Surprise in Brussels
July 4, 2012, Brussels. The speaker that followed my talk was Stefan Siegel, founder of Not Just a Label (www.notjustalabel.com). Dressed elegantly, in a slightly avant-garde manner, he explained his company to an audience of professionals from different sectors of the garment industry. The conference, organised by PROsumer.NET (1), explored the retail innovation trends in fashion products.
I was entirely captivated by his business model and his management style, being the latter visionary, holistic, passionate and pragmatic, all in one. In 4 years (despite the economic turmoil) his company has become the most influential platform of contemporary fashion clothing and accessories in the world.
What is “Not Just a Label”? (NJAL)
Just like myspace propelled many singers and bands into stardom, NJAL is playing the same role for promising fashion designers.
In other words, NJAL is the main global directory of young, talented vogue creators. It is the world’s online landmark showroom. It is the hub or meeting point for the offer and demand of stylish couture on a planetary scale. The content it visualises is that of art shaped into fashion.
The two Siegel brothers, Stefan and Danie, started the venture in 2008, leaving behind orthodox and well-paid jobs. Stefan had fashion experience while Danie had worked with information systems.
Artists who would like to appear in the directory can apply online, and are later analysed by experts. If their work is very good, they are accepted and listed free of charge. Out of these, only the very best shall receive the status of Black Sheep, achieving thus an even greater visibility.
It is a shop, too
NJAL is much more than a showroom where up-and-coming designers can display their collection and profile for free. Since 2009 it is also a market where the Black Sheep can sell directly their unique or limited edition products, made by the artists themselves. The company, that arranges the entire transaction, keeps a commission on the sale.
In 2011, NJAL was awarded the Drapers Etail prize to the best fashion sales web in the UK, because it allowed “nearly unknown designers gain global exposure and commercialisation”.
What customers attain by shopping there is a range of creative products, preselected by famous experts, locally manufactured and handmade by the designer, in limited series or as unique items, each one with their own story and inspiration. All this considering that end customers and authors are in direct contact all the time.
Altogether, a new philosophy and shopping experience of luxury goods is born, grounded in authenticity and sustainability.
This is a good example of how an online shopping experience can be just as rich as that of physical shops. Note, however, that this isn’t achieved by trying to emulate digitally what happens offline.
Several pieces; one system
NJAL discovers and selects the best designers of trendy fashion in two ways:
- By analysing and filtering online applications. Only the very good ones are accepted.
- By proactively visiting the foremost design schools in the world and the young designer catwalks. This way, they can add 200 artists a month to their showcase.
NJAL looks after its burgeoning youth, by accelerating their career through the following services:
- List of job requests, as applied for by designers.
- List of job offers: companies can inform a very exclusive group of artists about their vacancies.
- Request for quote. This allows the potentially commercial interaction between companies and around 1,000 designers by means of a button next to their profile and collection.
- Managerial services for those designers with greatest potential.
- The sale of articles by the most talented in a transparent way.
The firm also undertakes workshops in design colleges, in order to present the latest trends in vogue.
Finally, NJAL also provides consulting services on fashion trends for large companies.
A well-managed dilemma
NJAL masters the management of an important dilemma:
a) The accomplishment of reputation, prestige and credentials by means of:
- Showcasing the best, as it offers a selected and filtered content.
- Using VIPs on occasion, like for instance when selecting products for retail.
b) The attainment of critical mass. This is achieved by democratising good design, providing free exposure to many talented artists, and obtaining in exchange usability and relevance.
“Lego-type” business model
NJAL is the paradigm for “a Lego business-model society” (2)
The firm now performs and combines smartly different activities or micro-functions (“Lego pieces”) that were once developed by other players in the sector.
One of the key tasks is that of curating or commissioning fashion design, currently in the hands of Diane Pernet, a leading voice in the industry. These filtering and organisation functions shall be more and more crucial in the overloaded information world where we live.
NJAL assumes the role of an orchestra conductor: it directs some and yet, has them do.
With these kind of assembled “pieces”, the system allows authors to shine with their own light and causes the traditional modus operandi of the fashion sector to become obsolete.
In a nutshell
NJAL has devised an ecosystem where every element plays different roles, which compose a sustainable business model when integrated. As a result, the company gains the preference of many stakeholders: talented creators, design colleges, fashion companies, specialised media and the public who fancies products with limited commercialisation.
As Diane Pernet asserts, what really matters in an online business is the combination of content and contacts.
(1) PROsumer.NET is the network of European Technology Platforms for design-based consumer good industries and related research.
(2) Author’s own terminology to refer to the possibility of configuring new and non-standard business models by reallocating microfunctions between different players.
Source: Código 84, (Burbujas de Oxígeno)