Cynthia Rowley, Fern Mallis, Bibhu Mohapatra’s Tips for Young Designers

At last week’s Afingo Fashion Forum, heavy-hitters like Fern Mallis, Cynthia Rowley, and Julie Gilhart gathered to weigh in on everything from sustainability to social media. Here are some of the highlights.

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Jenni Avins / Thread NY
At the Afingo Fashion Forum, heavy-hitters like Fern Mallis, Julie Gilhart, and Cynthia Rowley (pictured above) discussed everything from sustainability to social media. Rowley talked about her brand's ever-widening expansion which (in addition to ready-to-wear) includes books, band-aids, wetsuits, and mobile art installations. "I think it would be so boring to just do clothes," said the designer. "I always think it could be more, or better, or something else." The one aspect of personal branding that pushes her near the edge? Tweeting, she said. "I'm busy!"
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Clint Spaulding
Jennifer Hyman, founder of industry game-changer Rent the Runway, said she wanted to “break down the glass wall” between women and their dream clothing. "You are good enough to wear that Proenza Schouler dress tonight," she said, "just because you have a date with a guy you really like.”
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Moda Operandi co-founder Aslaug Magnusdottir said her exclusive, web-based trunk shows empower women by giving them the confidence and tools to choose what designer pieces to buy, rather than leaving it up to store buyers to edit.
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Jenni Avins
Julie Gilhart joined the sustainability panel, where she talked about the importance of education over eco-marketing. "It's not about being an eco-designer," she said. "It's about being a good designer." She said her strategy for more sustainable fashion is about getting the "big guys" like H&MNike, Wal-Mart, and the Gap to act more responsibly, without forgetting "the fabulousness of it all," as represented by the Costello Tagliapietra designers seated beside her. (Check out our video for more of Gilhart's comments on the topic.)
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Jenni Avins
Costello Tagliapetra’s Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra talked about integrating more sustainable production practices, like Air Dye, a dyeing technique that saves about 70 gallons of water per dress. "There's no negative impact on the environment," said Tagliapietra. "But also, on the brand," interjected Costello, making the point that environmentally-friendly techniques must also yield good aesthetic results.
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Jenni Avins
Lisa Salzer, the founder of jewelry brand Lulu Frost said her 80 percent of her line incorporates a vintage, one-of-a-kind element, standing apart from the trend toward mass-produced fast fashion. She said brands like J.Crew are starting to invest the time and money it takes to "find beauty in old things," even though it requires more work on the part of the retailer.n"It's do-able," Salzer said. "You just have to commit to it from the beginning of the process."
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Jenni Avins
Fern Mallis, sat down with (from left to right) Randi Packard, Fashion Editor of Real Simple, and designers Steven Cox and Daniel Silver of Duckie Brown, Adam Lippes of Adam, Miguelina Gambaccini of Miguelina, and Thread favorite Bibhu Mohapatra to share stories and advice with aspiring designers in the audience. Mallis, the no-nonsense founder of NY Fashion Week as we know it, knows a thing or two about success in the industry: "My advice, the first advice, is be nice. It's a very unique trait and it's an admirable trait," she said. "At the end of the day you want to business with people that you like." And after that? "Edit. We don't need to see eight of the same thing in different colors."
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Jenni Avins
"From the first time I saw the Duran Duran video 'Rio,' I was like, 'What is this fashion thing?'" said Duckie Brown designer Daniel Silver (right). But he said it took him 34 years to believe he was good enough to start his own line, Duckie Brown, with partner Steven Cox, seated beside him. "There's no 'right time,'" said Cox. "There's the right time for you."
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Jenni Avins
Miguelina's Miguelina Gambaccini said when her first fabric supplier bit the dust, she called Johnson & Johnson, to buy bandage material to make her body-conscious dresses. When they told her they had a version with stretch, "I said, 'Great! Send me that! I can also do bathing suits!'" Unfortunately, the pieces promptly began ripping after she sold them to Fred Segal, her first customer. "You can get in a lot of trouble," she warned overzealous young designers in the audience.
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Jenni Avins
Bibhu Mohapatra said when he graduated from FIT (his final show there was on the same stage as the panel), he took a stack of resumés to the Garment District's busiest buildings and dropped them off "like people drop off menus." It may sound like a silly strategy, but it got him an internship with Halston. Mohapatra then worked with J Mendel for nine years before starting his own line in 2009.
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Jenni Avins
Adam Lippes said he got his big break when Oprah called and asked for two dozen of his tee-shirts. "She was on speaker," the designer remembered. "I was like, 'I'm sorry, can you repeat your name?'" Lippes was later invited to appear on the talk show, an experience he described as a blessing and a curse. Although awareness of his brand skyrocketed, he said he simply wasn't equipped to make good on all the orders he received as a result of Oprah's endorsement.
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