Eleven years ago, almost to the date, Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs presented their first fashion show as their senior project at Parson’s School of Design in New York City. The collection featured bold, sensual separates that celebrated a raw feminine attitude, piece that would land them on the front page of Women’s Wear Daily.
Starting a fashion label comes many obstacles — sourcing materials and production facilities alone require steep capital upfront. Add in the necessity for marketing tools, the need to balance creativity with commercial success, and the ever-demanding design schedule, launching a clothing line is, in one word, difficult. Cushnie and Ochs also happen to also be businesswomen of color, a fact that shouldn’t be necessary to note but is, given how rare it still is. It's also yet another hurdle they've faced in a still-struggling-to-be-inclusive industry. “It’s been an uphill battle to seen as business women,” Ochs says during a visit to their showroom, which is bare in preparation for the model casting they're hosting for their fall 2018 show. It’s the calm before the storm.
On Friday, the co-founders will celebrate their 10th anniversary as Cushnie et Ochs, the brand. The duo laughs about how easily and obviously they can track their decade-long ascent: When they first began to show, they were at the beginning of the New York Fashion Week calendar. Now, they’re moving up to the middle of the week. “We always joke that we're probably gonna be at the end of it in a couple years,” Ochs says.
Since launching in 2008, they’ve offered a solid selection of structured, cut-out, body-con dresses, landed in retailers like Bergdorf Goodman and Net-A-Porter, and received the Ecco Domani Award, a CFDA Swarovski Award nomination, and a finalist spot in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. In 2015, they added an investor and CEO to take things to the next level. But bringing on heavyweights doesn’t necessarily mean running a brand gets any easier.
Today, Cushnie et Ochs has expanded to include activewear, handbags, and shoes. “We produce almost everything in Manhattan,” Cushnie says. But sourcing the handbags in Italy has been a challenge, as it’s been a while since they’ve introduced anything new into their range. “It's been a really a great learning experience just as what we both as women want in a handbag,” she continued. “Evolving that has been great.”
As for what that woman can expect from the brand in the next 10 years, immediate plans call for building out their swim category. “There is also an element of the athleisure that I think our woman specifically is really responding to," Ochs says. "I know that's such an overused word but for her, it's somethingshe's responding to as a balance from what she's wearing from us from ready-to-wear versus what she's doing in her daily life when she's not out.”
Though that may be evolving their brand, exploring new categories and reworking the staples on which their collections are founded, they insist one thing will stay the same: This New York-based brand isn't going anywhere, and they certainly won't be leaving New York Fashion Week. “Historically, there hasn't been a huge amount of changes to NYFW,” Cushnie acknowledges. “All of a sudden in the last couple of years, everything's dramatically changed. [NYFW] was very formulaic and has been the same for decades. Only recently have people started to think that we need to actually do something different.”
“But we’re still here," Ochs adds. “You’re not going to get rid of us.”