South African born multi-disciplinary designer Daniella Kallmeyer founded her brand in Fall 2010 after working with a slew of luxury and ready-to-wear brands including Alexander McQueen, Proenza Schouler, Luca Luca, Les Chiffoniers, Jen Kao and Alice + Olivia. Daniella Kallmeyer was started with the idea of giving women unique closet staples sold at reasonable price points with a focus on supporting the New York garment district. We spoke with the designer to find out the pros and cons of showing at NYFW as an up-and-comer, day-to-day struggles and what keeps her excited about working in such a cut-throat industry.
theFashionSpot: Can you tell us your background in fashion? How important do you think majoring in fashion design is for someone looking to launch his or her own brand?
Daniella Kallmeyer: I did study fashion and I took it really seriously. I had been interested in art and design since I was a kid. My grandmother was one of the most elegant women I’ve ever met and shared her experience in dressmaking with me when I expressed interest in fashion at such a young age. I was making full collections and interning in New York before I graduated high school and I transferred from Syracuse’s fashion program to the London College of Fashion for a more challenging experience. The knowledge of design, construction, history, fabrics and technique I learned in school has been invaluable to my work. However, I think industry experience with design development, production, sales and market contacts are the most important differentiating factors between a talented designer and a successful designer.
tFS: You've had stints working for various brands…what did you learn from each of them?
DK: I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a well-rounded array of international designs who were each influential to me in such different ways. From Luca Luca, I learned about the value of luxury products and the uniqueness in wearable design. From Proenza, I learned about breaking the mold and how to create a young brand that stands out with edgy sophistication. At McQueen, I had the privilege to work between the atelier and the design team at McQ, which taught me so much about incorporating designer process into contemporary ready-to-wear clothing. The list goes on, from contemporary design experience at a large company like Alice+Olivia to the small high-end design team at Jen Kao, to the design and development of launching private label athletic brands.
tFS: With so many contemporary designers out there, what do you think sets you apart?
DK: A lot of contemporary brands are built on the existing lifestyles of their young customers. I think the lifestyle of my brand is more aspirational. She is a woman who presents her sophistication and confidence through effortless power dressing and chooses Daniella Kallmeyer for the investment in quality and timelessness in unique pieces that she can revisit season after season. Daniella Kallmeyer is not a basics line, it’s an evolving wardrobe of unique staples.
tFS: At what point did you decide to start your brand?
DK: After a couple years of experiencing everything from luxury to low end, I started really believing in the potential for introducing my designer sensibility at an accessible price point. I wanted to create a brand that stood for sustainability and empowerment with longevity in the designs that didn’t seem available in the contemporary market. My respected mentors, family and friends were so encouraging of making that happen, that I just went for it and never looked back.
tFS: Was there ever a moment you thought of giving up and if so what kept you going?
DK: Constantly. Season after season the challenge of business, finance, operations, more finance, seems insurmountable. Yet, just when the idea of pushing through another cycle and another season seems impossible, a promising contact, a press push, another account, even a customer who loves her new piece, remind me that I am one step closer to success and a step farther from where I started.
tFS: Can you elaborate on some of the challenges you face day-to-day?
DK: I often give the analogy that it feels a lot I’ve got five cars on the racetrack, but I’m the only driver. The only way to finish the race is to get out of one car to run back and get another. I finance the collection myself while designing, managing production, sourcing materials and managing sales, as well as much of my press. Having to be so involved in everything gives me such a thorough understanding of my business and has taught me more than I could have imagined learning or taking on, but limited resources are inhibiting to any creative process and that becomes overwhelming. All that being said, I constantly amaze myself with the unique and competitive collections I put out each season with limited resources. It is that satisfaction which motivates me every day to work on my business foundation so that my creativity can be limitless.
tFS: How did you determine pricing?
DK: In my career as a designer, I had the opportunity to understand what makes an expensive piece expensive. I took that sensibility and scaled it down into prices that were easy to digest for a range of customers, but pieces that were worth investing in. It's very important that my business contributes towards the American-Made movement, but more specifically, the maintenance of the New York Garment Center. I select fabrics that are rich to touch and quality finishings and construction techniques and incorporate my pricing process into my design process. Nothing in the line retails above a thousand dollars.
tFS: How do you deal with stress?
DK: I have an amazing range of friends. Having the opportunity to be educated, supportive and exposed constantly to not only my inspiring friends and mentors in fashion, but those in theater, education, art, science, technology, politics, global consciousness, etc. keeps me grounded. Knowing that fashion is an incredibly powerful vehicle to our culture, but also that it is not the end-all-be-all is both humbling and inspiring…and that usually gives me the space to exhale.
tFS: You've shown at NYFW, how important do you think that is for an up-and-coming brand?
DK: Showing is definitely not for everyone. If anything, the stress, distraction and financial strain of putting on a show or presentation during Fashion Week while all the bigger competitors are also on the calendar can take a lot of resources away from a small brand for minimum exposure that could be maximized elsewhere. There are so many more creative options young brands can tap into without trying to compete with the budget of bigger established brands. We are so privileged to be part of a creative, collaborative community in New York…the options are limitless. The way we consume information now and the way consumers shop…the work doesn’t start and stop during Fashion Week twice per year.
tFS: You run your own e-commerce – do you think that's critical for up-and-coming designers? Can you learn anything about your clients this way?
DK: The customers do seem to be drawn to the same styles, a lot of which they saw in shopping credits in a blog or the pages of PeopleStyleWatch and come specifically looking for it. I created my brand to be set apart from what is exists in the market already, which makes my own retail model that much more important to give the collection a home and build a clientele while I carve out my niche with the customers at my retail accounts.
tFS: Do you use social media to promote your brand? Do you feel like it can help young designers grow their business?
DK: I’m pretty old school so I’m constantly amazed to learn how infinitely powerful of a tool social media can be to a brand. Instagram didn’t exist when I was starting my line. That blows my mind and now growing my followers is more vital to my brand identity, customer loyalty and marketing than updating my website. We have the opportunity for the first time to speak directly to our audience. Of course, with all the potential hype, there needs to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to grow and keep that audience, but for the first time, we have so much more control over the rainbow.
tFS: Can you tell us a little bit about the process of making one of your pieces from inspiration to finished product?
DK: My inspiration comes from anything from an odd character I pass on the street to an oil spill on a wet road, to a beautiful photo. The strength of my collection and the process doesn’t come from a particular inspiration…the inspiration is just what keeps my creativity evolving every day. But the brand has an identity, she has a lifestyle, she has aspirations, she has places to go and things to see…I’m just making sure she has the perfect look for all of it.
tFS: Any insight on what's to come that you can share for Fall 2014?
DK: The Fall 2014 collection was inspired by nostalgia. That kind of “I was so much cooler when I was young” nostalgia you hear from the woman who's chic effortlessness is hard to replicate without the personality with which she carries herself. Fall 2014 gives her the opportunity to relive the way she felt in her punky kilt, or her slouchy boyfriend pants, or her grungy sweater in pieces that represent who she is now. The Daniella Kallmeyer woman is refined, confident, sophisticated, but courageous. Spring was about being Quiet yet Strong. Fall was about being Strong but Quiet. It’s the woman who doesn’t want attention, but if you ask, you better be ready for a good story.