What does a typical day, if there is such a thing for a fashion designer?
SIMOYI: A typical day for me consists of a mix of design, production, merchandising, factory, and marketing meetings. It takes all of these departments working harmoniously to create just one garment. So, depending on how far we are into the development the collection of each season, dictates which departments I work closely with. We just launched the Nicki Minaj Spring 2015 collection on February 1st, so prior to that launch we spent weeks working with models, stylists, make-up artists, hairstylists, photographers on the photoshoot to create look-books (collection of images compiled to showcase a clothing line) for the press, media, stylists as well as for our e-commerce store.
From conception to a consumer actually making a retail purchase, please describe for us the value chain for a brand such as Nicki Minaj?
SIMOYI: A brand at the level of Nicki Minaj requires a high level of professionals all working together. The season begins with our Creative Director, Kiki Peterson, who creates the direction for the season through ideas inspired by Nicki Minaj. The role of a Creative Director is crucial because they set the tone for an entire season which is broken down into Fall, Holiday, Spring, Summer. From there, my role as Senior Designer comes in to play as I have to design for each season within the creative direction given to me by Kiki, my Creative Director. We build the creative story of the collection at this point and it is a collaborative and iterative process between Kiki and myself, until I hand off the agreed-upon and approved sketches (by Nicki) to our Production team. The Production team reviews all designs and fabrications and decides which region of the world each garment will be produced; here in the USA, in China, India etc. They factor in the capabilities of the factories, the fabrications, and the difficulty of the design in determining and deciding which factory gets a specific design. After we receive our samples, our Merchandising team will then build a story of the collection at the retail level. Within a collection, there are mini collections; the merchandising team will put together mini collections so that when the customer is shopping, they have a clear point of view of the brand. When the collection arrives at a K-Mart store, the inventory team at the retail level unpacks the shipments and starts filling the store with merchandise. At the same time the Visual Merchandising team dress the mannequins with the new looks, updating store visuals, images, music, and interactive monitors to reflect the launch of the new season. The inventory and visual merchandising teams at retail level work late into the night when stores are closed. The next morning when stores open, customers are welcomed with the fresh look of the new collection.
The fashion industry is very competitive; how is the Nicki Minaj collection performing; what are the sales revenues for the line? What is the demographics of her target audience?
SIMOYI: The Nicki Minaj Collection is doing very well. I am on the creative side and not on the business side therefore I do not have our sales revenue numbers. We are Junior/Contemporary brand, so our target market ranges from teens to adults. We offer silhouettes that are daring, urban chic, but also offer looks that transition from office to after hour event, say cocktail hour.
Beyond the creativity, what does the business of fashion entail? What do fashion designers need to know about the industry beyond being able to design or having a degree in Fashion & Design?
SIMOYI: To run a successful business in fashion it is very important to have a detailed description of who your target market is and break down that target audience into sub-categories. This includes gender, age, income, hobbies, spending habits, career, lifestyle, relationships. I also recommend investing in building these departments for your fashion label:
1. Graphics Department: they develop original print and art designs for your garments that fit within the aesthetic of your brand. They also liaise between designer and production to ensure quality of print and art are executed correctly.
2. Production Department: they allocate designs to factories (for example production will choose to send designs made of silk to India because Indian factories have the best silks, Turkey has the best denim, China has the best spandex, and now many production teams have started allocating and sourcing fabrics from factories in parts of Africa like South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia to name a few). The production team will also negotiate with the factories the cost of producing the garment based on the retail ticket that is provided by the Merchandising Department.
3. Merchandising Department: This department builds the story of the brand at retail level. They work closely with the designer to decide which designs make it in the retail store and the ticket price of the garment. This is based on selling history and the season. If an item sold well last season the Merchandiser will request that the item be reproduced for the new season with slight updates such as color and fabrication.
4. Visual Merchandising Department: The Visual Merchandising team is at the retail level and they use the designer’s aesthetic and the brands target market to create the atmosphere of the store. For example, if a brand caters to women of color, they will most likely use mannequins that reflect the women they are trying to sell to. From mannequins, to lighting, furniture, dressing room mirrors, music, down to the fragrance of the retail store, the Visual Merchandising team, creates it all.
5. Marketing Department: When each season launches, the Marketing Department advertises the collection via social media, television ads, magazine ads with strategy and purpose. If they feel the aesthetic of the brand can be seen through the eyes of a celebrity, then they will hire a celebrity to do marketing campaigns. For example, Kim Kardashian for Balmain or Charlize Theron for Dior Paris. The Marketing team also works closely with the Merchandising Department to decide how to market seasonal sales or discounted items at retail level or online.
6. E-Commerce Team: The E-commerce team is the team behind the brand’s online presence and enable online retail of the brand.
7. Public Relations Department: The Public Relations team is the relationship builder. They find ways to position the brand at consumer level. They assist brands in building relationships with stylists, celebrities, showrooms, and most importantly conveying that story to their customers. The Public Relations team will also bring brands together for cross promoting efforts. For example, the MAC cosmetics and Nicki Minaj collaboration or Alexander Wang and H&Mcollaboration were the work of a Public Relations team building those relationships.
What are your future plans for your line ‘Farai‘?
SIMOYI: My ultimate goal as a fashion designer is to continue to challenge myself creatively and on the business side, collaborate with other brands that I admire. I would like to research new fabrics, develop new silhouettes, find ways to continue to enhance a woman’s figure through my own label and other labels. I keep myself open to new experiences that will inspire future collections.
As a U.S-based fashion designer from Zimbabwe, Africa, what are the challenges someone in your position faces, specifically with your own line?
SIMOYI: Balancing time between working for a major brand (Nicki Minaj collection) and my line (Farai) is one of my biggest challenges. The two brands have very different aesthetics, so I have to be able to switch from Nicki’s world to Farai’s world when I am working on either collection. In 2012, I sold my collection on the major e-tailer ASOSMarketplace. While that was a great learning experience, I was challenged with balancing time between working full-time in the industry and working on my line. Essentially, it was like having two full-time careers, which can be very difficult for a designer that is starting out. Now that I have some years under my belt, I have learned the difference between time versus money; I focus my time on my key strengths. I’ve also learned to not be afraid to ask for help, and to hire people that I trust to help me manage my brand.
Beyonce is known for her work ethic – it is unparalleled! What are the top three business lessons that you learnt from working with Beyonce & her mother, Ms. Tina Knowles?
SIMOYI: The three business lessons I learnt from working with Beyonce are;
1. Trust yourself. Too often we are stunted by our own insecurities and self doubt. Some of the most influential people in music, business, technology, fashion trusted themselves even when no one else did. I repeat, TRUST yourself.
2. Don’t take NO as the final answer. We’ve all heard NO at some point in our careers and we usually walk away saying to ourselves “well at least I tried”. Yes, you tried, but NO does not have to be the final answer. Ask again, but maybe from a different angle. Give the person you are asking options for your request, that way you have a better chance of negotiating the terms and turning your NO into a BIG YES.
3. Set Goals; daily, monthly, annually. You cannot get the level of Beyonce without setting goals, crushing them, and setting higher goals. I make lists of my daily, monthly, annual goals and every time I check something off, it feels so good. I also started making vision boards with images of how I envision my life and things I would like to accomplish for the year; Seeing is believing.
Nicki Minaj is known for taking calculated risks with her brand, in her career and her business. What are the top three branding lessons that you have learnt from working with Nicki Minaj?
SIMOYI: I am learning alot from working on the Nicki Minaj collection. The three branding lessons are;
1. Strategize and Plan. The best way to strategize and plan ahead is envision where you would like to see your brand in the future. Step 1: For example,create a vision board with images and quotes that reflect you and your brand. Add profit goals, product placement goals, and future cross promotion collaborations you would like to do in the future. Step 2: Amalgamate everything on your board onto paper and list everything in chronological order of when everything needs to be accomplished. Step 3: Start delegating the tasks you listed in Step 2 with the help of your team members
2. Capitalize on your originality: Nicki took advantage of the fact that there were few successful female MC’s in music and capitalized on her originality (Nicki is known for her unique look; costumes, wigs). If there is something unique about your brand, then make sure you bring that to the forefront and make it your focus. For example, if the fabric you use for your designs comes from a remote region in the world that you can only get to by foot, let your customers know and allow them to take the journey with you.
3. C.E.O Status: As women we have to claim our seats at the table; Nicki has consistently asserted her presence in a male dominated industry. If your boss asks you to come up with five ideas for the next board meeting, bring ten ideas. If your boss is staying late at the office, stay late with them and offer to help out. Ask your boss out for lunch and build an out of office relationship with them. Simple steps like these can get you noticed out of the crowd and can open doors towards C.E.O status positions.