Shira Sue Carmi, Dan Otero and Rob Spira are the experts behind Launch Collective, a unique business management firm that provides strategic and operational support to fashion companies. Founded by Carmi in 2005, Launch Collective guides young brands and emerging designers looking to launch and grow their businesses through crucial early stage planning and the competitive, hard-to- navigate fashion industry. From providing marketing and financial management, to streamlining production and overseeing merchandise, Carmi, Otero and Spira use their well-rounded entrepreneurial and industry expertise to get up-and-comers and the next-best-things of the fashion world off the ground.
The three of you came together to create Launch Collective. How did you meet?
Shira: I started Launch Collective in 2005 after graduating from Columbia Business School and starting to work with small designers in New York on a variety of strategy and financial projects. Though the clients kept coming and the business kept growing, I felt that at the end of the day, giving them a strategy document wasn’t really solving their issues–they needed help in implementation as well. I was very lucky to have met Dan and Rob almost at the same time, in 2006, and they joined the business shortly after…
Rob: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family but started my career in fashion working for large corporations. After a long career in merchandising at Abercrombie & Fitch, Club Monaco and Ralph Lauren, I was ready to take the knowledge and skills I developed and begin working for myself. I met Shira and realized young designers needed a lot of support on merchandising and production, which were my areas of expertise. I joined Launch Collective soon after and was able to help create some amazing product and put in processes for production and sourcing that these young brands would never have been able to implement on their own.
Dan: I came to it from a much more entrepreneurial background. After graduating from Parsons’ Design & Management program, I started my own collection, Miguel Pena, with two partners and launched it in Bloomingdales. After exiting that business and selling my stake to my partners, I began consulting with different small brands on bringing their concept to market. Shira and I began collaborating on a few projects and we never looked back…
How do your vast backgrounds contribute to your business?
Shira: Our company was built as a collective of people with very different backgrounds and experiences, but with a very similar philosophy and vision–that is, how we are able to work together on all the different aspects of an emerging business and bring various expertise to the table. I head up the Finance & Strategy team, where we do big picture, multi-year strategy as well as month-to-month bookkeeping and financial management.
Rob: My team draws a lot on my experience at Abercrombie & Fitch, where as a merchant I also headed up production for my businesses. Currently, I hire experienced technical designers to serve as production managers for our clients, while I oversee the sourcing relationships and the merchandising of the lines.
Dan: My team and I are responsible for all the day-to-day functions that get a brand off the ground–from sales and PR, to fashion week presentations and photoshoots. As such, we are really amazing project managers, putting together customized teams for each client and overseeing every detail in the process. Obviously, my experience helps me do that, but its also a matter of personality – a get it done, knitty gritty mentality that you just cannot teach.
Do all of you work directly with clients?
Shira: We all work directly with clients. One of our early strategic choices was to concentrate on emerging brands and not give into the temptation to work with bigger and bigger clients. Although we’ve had large corporations come to us–such as Nordstrom and the Otto Group fro Germany–we always worked with them on launch projects of new brands or concepts. Working with small clients means keeping costs tight and staffing lean–which means we are intimately involved and hands-on with every client that works with us.
How is Launch Collective different than a public relations agency? If a brand has separate PR services, how do you work together to coordinate the brand presence?
Dan: Funny enough, PR is actually one of the ONLY services we do not offer in house. All of the services we offer–from marketing management, production, operations and finance–stemmed from clients asking us for certain things that we didn’t know whom to refer them to, so we just ended up building them up in house. PR is one of the functions we could always outsource to one of the many wonderful firms we use regularly and are very close with. They work on getting editorial exposure and brand presence while we manage all the day-to-day operations and strategy for the clients.
At what point do clients illicit your services?
Shira: We have two types of clients. We have clients who come to us at the “napkin” phase–with little more than an idea and vision. We then help them create a strategy, fundraise, develop a collection, brand and market it, bring it out to market and manage the first few seasons. Those are our incubation clients and we usually work with them from pre-launch for 3-4 seasons, until we help them phase out and set up their own infrastructure and team.
The second type come to us when they are more established, usually $1-10MM in revenue, and we help them on specific areas they need backup on–strategy, financial management, retail rollout etc.
What do you notice is missing most from a brand’s creative message?
Rob: I think the most important part is a real sense of identity and a differentiated point of view in the market. A reason for being that either answers an existing customer need or creates a new customer desire. But it has to be targeted, different, and–at least to some degree–commercial.
How do you measure your client’s success?
Shira: In two ways. One is obviously financial success, i.e., generating revenue first and generating profit soon after. Our first goal is always to achieve profitability, and that usually entails reaching a certain critical sales volume. Second, which is even more important, is how satisfied the client is with their business and the realization of their vision. Is this becoming the business and brand they truly wanted to build? That is always the first question we ask every client–what business do YOU want to build and the answers varies. Regardless if they want a multi-million dollar luxury brand or a small, profitable and respected company, our job is to get them closer on that track.
On average how long do brand’s tend to work with you?
Dan: It varies–some only use us for launch or around specific milestones in their growth, and with some we have been working for years. With those clients who we develop a meaningful partnership, we often layer on a deeper equity relationship that ensures we are there for the long run.
Do you believe brands need managers they way actors and musicians do?
Shira: Absolutely. We think it’s strange and unfortunate that while every other creative industry has an existing business infrastructure to support creative–managers, agents, movie studios, record labels, publishers and gallerists–fashion does not. Designers are expected to handle production, marketing, operations and sales, which they may not know or have the skills to do. And good luck finding time to design under those circumstances! Our company was really built to provide a solution for this.
In what way do you hope do grow the Launch Collective in the coming years?
Shira: We would love to stay small and just continue working closely with a small number of brands, really helping them build meaningful businesses.
Dan: I definitely see us opening offices in other locations–I think Los Angeles in particular is filled with amazing talent that could use our help.