EDITOR'S LETTER 2010...

...a special note

by Stefan Siegel
Three years ago, during Christmas, 2007 we started developing NOT JUST A LABEL’s heart and soul, what this endeavour was based on, our website itself. Daniel and Simon spent day and night coding what would one day become the platform which allows 5,726 designers in 88 countries to showcase their designs, gain exposure and finance their progression independently. With close to 158 million hits in the past year, on average over 170,000 unique visitors each month, from five continents; we couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present.

In my editor’s letter one year ago, I was enthusiastic that NJAL had developed from an idea and transformed into a reality, from a slick website to an independent e-tailer. So where are we now? In the past twelve months we have been called ‘a grown up start-up’, the ‘Net-A-Porter for emerging designers’, ‘inspirational’, ‘groundbreaking’, ‘genius’… but do we really feel we have matured? Do we feel like ‘we’ve made it’?

Emerging fashion designers have definitely become the new thing this year. They have been progressively gaining more notoriety. They have become a ‘trend’ - our least favourite word. We feel like we built the bandwagon and set it rolling. Now, everyone wants to be on it.

Three years ago, right at the beginning of the financial crises, it was all about playing it safe, no one took risks. There was no bandwagon. No one ventured out into the unknown. Times have definitely changed. The scarceness of creativity drove the brave to sneak through the cracks and provide us with what we had all been desperately searching for: something different. The fashion industry came out of the recession stronger than ever, dictated by consumers who wanted to buy individuality. From now on, value for money and shopping as a lived experience are what define our consumer’s desires, so much so that established brands have started looking for ways to be different, to be unique, ways to reach out and emulate those brave, young designers who changed the industry.

These young designers are absolutely unique, they produce in small quantities, and they guarantee a fresh wind over a saturated market. Our online shop has grown substantially over the past 12 months, it seemed consumers this year did not need the celebrities to curate a selection. They did not need to be persuaded by legend and glamour. No, they were specifically looking for creations they had never seen before. They wanted designers and collections that were new and different, that would make them stand out in a crowd, not blend in.

So who else has jumped on this bandwagon of late? Well, let me tell you about competition. This is something we had not spoken about in the first two years since our launch. On a weekly basis we have been following the launch of social networks, showcasing platforms, crowd funding schemes, online shops all focused on emerging fashion designers. Our thus called ‘competitors list’ now counts over 50 companies worldwide who in some way or another stand for the same things we do.

So is this a good thing, for us, for the designers? How does NJAL stand out? We feel it is fantastic that the Internet is finally being used to its potential and to break the old habits of the fashion industry. We know there is huge opportunity and the spotlight needs to be put on the young artists in every creative industry. It seems everyone wants a piece of the action to call his own. This should not be a feud. Not us against them, but all together as one, working for what we believe in, working, not for ourselves but for the talent we support. Things need to change. This unhealthy, static behaviour counteracts the innovation and creativity we have all founded platforms on.

The important thing is to remain honest. A person or institution of integrity, with the goal to develop a business without selling one’s own grandmother is what is truly needed to maintain the right ideology. The past year has also shown us some aspects of the industry we will have to fight against in the years to come. High street retailers blatantly copy young designers’ pieces, and if collaborating with them forcing them to sign licence agreements which to our lawyers seemed more of a joke than an official document. PR agencies charging outrageous fees for absolutely no service. Or as last month, a very well known UK high street online shop copying the entire design of our website, then accusing us of stealing their ideas. We must have seen it all by now.

While so many tools these days help designers gain exposure, our goal for years to come, is to become an integral part of the brand development of these designers. By offering them crucial advisory and coaching services, selectively investing in them, defending their rights on a global basis and helping promote their ideas. NJAL will be taken to the next level, and we will take the designers we support with us. This is how we want to stand out, reduce the useless, eliminate the BS, and finally make some changes without being afraid. We will start the next generation of those who are brave enough to push through and take the risk of doing something completely new.

For us this is not a one-season party, we are here for good, with professionalism, understanding, and support, with the aim to pop this fashion bubble and share its content with the world.

We are very excited, and would not only like to thank all our designers, shoppers, collaborators and visitors for the support you have given us in the past year, but to invite every one of you to join us on this exciting ride. As Cecil Beaton said, ‘Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.’

Merry Christmas,

Stefan and the NJAL Team