EDITOR'S LETTER 2011...

...that path which brought us here

by Stefan Siegel
As we prepare this week’s E-commerce strategy, organise social media competitions and brand collaborations, analyse user/designer behaviours on NJAL and begin scheduling the many scouting and lecturing trips for January, I can’t help but think, ‘Wow, have we grown up, have we become corporate?’ To answer these questions, join me as I look back at 2011; a year that certainly featured many interesting and challenging aspects for our small company.

I often think we’d be more successful if we planned out everything, and if our business plan made complete (commercial) sense. Funnily, the only thing I know is where I want to take the company on a long-term basis; I know how the company will be structured in 5-10 years. That gives me an idea of our road ahead, a straight line with its ups and downs, and most of all, it gives me the possibility to distinguish between the right and wrong decisions. However, and I do not mean to be sarcastic, we usually don’t have a plan for the year to come.

This year I write the third edition of my editor’s letter, and once again, looking back it all makes sense. All the ideas we had, and the ones we decided to abandon; the uncertainties, times when things did not work out. At Christmas I feel like we are able to look in to the past and check if we walked on that straight line. Did we leave the path to accept an opportunity that might have been too commercial for us, did we choose profit before integrity, and did we choose greed before legitimacy? I am proud to say, we did not.

And yes we could have monetised our database, we could have accepted investments from people who do not share our vision, we could have diluted our brand with meaningless collaborations, and put the intellectual property of our designers at risk for short term profit.

But what is left when you sell what is most dear to you? In an economic climate that shows the vulnerability of a system carved out of the essence of life, specifically in fashion, high streets and commercial brands, hold on to retail systems that no longer work. After a decade of being over-exposed, over-saturated and over-whelmed, we desperately need business models which are simply based on common sense.

This year alone my colleagues and I have visited over 30 countries, we have scouted and met over 2,500 new emerging designers, we have lectured to over 10,000 students and creatives, with one goal: let young people with ideas know that they can be heard, that in the wake of a crisis, there is a huge market out there craving for the next talent to make them marvel, smile, dream and even cry.

Changing the world is not an option I always say, it is an obligation, at least to try. This is what a recession is for.

At NOT JUST A LABEL we did our best to exemplify this theory. I was humbled to meet the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his team in early January to commence working on what would become Tech City London. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, we were invited into a small circle to help the existing cluster of tech-digital and creative companies in East London flourish. Tech City stretches out from the financial heart of the City of London to Stratford and the Olympic Park in East London. NJAL, with over 800 young designers based in East London, is playing a crucial role in this initiative.

However life as an entrepreneur is not always as glamorous as visiting Number 10 Downing Street – I never thought you could get used to hanging out there – we also worked long hours to re-launch our website in May 2011. The 6 months of hard work paid off, and we also felt we became a little bit older, slightly more professional. Our media partners were now constantly those considered as leading fashion bibles around the world, and we even went on to organize a full-scale showroom during Milan Fashion Week in collaboration with Pitti and Vogue Italia. And then there were the awards, the E-tail Awards, the Global Fashion Awards, the Drapers Fashion Awards…

Numerous projects and opportunities, the latest one with our friends at Wallpaper* magazine, gave designers ways to gain exposure, increase sales and grow their business independently, without having to opt for dubious support models which seem so common today – not only in London, but anywhere where people with the means, but without the creative understanding, thought they’d take a piece of the (emerging talent) cake.

So where are we now? NJAL today counts 15 fantastic individuals that make this dream come true, and we represent 7,615 emerging fashion designers from 93 countries on our platform. And while we are at it, why don’t we brag a little. Together, NJAL and our designers have impressed and enchanted over 4 million unique visitors on our site this year alone. Together we have sent thousands of parcels to customers believing a piece of a young design talent is more valuable than any high-street piece of clothing. An estimate of over £50m has been turned around by all our designers and our e-commerce business, together, on a global basis, this year alone!

Why not continue while we are at it; 86% of all showcasing events at London Fashion Week in September 2011 included NJAL designers, three years ago there were only a handful. And while Financial Times said that ‘a gamut of leading designers have found immediate success after appearing on NJAL’, some of our earliest members such as Mary Katrantzou, Rad Hourani and Damir Doma, have grown into established brands, proving there is indeed a market for individuality, fresh ideas and authentic luxury in fashion.

So where will we go in 2012? I don’t know my dear Black Sheep, but trust me, we will stay on that path which brought us here…

Merry Christmas everyone,

Stefan and the entire NJAL Team.