Editor's Letter 2012...

...the creative engine room, the driving force and reactor that made this steep climb possible.

by Stefan Siegel
I have travelled 110,000 kilometres across four continents, attended close to 400 fashion shows, scouted over 3,000 emerging designers and spoke to thousands of creatives at lectures and talks in 23 countries. I hired talented people, and had to let less talented go; I lost close partners, and gained self-respect. I was inspired by creatives while losing faith in others. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost; we made a lot of money but fought hard for every penny, in order to develop the global phenomenon that NJAL had become. Join me in looking back: 2012, a roller coaster year for the Black Sheep.

This summer, one of our American designers sent me a message asking me if I was aware of the full extent and impact we are having on designers' lives: "You are not just helping us designers and artists... but now our personal stories will be the ones that will help so many people choose to stop living the lie, and choose to follow their dreams." Perhaps I am not aware, and perhaps that is a good thing considering my unpredictable ego. However, by travelling so much I have been privileged to glimpse into the engine room of NJAL, the driving force and reactor that made this steep climb possible.

When you keep meeting individuals who decided to follow their dreams, those who abandon moulds that society has created, you start shuffling the cards of life. What really matters, what counts, how does success come as a consequence of doing what you love? Although it might sound very philosophical to some, I cannot describe the power you gain from working with thousands of people who have chosen to follow their hearts.

Looking back at the year that has passed, it was a tough journey: failed negotiations with potential investors, losing long-term team members, being completely screwed over by the "leading trend-forecasting provider in fashion", the fierce competitors in the online market, endless copyright issues to protect our brand, lost bids and public tenders and finally the exit of a few long-term partners and co-founders of NJAL.

You'd think that by now I'd be an expert in confronting people lacking a backbone, ignoring those who don't believe, or leaving others behind who are not able to grasp the long-term vision. But you can't blame them; they haven't got an engine of over 10,000 creatives behind them. They would not understand.

So let me tell you all more about how it felt to be working for NJAL this year; let me tell you about the exciting trips, the fantastic people we met the world over, and how NJAL has now gained momentum that not even we could stop. We have travelled to the fashion capitals: Paris, Milan, New York; we have also gone to find the talents in more exotic locations: Bombay, Kiev, Belgrade, Tbilisi, São Paulo and Marrakech among many others. We have launched exciting new features on our digital platform, we have partnered with the leading brands and publications of this world. However, the most humbling experience usually was to meet those people who have worked as hard as us, to promote and represent the NOT JUST A LABEL idea and spread the word about independent fashion, authentic luxury and artisanship. Even when meeting these creatives for the first time, we felt part of one global community, sharing equal visions.

No business strategist could come up with the ideas and business opportunities these designers shared with us — and asked us to implement in our Black Sheep venture. The wish list always started with showrooms, trade shows and retail shops, through to ideas such as our own NJAL seed capital fund, sales agency and hard-copy magazines. I won't forget the NJAL Hotels idea including tattoo parlours, which was passionately discussed with a few NYC-based designers over dinner in Paris. All these ideas have potential, and could be flavoured with a completely revolutionary concept, garnished with a disruptive zest and spiced up with a strong will to piss off the establishment. Most importantly, I'd underline them with complete transparency. The future is open source projects that will allow proper quality discussions while leaving politics behind.

Six months ago I would have said, "Let's get back to reality folks", but this Christmas I am proud to announce: "Watch this space!" Despite all the hardships, NJAL has found a small number of visionaries who have decided to facilitate a number of the above-mentioned ideas. Without compromising anything we stand for, these individuals have realised the potential behind our business, and in completely new collaborations, partnerships and open business relationships, they have joined us.

Thanks to them, but especially our designers and my fantastic and dedicated team in our London office, we will confidently progress on this path: challenging, changing, opening horizons and being Black Sheep. I will announce our full plans early next year, and rest assured, they are exciting.

For now, with sparkling eyes, I will return to my beloved mountains and prepare myself for 2013; and so should you. My dear colleagues, designers, readers and followers, have a Merry Christmas and get some rest, for the party that will be 2013!

Stefan and the entire NJAL Team.