New York-based design firm Nicholas K has had a pretty stellar run this year.
After expanding into its first international market in Milan, Italy, the company, which is helmed by brother-and-sister duo Christopher and Nicholas Kunz, reported a sales increase of 50 percent. Nicholas K launched in 2004, and debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2011. The brand graced the silver screen in 2013, when Jennifer Lawrence sported its "Nova" jacket in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Nicholas K's most recent collection was featured alongside iconic Italian fashion houses, like Versace and Georgio Armani, as thirty models paraded down the runway at Milan Fashion Week. Kunz explains the woman she had in mind while designing the collection, which is blended in earthy tones of brown, green, and gray: She's strong and edgy, like an "urban nomad."
It must look like such a glamorous life for the designer-duo. But a naked eye never would've seen the demanding challenges of bringing a collection from one destination to another overseas.
Before the actual show in Milan, the siblings' warehouse back in the U.S. was replete with fabrics and leathers, which had to go through customs. (Some countries have strict rules about importing and exporting materials.)
Ahead of time, garment prototypes were shipped to Nicholas K's offices from a factory, which was subject to change depending on the company's ratio of commercial to runway items. An external PR office and design team was on call, working wonders to help the brand adapt to fashion's new, more sophisticated aesthetic market.
In brief, these are the details that go into producing a fashion show, or preparing any collection for entry into the global marketplace.
Nicholas K, luckily, had a shipping partner to help, having won the 2014 "DHL Exported" contest. Each year, the shipping and logistics giant solicits entries from U.S. designers who want to debut their collections in a new country. DHL, who is also an official partner of New York Fashion Week, clocked in 150 entries last year.
The winning brand or designer with the best international business model receives support -- at little to no cost -- with marketing, PR, shipping and logistics. In addition, they're guaranteed a slot at the international trade show of their choice (London, Paris, Milan, or Tokyo).
"DHL has had a longstanding partnership with Fashion Week," says DHL Northeast General Manager, Greg Hewitt. "[Fashion] is a very international vertical because the entire production process takes place all across the world, from design to samples to prototypes to the collections being delivered," he adds.
There are plenty of gritty questions that need to be asked before any designer prepares to go international. In case you don't have a shipping partner like DHL to do the hard work for you, here are the essential details to know before even considering dipping a toe in global waters:
1. Establish a retail presence.
Ahead of an international fashion show, the most important thing a brand needs to do is to calculate the associated costs.
In the "DHL Exported" winner selection process, Hewitt says he looks for a brand with a clear retail strategy. That means having distributors, a plan for selling online, and an understanding of where and how the garments are being made. Depending on the type of brand (i.e., a boutique designer vs. a large, already-established company) that model may look different.
He also looks at where materials are coming from, and whether or not they will ship fast enough. Do you have your own external warehouse, as Nicholas K does, or are you small enough to receive shipments at your local office?
Kunz began preparing for Milan's Fashion Week as much as four months in advance. She sent selected designs to their factories, chose fabrics, and received prototypes, while also working on the associated merchandise collection from home.
One important factor, she says, is whether or not your brand actually has sufficient funds to put on a show in the first place. A certain amount of revenues guaranteed from commercial sales will be required, since one venue alone can cost you up to $30,000.
The commercial collection needs to be distinct from the runway collection. Blacks, for instance, tend to sell big in retail, but rarely fly at Fashion Week. A trendy floor-length trench coat, similarly, may have trouble selling online.
"[Fashion Week] is not for a brand that hasn't had a lot of interaction with whole sale customers," Kunz adds. It's important to build a commercial presence first.
2. Know your target market.
Kunz was well aware of the difference between the U.S. and Italian fashion markets, which allowed her brand adapted swiftly. "We added a few dressier pieces into the collection [because it's] a different feeling in Milan," she explains.
As always, it's important to remember the massive spending potential of your social media platforms. "Start early," Kunz advises.
She found that with the increased visibility of Nicholas K at Milan Fashion Week--particularly through popular portals like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook--U.S. sales hiked.
3. Don't outsource at the beginning.
It can be tempting to outsource some of the nitty gritty details to a third party. This is common in any business startup. Kunz argues, however, that it's a misstep. She advises brands to develop an understanding of how things work first, so they are aware of the possible snags in the future.
Consider, for instance, that some countries have strict regulations when it comes to exporting or importing animal products. If that's something you're planning on incorporating into your collection, you'll want to avoid sourcing from the wrong locations. Otherwise, you may risk missing out on a crucial shipment.
Once you have a firm understanding of your cost of goods, shipping, and how long the process will generally take, it might be a good idea bring on a partner like DHL. The company deploys trucks and planes in 220 countries worldwide.
As for Nicholas K, the brand is already moving into its next stylistic phase. Kunz hints that we will see more pop-up shops, editorial shoots and items that show off an edgier version of the "outdoor escape" look.