business is the current plat-du-jour. When you have survived the first couple of years you will realise that running a business is not a lottery, regardless of what VC’s tell you. It is about real people, real values, long-term growth and credibility. Changing the world is never easy, but we are young, the world needs us and we gotta give it a shot with all our hearts.