Designer Tracy Reese: "None Of Us Can Afford To Be Complacent"

In our State of the Industry series, fashion's most respected critics, editors, designers, publicists, and entrepreneurs discuss the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry today. Here's Tracy Reese, in her own words.

New York has always been open to whoever wants to show, and there’s pluses and minuses to that. It makes the calendar heavy with unknown names (and I think that can be a drag), but at the same time, you might discover something new and amazing. People deserve an opportunity, but you also need to earn your opportunity — it’s not like, I’m starting a business tomorrow and I want a space on the calendar. There should be some — I hate to say judgement — but you should be voted on to the calendar as a new resource. If someone says, 'Okay, we’ve got seven days, we shouldn’t have more than 70 shows, or whatever — it’s not such a bad thing. But I think we live in a very democratic society, and that concept wouldn’t sit well with a lot of people.

I wouldn’t want to deny someone else the right that I had, but we were probably in business for five years before we started showing on the runway. If all of your competition is showing and you’re not, then it’s not a balanced competition. There are also different options: We’ve been doing presentations lately, and I like it. I’ve heard so many editors say, ‘Oh wow, I really enjoyed being able to get closer to the clothes and actually see them. When I’m sitting in the audience at a show, everything is moving so quickly you don’t really see the pieces.’ I also think it gives us the opportunity to make a statement that’s more personal and more on brand — who we are as people and who our customer is. When you’re doing a runway, it becomes this other sort of thing. Presentations also less stressful.

It’s funny, I read an article that was complaining that contemporary brands have ruined the calendar, but when we look at the balance of businesses in New York and American labels, it is largely a contemporary business. Designer businesses here are smaller; it’s not like Europe where you have the luxury giants and lots of funding. It’s a little different in Europe because most of the contemporary brands are big standalone behemoths: They’re the Majes and Sandros that have dozens and dozens of stores scattered around the world, so it’s a different model.

See-now, buy-now is easier for big brands to make happen because when you look along the whole chain; from development to wholesale to retail to marketing, it’s challenging to get all those ducks in a row. I think it makes total sense in a lot of aspects, because consumers are so much more aware and people are interested in fashion as entertainment, so it might as well be something they can access right away, as opposed to something that’s not going to hit stores for six months. But it doesn’t work in terms of editorial. Being able to predict what’s going to be popular is impossible, and the fantasy element doesn’t make as much sense with the see-now, buy-now vehicle.

We’re moving toward a refinement of everything and whenever there’s too much of anything it is too much — too many shows, too many clothes, too many influencers. Things cycle out and get rebuilt in a way that's more suitable for tomorrow. We’re all getting this opportunity to look at everything we’re doing and ask: Is this relevant for tomorrow? As a consumer myself, does this make sense to me? None of us can afford to be complacent. It doesn’t make sense to do business like we did it yesterday; it’s a new day, it’s a new customer, there's a thousand new shopping vehicles, and we have to adjust and change. If you want to stay in the game, you have to plot a fresh course.

A lot of people have less time to shop, so they’re kind of looking for easy solutions, like Stitch Fix. I’ve met a lot of people that it really works for, because I think the average consumer is not as experimental as we want to think she is. She’s not that confident when it comes to new silhouettes and colors she’s not used to wearing, and she needs somebody to put it together for her in a way that makes sense.

With retail, sizing is an issue. The average American woman is a 14 or 16, and you’re not finding anything at the typical store. She has to go online, she’s got no choice. She’s not made to feel welcome in the typical clothing retail environment, so she’s defected. I think people are finding other ways to shop, and what’s broken at retail has to be fixed. I’m a size eight on top and a 10 on the bottom; I’ve walked into trendy specialty stores that I won’t name, and I can’t buy jeans there — they go up to 30 and they're looking at you like you’re too big. It’s like, 'Okay, I’m not welcome there, they’re not thinking of me.' A couple of my favorite websites, too, they never have my shoe size or my pant size. I think it’s interesting to be that exclusionary.