December 16, 2015
Not Just A Label, the fostering pioneers in contemporary fashion, lands in New York
franz met (once again) Stefan Siegel, founder and CEO of Not Just A Label NJAL, to learn more about his distinctive creative project aiming at the discovery and support of young talented fashion designers. From Meran to Venice drifting through Austria, Switzerland and the US, Stefan has gained experience in the fashion and media industries through his career as a model and then carried on to work for prestigious design houses and advertising agencies. In 2008 he founded NJAL with the support of his brother and has since then transformed the London-based company into a leading platform for emerging fashion designers. With a startling future ahead it seems timely to discover more about the origins and ethos of this made-in-South Tyrol pioneering project that has taken over the world of contemporary fashion.
Not Just a Label (NJAL) has gathered 20,000 new and established designers into one online marketplace where users can find a considerable variety of labels. How does the selection process of new brands and designers take place, especially in hard-to-reach regions of the world?
Our scouting team travels the world to visit fashion weeks, events, awards, and graduate shows to meet and engage with promising new talents. Meeting people face to face, and building real relationships is very important to us. We look for designers that favour quality and craftsmanship, and importantly, have something special and unique to say about the fashion industry.
In politically difficult countries like Ukraine and Lebanon, where creativity is being stifled through trade embargoes and an unstable economy, NJAL has circumvented these hurdles to support the development of fashion creativity there. In addition, NJAL conducts workshops, seminars, talks and panel discussions globally to promote and develop emerging fashion design businesses. All of these activities support a mission of building a transparent, and supportive industry where luxury businesses, emerging designers and related industries can share expertise and interact.
Unlike other online retail companies, NJAL designers keep 70% of each sale. Do you also provide PR services and help in developing e-commerce strategies to sustain the work of young promising designers?
At the end of the day, the heart of what we do is about promoting designers. The question before any project is how do our designers benefit from it. The range of services NJAL offers is important, as our designers work in so many different environments, in fashion industries all over the world that work in vastly different ways. Through our project management work, we have been able to create a pop-up store at the Waldorf Astoria New York that showcases 100 emerging designers that produce and design their collections entirely within the city. NJAL seems to be aiming at the elimination of fashion’s numerous middle men by trying to reduce the considerable environmental impacts of industrial clothing manufacture and enable designers to create sustainably from all over the world. Which strategies do you adopt in order to encourage the production of a smaller number of well-made goods?
An important part of our business model is that we don’t hold stock. The product is sent directly from designer to consumer, which allows for real relationships between designers and clients, and a greater appreciation - we’re there to facilitate that. That way designers have a much higher profit margin, and the funds will be reinvested in their local ecosystems and in regional production.
How do you manage to satisfy the specific demands of inward looking markets which are reluctant to Western aesthetics? How do for instance, countries such as India or the Arab peninsula respond to contemporary fashion dictats coming from the US or Europe?
The NJAL ethos transcends the idea of traditional trends. Our designers are ahead of the curve when it comes to that and span the entire globe. As such we are not limited by the notion of Western style or image, which in turn prevents designers from feeling at all alienated if they don’t fit into those ‘ideals’.
It seems that the youngest generations of newly-graduates from the most prestigious international fashion colleges do not take into consideration Italian manufacture anymore. Would you ascribe this to the inability of our country to promote its resources abroad or to the employment of low quality manufacture in connection to greater economic savings?
Actually there is rising industry consensus that the rationale for sourcing from low cost countries is weakening. Technological developments in advanced manufacturing are enabling companies to improve productivity and boost production at lower energy and material cost. I recently came back from a Forum for fashion and high-end industries at the European Commission in Brussels where there was clear stakeholder and supranational interest in strengthening Europe’s existing industrial base and promoting reshoring. And in terms of boosting competitiveness in Europe, NJAL has certainly strived to play their part. We have done this through several of our projects, most recently the recent Origin Fair in Italy that we organized in partnership with the Fiera di Vicenza. This was where we brought together 100 of Italy’s most distinguished manufacturers and suppliers with 100 of NJAL’s innovative fashion talent from across five continents. 6 million tons of clothing are produced in a country like the UK each year, 50% of which winds up in a landfill. How does NJAL try to promote the use of environmentally-friendly materials, like organic wool or cotton?
The key for sustainability is opting for and investing in high quality garments and techniques. That may not be as simple as buying an organic cotton t-shirt but comparing materials, sourcing and how long it will last. It is about understanding the balance between something that you adore enough to keep forever and knowing it has been produced in the most environmentally-friendly way.
It seems that the major hurdle NJAL has to overcome lies in the higher levels of the fashion industry, being those in a position of power the ones perpetrating the unjust mechanisms you try to counter. How do you manage to be against the wind the whole time?
I want to see more transparency in an industry where young creative talent and independent designers may be lost in all the noise and speed of the high street and big brand games. We connect the customer directly to the designer and that’s another step in reconnecting the broken links in the supply chain, and it has the capacity to educate the consumer on every facet of a garment’s production process. The NJAL platform serves as a gateway of opportunity to young talent, and also just as importantly its model encourages an ecosystem of cultural diversity. I want to empower people to step outside the enshrined structure and be able to run small companies across the globe while creating an ecosystem in which these labels can flourish.
You just opened a new shop in New York on December, 4th. Temporary shops are a low-risk model operating everywhere around the world now. Is your strategy however a way of testing the grounds to verify if what you sell could be potentially retailed permanently rather than just a common way of opening a mere “pop-up store”?
These things are always a possibility, however our physical projects are always more multi-functional than that. We operate a retail outlet for designers but also run workshops to discuss the industry and facilitate a way for the designers themselves to directly reach their customers. That’s the main priority for us.
Photo Credits: Not Just A Label