BPMW founders Minya Quirk, Deirdre Maloney and Edina Sultanik Silver are the masterminds behind Capsule, a global fashion trade fair that features highly-edited collections from the best progressive brands and independent designers from around the world. Founded in 2007, Capsule was born out of BPMW, the trio’s full service fashion consultancy that offers a wide array of services ranging from wholesale showroom to public relations for emerging, independent designers. Capsule takes place 12 times a year in New York, Paris, Berlin and Las Vegas, and has already made a huge impact on the industry in featuring the world’s most innovative and sought-after brands.
BPMW was your first business together—how and when did that come about?
ESS: Back in 2003, I was a fashion editor covering the young designer market around the world. I was tired of the corporate world and wanted to start my own thing where I could help young designers develop their businesses. Minya was one of the most knowledgeable, and most fun people I knew in the industry. We began discussing the possibility of launching our own company. We finally decided to test the waters and organized a fashion show for four emerging menswear brands. The rest was history.
DM: Edina and Minya were journalists, and I was a buyer at Bloomingdale’s, so we knew each other peripherally through the industry. They put together a multi-label menswear runway presentation during fashion week for emerging designers and invited me to come. It was the first time I had been invited to a show for brands I hadn’t heard about that I actually liked. I thought they were on to something from a business standpoint. So we started meeting to talk about how we might be able to work together and a partnership was born.
MQ: I got tired of covering the industry from a journalist’s POV, and Edina and I thought we could contribute more than reporting, to a bunch of aspiring, exciting designers we identified as the next big thing. We loved trend forecasting, style photography, the creative side of editing, but also the business side of which we had learned so much from working for trade papers. We thought that BPMW could satisfy all of our interests and skills. When we started we saw a big opportunity in menswear — it was just a smidgeon of what it is today. We rented an office in the Meatpacking District just as the gentrification went full tilt over there. Thom Browne and Alexander Plokhov with Cloak, were both in the building. There were no menswear blogs. It was an exciting time.
Who are some of your clients?
DM: On the sales side we represent Mark McNairy, Norse Projects, Penfield, Mismo, Shades of Grey by Micah Cohen, Lightning Bolt, Acronym, CE, Head Porter, Laer, Elka, Libertine-Libertine and Kahlo.
ESS: BPMW provides public relations, social media, fashion show and event production for a range of fashion and lifestyle clients including Jack Henry, Shades of Grey by Micah Cohen, Mark McNairy, Lightning Bolt, Wolverine Thousand Mile, Tretorn, and Coney Island Brewery to name a few.
Capsule & BPMW were founded with the goal of helping young designers develop their businesses. How do you do that? What are some of the key strategies for young entrepreneurs looking to make it?
ESS: Entrepreneurs need to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Make sure their strengths are maximized, and if there’s some aspect of the business they’re struggling with, they shouldn’t hesitate to call on mentors, friends or business colleagues to help achieve their vision. Running a small business is tough, and often, fashion designers lack the business skills needed to manage the financial side of a small company. We help our clients with everything from advising on infrastructure and cash flow management to consulting on merchandising strategies. Brand building is a key element in maintaining longevity, and we help our clients create and execute successful public relations plans, brand messaging, events and social media personae to help establish their brand identity in the eye of the consumer.
MQ: We’ve always taken a very individualized approach to servicing clients. It could be that we are strictly placing strategic stories online for a client. But we also go as deep as creating new brand identities, producing content, managing social media, executing marketing or retail plans and more. We service brands of all sizes and so no method or approach is cookie-cutter.
DM: I think having worked in the industry in different capacities, we had the unique experience of coming into contact with thousands of brands, and developed an understanding for what the critical ingredients for success are. Authenticity, good price-value ratio, a consistent point of view and walking that fine line between individuality and salability are a few of the big ones. When we see brands that have those traits, we love to help them get to the next level, whether it be through the platform of a highly curated trade show (Capsule), or through assistance in sales or public relations. Not all great designers know how to sell, or promote themselves or get into the right retailers. We do, so it’s a good fit.
BPMW has remained independently owned and operated. What are the benefits of this, in your opinion? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a small business, and how have you managed to make it to 9 years in business? What is some advice you’d give to someone launching a small fashion business now?
MQ: Doing your own thing is tremendously rewarding. Not only can you stretch yourself by doing and trying new things all the time, you can get things done very quickly. We’ve had successes and we’ve had failures in parts of our business. It’s what makes our path ours. My advice to someone launching something of their own, would be to be willing to take risks (within reason) and like Nike said—just do it.
DM: I don’t think any of us has the temperament for working for someone. We all have very entrepreneurial spirits, and love to dive into new projects without being constrained by red tape. To me, that freedom is definitely the best part. Have there been times where having deep pockets or political muscle behind us would have been helpful? Absolutely. But in the end, we have always figured out how to get it done, and I think that resourcefulness and scrappiness has made us that much stronger business wise.
ESS: As the ladies mentioned, we’re each very entrepreneurial, and love running things. None of us were truly suited to corporate life. From the standpoint of being a working mom, having the flexible schedule that running my own business gives me is also very liberating. I’d say to anyone contemplating starting a business – identify a need in the marketplace, know your goals, and keep your eyes on the prize. And go for it!
What makes BPMW different to other agencies?
DM: We take brands that we believe in, like, and want to see succeed. We do not take clients just because they can pay us a lot of money, regardless of the product.
MQ: We’re definitely not your average agency. It’s like a family here. We put egos aside and make sure that we consistently deliver great results and products. I think when people come in and meet with us, they either have a very strong gut instinct that we are the right firm for them, or they don’t. And that’s ok. We have a strong identity and I’m proud of that.
ESS: We’re like a crazy, fun loving family, with a very distinct culture that’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. As far as how we work however, we’re quick, nimble and very results-oriented. We like to deliver successes to our clients. Additionally, I don’t think there’s another agency out there that offers everything that we offer—from business consulting, to sales, PR, events, content, branding, social media, trade shows, and a blog www.wearethemarket.com, which is a must read for our community of industry insiders worldwide.
Why did you launch Capsule?
ESS: When we launched BPMW, our first client was a trade show! We always enjoyed going to trade shows, and viewed them as family reunions, where we could see our industry friends and family, catch up on what they’ve been working on, go to some fun parties, and take in the vibes for the season. They’re also cornerstones of the business side of the fashion industry, which makes them not only fun, but also essential for many brands. When we launched our sales showroom, we felt we needed to launch a new kind of trade show that would best spotlight what we saw as a new emerging menswear market. We invited a few friends to join us, and once we had several dozen brands interested in a small, boutique show we launched Capsule.
DM: We launched Capsule because we felt there was no tradeshow format that put emerging brands on the pedestal they deserved. After taking our showroom to one too many tradeshows, and one where we were stuck right next to a 10,000 sq. ft. Ed Hardy booth with girls in bikinis, air horns, and way too much bedazzling; we vowed to come up with an alternative. We wanted to create a show where you didn’t have to pick through 100 bad brands to find one good one. And a show where a brands worth wasn’t valued based on how much they paid for both. Thus, Capsule was born.
MQ: Trade shows can be really fun. They don’t have to be horrible. We just tried to make something great for our friends, and people and brands we love.
How has Capsule changed over the last six years? Do you find buyers attend the trade shows like they used to? What is the selection process for including new designers?
DM: We travel a lot to various cities looking for emerging talent. We also call upon our advisory board of esteemed retailers and press to refer brands that they find in the marketplace. And finally, many brands that now know our reputation, contact us. There is a jury of seven of us in the office that votes on all new brands. Majority rules.
ESS: Capsule has definitely grown over the last 6 years, growing from a small show in an old synagogue on the Lower East Side, to a pretty big event with shows in NY, Paris, Las Vegas and Berlin 12 times a year. We’re definitely leading the market – with the best brands, best vibes, best customer service and of course, the world’s top retailers and editors who attend. We find that trade shows are still very important for buyers, and we’re lucky to be considered by the world’s most respected retailers as an essential stop for completing their seasonal buys.
Which buyers would you guarantee to be walking the show each season?
DM: All of the US major stores visit our shows: Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters. International major stores like Isetan, Beams, Holt Renfrew, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Bon Marche and Galleries Lafayette always support Capsule too.
MQ: We always tout quality over quantity and I think it’s something we consistently deliver. The best buyers in the world need to shop Capsule and they do.
And in addition to BPMW and Capsule, you are also partners in a clothing brand, correct?
DM: About two years ago we joined forces with Mark McNairy, who at the time was designing shoes under his name. We have partnered with him in launching the Mark McNairy clothing line, and it’s been a great ride so far!
ESS: Mark is one of the most talented and innovative menswear designers out there—GQ named him one of the hottest menswear designers of the year—so it’s a thrill to be working so closely with him. We’ve consulted many brands on how to improve their businesses, but with McNairy we can really make a hands-on impact on a small company. We work with Mark on everything from improving his manufacturing, handling the business financials, shooting seasonal campaigns, building an e-commerce site, and producing his runway show each season. That’s in addition to overseeing the collection’s PR and wholesale distribution worldwide.
So, what’s the next project for you three?
DM: Yikes. I would say we have our hands pretty full right now, but then again, that’s never stopped us before. So be on the lookout.
MQ: Just to keep getting better at what we do.
ESS: At BPMW, every day is filled with new challenges and opportunities. Keeping the company moving forward is always what’s next.