Fashion Business Owner Musings: Why I Don’t Love the Fashion Industry

Have you ever watched the documentary “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s?” I watched it years ago because who doesn’t love the magic and aura that surrounds that little piece of history.

I remember that within 15 minutes of watching, I had probably rolled my eyes four times. What I had anticipated would be nostalgic, historical, and glamorous, was really a display of snobbery and exclusivity.

From the nauseating but harmless statements like, “Oh my god, I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t have those python shorts,” to the more destructive gems like this one from Isaac Mizrahi: “If you’re not selling your work in Bergdorfs, you’re nothing,” it just continued down this path for most of the movie. (The only exception was the coverage of the visual merchandising team creating the iconic Bergdorf windows. There was the magic I was hoping for.)

But this isn’t supposed to be a critique of a documentary. The reason I’m telling you this little story is that watching this documentary reminded me of how much I really don’t like the fashion industry.

At least, the part of the fashion industry that works hard to make people feel insignificant.

The thing is, as aspiring brand owners, you are going to feel a lot of pressure to be in certain stores, get certain press, and grace certain celebrities. And if you aren’t attaining these things, people are going to tell you that your business doesn’t matter, that your work is insignificant, and that you might as well just close up shop.

And that is infuriating.

Because it’s not true.

You may already know that I don’t believe in the traditional fashion industry rules. I don’t believe that there is one must-do way approach to your business. And I certainly don’t believe that if you aren’t in a store like Bergdorfs you aren’t really building a business.  I talk about this a lot in the free class I offer about how to launch your fashion business, even if you have no prior experience.

I believe you can make your own path in the fashion industry by focusing on the things that matter to you, your values, and connecting with customers who share those values.

I talk about it a lot. Because I believe it.

But when I see documentaries like this one, or watch a designer crumble after not getting the nod of approval that they’re after, it reminds me that not enough people are thinking this way.

The fashion industry has been built around aspiration but in the process has constructed a very high wall that keeps out anyone they don’t feel like including.

It’s all very “you can’t sit with us” and it’s dangerous.

Not because it’s not allowed to be aspirational, but because it manages to make those of us who love fashion feel as though we’re not allowed to build a business in it if we’re not going to show at NYFW.

It makes us believe that the work we’re creating is not “fashion” enough and if you’re not getting the notorious nods from the proper people, you’re not actually someone who is “in” the industry but instead someone who is, and most likely always will be, “trying.”

Listen, there are some of you out there with the goal to crash through this wall that the industry has built. You want to show Vogue what you’ve got, produce elaborate runway experiences, and yes, get your work in Bergdorfs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and I wish you all the success in the world.

But for those of you who want to create your work, sell it, and build your fashion business in a different way, this is a reminder that you are a designer, your work does matter, and you can be successful in this industry.

Whether you’re in Bergdorfs or not, your work is significant. Remember that always.

Lots of love and encouragement,

Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

  1. Yoncenia Williams

    Hello Nicole!
    First of all thank you for all of your advice, it has really opened my mind to my capabilities as a Fashion Designer.
    Second, OMG! I felt exactly the same way, actually I was so offended as a new designer that I couldn’t finish watching it. I thought I was watching something that was going to build me up and inspire (The way your advice does) but it just made me feel…small. I thought something was wrong with me, as if I’m not a true fashion designer because I don’t think the way these people think. I love what I do and I’m grateful for my talent as a designer but I don’t eat, sleep and breathe fashion the way these people think I should. It took me awhile to accept that I don’t love the fashion industry but it doesn’t make me less of a designer.
    Thank you!

    • Nicole Giordano

      Hey Yoncenia, I knew I couldn’t be the only one who felt that way about the film! I’m so glad you were able to push past the negativity and focus on doing what you love. 🙂

  2. Ludmila

    this is one great message!

    and btw, I remember seeing ages ago the documentary about Isaac Mizrahi, and then accidentally reading in press that he has been through a financial hell with his label back and forth several times.. and I felt sorry for him… the very industry he has been praying to, was getting over him in a sec…

    and I thought that there’s an army of us, lucky ones, who don’t look for the 15 min of fame but just are happy to make a living by doing what we love…
    and if by chance those 15 min will come to me and go, I thing I will survive..

  3. Farrah Henry

    So happy to have come across this article (musing) today! It’s refreshing to find someone else who feels the way I do, but still wants to be in the industry.

  4. Jacqueline Depaul

    Nicole – this article was wonderful. Every paragraph resonates, and I am not even a designer. I have many designer friends, I am a part time older fashion model, and I am a consumer of fashion- I wear it. In the past I feel many of the same sentiments that you do, down to the fact that now I am in my 40s, I’m not “good enough” either to be advertised to, or spoken to, by the major brands. After 30 you were kicked out of the club so to speak. And you were simply not cool. My designer friends who struggle for acceptance as you describe as sometimes so disheartened. Luckily the landscape seems to be changing a big. Bigger brands are user older women as models. Alternative brands are able to sell by creating a niche or buzz online, or instagram. The future is looking up. This piece you wrote is amazingly well written, I’m going to share it on my fashion Facebook page: #myupfashion , and I signed up for your blog. If you or any of your designers would like to collaboration on creating editorial photo shoots with my team, please send them my way. We are always looking for talent who would like to be featured or try out a new concept. Cheers! Jacqueline Depaul

    • Nicole Giordano

      Hi Jacqueline,

      Thank you for your thoughtful and kind comment. I’m so glad to hear you like the article enough to share it with your friends. 🙂

  5. Rosie

    Always looked forward to getting e-mail notifications of new articles from you Nicole 🙂 They always help kick me back into shape and keep on going. Dropping by to say thank you so much! xx

  6. Patricia

    Everytime I open your emails you always have something I need to hear. This is why I like the work you do for independent designers. You just clearly stated something I have always said to non-fashion people. I always thought I was a freak because I didn’t fit into the mold. I would often gag and feel disappointment over the industry because of the way the “fashion elite” would make young designers feel. My non-fashion circle would often hear me say “I love fashion but I hate fashion people” I’d often feel that maybe I had chosen the wrong career but it was all I knew how to do. Let’s face it most of us don’t have the funds to become the next Alexander Wang or Jason Wu and the list goes on. And I have come to the realization many years later after living in “the real world” that reaching this inner circle was not in the cards. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to see Ana Wintour, the white unicorn (By the way I still think she’s a mystical creature). I know now that building a business my own way is much easier than trying to get approval from people who don’t pay my bills. Thanks Nicole for being open. You always deliver little nuggest of inspiration.

    • Nicole Giordano

      Thank you for sharing that, Patricia. I know there are a lot more designers and makers out there with the same mindset. I love that we can start this conversation and I how out inspires others to feel good about the direction they’re headed. 🙂

  7. Deedee Deschanel

    Amazing, We <3 you. Beautiful reminder that indeed the world is ours.

  8. Tiffany Tate

    Thank you, Nicole! Thank you for saying what has needed to be said for quite awhile. This sentiment is the reason why I started our publication. Witnessing great talent be snubbed for features in the bigger publications began to irk me. I knew there could be a more authentic way…so I created a path of my own. EVERY emerging designer needs to read this!


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