Learn on the job, gather the best people and be prepared to intern, said a panel of three creative directors at Drapers Next Gen.
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next gen panel
At Drapers Next Generation 2017, Drapers head of content: features and fashion Graeme Moran talked to Belstaff creative director Delphine Ninous, Mother of Pearl creative director Amy Powney and Blood Brother creative director Nicholas Biela, creative director, Blood Brother about the multitude of skills creative leaders need to succeed in the industry today.
Q How did you get to where you are today?
AP: I went to university, I interned at a lot of different brands and I worked really hard. I learned a lot of my skills interning. I started working at Mother of Pearl two days a week and I swept the floor and made tea and coffee. I then went on to become creative director. I had to learn how to run the business, how to create invoice, the design, the hiring and firing. I just had to work it out.
DN: I studied fashion in Paris and I got my first job as a design assistant at Christian Lacroix. I asked a lot of questions about what I needed to do to move up the ladder and learn new skills. I then moved to New York and it really opened my mind to see how a different culture worked. At Belstaff, I started as creative director of womenswear and then in July I took over menswear as well.
NB: There is no set way to do it. I went to London College of Fashion, then Central St Martins. I always wanted to have my own brand. I worked at River Island for a while then we took the plunge to start the brand. We started with six T-shirts: six years later we have two offices and 12 staff.
Q The creative director position is now very multidisciplined. What are they unexpected aspects of your role?
AP: I only learned 1% of my job at university. As a designer the world changed massively. I was the last generation that didn’t use computers at university, I had to become digital, I had to start talking to the customer directly, lean how to price a garment, consider how it will look on Instagram, how it will appeal to influencers and customers. You need a 360° view now.
DN: We now need to innovate and learn new skills in design. We have to understand the customers. Marketing is a big part of the job now. It is about much more than making beautiful clothes if you want shoppers to buy the product. There are lots of skills we’re not prepared for.
Q Where did you learn those new skills?
NB: You learn on the job. When we started we were very small, so we had to get stuck in. It takes time and hard work. It is a multi-layered job. The links of the chain need to be tight to make sure everyone is on the same page from samples to sales on shop floor. If one link breaks, you damage the potential to push the brand.
AP: The biggest thing for me is having an amazing team behind you. It’s the only way you can juggle everything. In the past I didn’t hand things over and I worked 80 hour weeks. The team is so important.
Q What are the qualities you look for in staff?
DN: People that work hard, take initiative, that are curious and have the potential to grow and understand where we are going. They also need to work well with other people and departments.
NB: I look for people who are earnest and humble. You want people who will push with you, stimulate you, and are willing to work together to make it work. It is a team effort.
Q For those looking to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give?
DN: Be humble, be ready to learn. If you’re passionate, you will get there, but it’s not a bad thing to start in not your dream job as you can learn skills as you go. You are never wasting your time. Also make most of internships and make contacts. Don’t forget it is a small industry and a small world.
NB: It took me 13 years to get here, you have to have the passion and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
AP: This industry isn’t easy, you do it because you love it. You have to be self-motivated.
Q Would you hire unpaid interns?
AP: Unpaid internships were a really important part of my career. I would tell people to get a bar job in the evening. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
NB: Eight members of my staff started unpaid and are now on market rate salaries. We pay an amount to cover travel, food and little more. It is not a dirty word as there is no better space to learn. It is trading time for expertise but you need to pick the right company. Be selective.
Q&A: Juggling the complex role of creative director