The Art of Y: An Interview with Fashion Designer Catherine Litke

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-> This Article is continued from The Huffington Post

A = Alex Schattner       C = Catherine Litke

Catherine Litke

Catherine Litke in a piece from her 2013 F/W Line. Photo taken by Beryl Bevilacque

A: How do you produce and distribute your designs?

C: It’s tough. The first year that you are in business the cash flow is really hard unless you have a backer, can get a bank loan, or enough credit to produce everything.  This industry is so cyclical that you really need a solid plan for your first few years in order to stay in business, as you are only really getting paid every 6 months, once each season delivers to stores.

A: And getting a bank loan can’t be easy, because fashion is so subjective.

C: It’s almost impossible. That’s why you have factors. They are so helpful and really necessary to the industry.

A: So, they’re like an agent?

C: Yes, they are involved with everything from credit checks to cash advances to payment collection, and the small percentage they take is definitely worth it considering the risk that they cut out of your business in terms of getting timely payment from stores.

A: So, they’re also like distributors?

C: They’re more like a collection insurance agency. If a store doesn’t pay, they take the necessary steps to get payment, and act as a middleman between you and the store.

A: Oh, so more like a “Fashion Mob?”

C: You think that wouldn’t be in demand, but stores—especially small stores—go out of business all the time and have trouble paying their bills just like everyone else. It’s important to have someone watching out for your interests when you are working on your own sales.  I worked with a sales showroom this past year, but now I’ve taken everything in-house, because there are so many cuts you end up taking. A showroom will generally take 12-14% off your wholesale price, so you end up taking a cut of about 28-30% from your original cost once you look at the big picture, and then you still need to factor in all of your other expenses.

A dress from LITKE's 2014 S/S Line. Photo by  Jake Jones

A dress from LITKE’s 2014 S/S Line. Photo by Jake Jones

A: What do you miss by not being in a showroom?

C:I spend a lot more time coordinating my press and sales, which has proven to be quite the undertaking, though I definitely am up for it. Luckily I do a lot of production in New York, so I can control that without having to travel too far. I work with factories in Long Island City, the Garment District, and all my sweaters are produced at one of the oldest knitting factories in the country near Cape Cod. I love working with companies that have a long history and really understand the product they are making.

A: Is that very expensive?

C: Yes and no.  Domestic production often costs more than overseas, but when you factor in the shipping, taxes, duties, and control, I really think it is worth it in the end.  The garment district in New York creates so many jobs, and that is definitely important to support.  I also use all natural materials sourced from around the world, so that is definitely what most of my time is spent on in terms of logistical work.  It’s nice to have the final production end here where I can over-see everything turning into the final product.

A: Do you get to spend a lot of time designing?

C: Designing is really only 10-15% of the job for me. I usually end up designing the whole collection in a few weeks, because you only have a month after fashion week to get things moving again if you want to be on time for the next season.  For example, the hand-loomed fabrics I order from India take ten weeks to deliver. That’s almost three months. If you don’t order them in that timeline, it’s nearly impossible to produce the samples, and then the actual products.  It really is a tight calendar that gets even crazier when you consider that many designers are producing four collections a year.

A: Do you scope out the competition, or are you so tailored in your aesthetic that it isn’t necessary?

C: I definitely look at price points to make sure I’m on track with my customer, but I try not to look at other shows while I am designing, because I feel like things can get muddled when those references get stuck in your head.

A: So, you don’t pay attention to trending colors?

C: Not particularly, though color definitely plays an important part in the line.  I think trend forecasting is really helpful to larger diffusion brands, but generally the forecasts are heavily based on recent past seasons and so they aren’t really something I look at too much. The “Cerulean” scene from The Devil Wears Prada is true in it’s historical accuracy, but also very exaggerated in terms of how designers and editors make choices.

litke_FW13_3

A Mennonite and Barbarella-inspired dress from Litke’s 2013 F/W Line. Photo by Jake Jones

A: Once you have the product, how do you get the word out?

C: That’s when all of your branding becomes very important.  Each season I shoot a look book that has images of the whole collection.  From that, buyers and editors can decide whether they want to come in for an appointment to view the line, and possibly place an order, or feature items in a magazine. Since I’m really working on my own right now with a few amazing interns, I’ve been producing all of my look books and other media on my own, which involves coordinating with modeling agencies, photographers, hair and makeup, and everything else you could imagine.  Then, once I get all of the images, I lay out the book, have it printed, and send it out to buyers and editors.  This is one of the most fun parts of the process, as I really enjoy collaborating with all of the photographers I’ve worked with, but also happens very quickly as my time to finish everything usually hovers somewhere around two weeks.

A: Where do you find the model?

C: I generally contact an agency.  My very first look book was just my friend and I modeling and my former boyfriend photographing the whole thing, but it’s gotten a bit more professional since then. A look book needs to reflect a specific brand identity that people can easily place. So, you need a model who represents the kind of customer you see wearing your clothing, a photographer that understands your aesthetic, and a concept that works with the collection. It’s a lot of little things and a big cost, but it is how you get your brand out there, so it’s definitely worth it.

I’m also making a video this season, which I’m very excited about. It will act as an alternative presentation for the collection, because even a bare-bones presentation [or fashion show]—unless you have a sponsor— costs tens of thousands of dollars. Besides, with social media being such a big part of the conversation now, creating a film can almost get you more exposure than a presentation. I’m really excited for it to come out!

A: Do you send out the whole look book to buyers, and editors?

C: I generally send a digital look book to most contacts and then a hard copy to specific editors and buyers. I know from working as a market editor that it’s often nice to have a hard copy to look through all season.  Most editors generally use the digital format, but some are still old school and like having that actual object to look at in front of them.  Editors might also come in for an appointment and take photos of specific items they like for upcoming stories.

Mennonite-inspired dresses from Litke's 2013 F/W Line

A Mennonite and Barbarella-inspired dress from Litke’s 2013 F/W Line. Photo by Jake Jones

A: Do you use social media to get the word out, too?

C: I use Instagram quite a bit, I’d say that’s definitely my favorite form of social media in terms of posting new content and press. I’ve had many different outlets contact me through there—specifically a lot of websites that have led to new coverage.

A: Pinterest would probably be great.

C: Yes. I plan to get more involved in it once I launch my e-commerce site. I think with Pinterest you need a solid place to direct people to, so I want to have everything in order before I jump into another medium.

A: What store would you love to have your clothes in?

C: I’m thrilled that my line is going to be sold at Steven Alan this Spring. It’s one of my favorite stores in the entire world. Seeing my line in Barney’s would also be amazing. It’s definitely a main goal right now. I love the selection that Barney’s curates, and once they take notice of a brand, it tends to create a snowball effect among other stores.

A: Do you think you’ll stay in the Contemporary market?

C: Yes, I think the contemporary designer market is only going to grow, and it’s interesting to see the range that it currently includes.  It’s also a market that allows for a certain freedom in terms of creating specialty items that may cost a bit more, because the customer is really discerning in terms of understanding quality and appreciating special details.

A: In the future, when you’re wildly successful, whom would you love to be interviewed by, and what would they ask you?

C: When my first collection came out, I had a chance meeting with Bridget Foley at Women’s Wear Daily. She’s one of the most amazing fashion writers in the world, and WWD is like the Holy Grail in this business. I would love to speak more with her. I also really admire Hamish Bowles and Sally Singer. They could ask me anything they wanted. I’m sure they would all have wonderful questions.

A: And—last, but not least—If you could talk to your ten year-old self, what would you like her to know?

C: I’d tell her to jump when she wasn’t sure, because it usually leads to something wonderful in the long run.

A: Thank you, Catherine.

To Learn More about LITKE, visit www.Litke.us.

LITKE on the swing, by Peter Curtis

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