Image courtesy Hillary France & Alex Repola
Interview

Hillary France & Alex Repola

05.15.14

Hillary France and Alex Repola are the founders of Brand Assembly, a New York-based start-up that provides back end infrastructure for emerging designers. Using years of entrepreneurial experience in the fashion industry, France and Repola oversee everything from budgets to shipping, allowing designers to present their collections without breaking the bank. Brand Assembly also boasts a bustling trade show component, which featured 60 brands at the Cooper Design Space in Los Angeles’s Fashion District last fall.

Interview

Aside from designing, what do you see as the most important component when executing a new line?

The planning and costing! Not many designers know sales tactics to get the best margin out of a collection. The biggest thing to think about is the price value of a piece and not just what a formula says.

How often do you find that designers don’t have a realistic view of what it takes to actually run a business?

Almost all of the truly creative designers don’t have a realistic view of what it takes to run a business. If you look at all the great brands out there, they are almost always the result of the partnership between a creative person and a business person. This is the very reason we started Brand Assembly, because we recognize that creative talent needs to be supported by a business structure in order to succeed. Our mission statement is “let designers design.”

Do you ever have designers that do get it?

There are a few. Designers that have worked on the corporate end of designing usually know the “business” side as they have had to stick to SKU and costing plans for their garments. Those are actually the designers that get our services right away because they know what they need to have in place to build a brand.

With all the start up costs involved in launching a new line, how can designers best focus on becoming profitable?

There are many factors that lead to profitability. If you had the best product, everyone wanted it and they were willing to pay anything for it, it would be easy to become profitable quickly, but with so much talent working so hard, even the most gifted designer struggles. In a competitive environment, profitability comes from doing things smarter and more efficiently than everyone else.

How many seasons would you say it usually takes?

A brand has the potential to turn a profit early in their growth, but a bare bones infrastructure is going to slow down and possibly hinder their ability to become commercially successful. If structured efficiently and effectively a brand can reach profitability at approximately $3-4M. (And actually pay themselves!)

Brand Assembly first launched trade show services in LA. With market dates on the West Coast being so late, do you find that buyers are still open to placing orders?

We actually see a benefit to LA market being so late in the season. Since buyer budgets are still tight, we have seen a lot of buyers actually finalize their buys at LA market. By the time LA market comes around they have seen the American and European markets in their entirety.

What are the benefits to showing on the West Coast?

Everyone and everything is just a little more relaxed out in LA. It is a great location to end a long buying season. The atmosphere isn’t as rushed or as stressful as many markets are.

Among the many services you provide – planning and development, shipping and logistics, sales and business planning, the list goes on – is there an area you would say is your strongest?

We refer to that area of our business as Managed Services, and we have two core services that are absolutely essential for a brand. They are Order Management and Finance, and that is where we focus a lot of our energy, which makes them our strongest offerings. Order Management involves receiving, processing, invoicing and reconciling orders on behalf of the brand. Finance involves the day-to-day (accounts payable and receivable) as well as budgeting, planning and costing. Those are the areas where we see brands make mistakes that can cause a brand to fail, so that is where we have it down to a science.

Many people work in the fashion industry for all the attention, but you guys are truly people who make it all happen behind the scenes. What excites you most about Brand Assembly?

When the brands we work with get that attention and we are able to support and foster their growth is what excites us most about Brand Assembly! We love to help emerging designers have successful and profitable businesses. That is the biggest reward.