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The Retailer’s Guide to Working with Emerging Designers

The Retailer's Guide to Working with Emerging Designers

Emerging designers are making a huge comeback. They’re gracing the platforms of Moda Operandi and MATCHESFASHION.COM, and you’re starting to see a lot of smaller retailers and boutiques picking up these emerging designers as well. How did this movement start? Consumers are looking for newness. They’re looking for fresh products. They don’t want to buy the same stuff they’re seeing everywhere else, and to be honest, it’s part of why retail is evolving. The apocalypse only happened to a lot of the bigger retail players who failed to adapt to offer new, individualized products and brands to really speak to their consumers.

In a recent white paper we published called “The Age of the Emerging Designer”, we had the privilege of being able to interview not only the buying director of MATCHESFASHION.COM, but also some of the big names over at Coveteur and Topshop, as well as trade show directors to really find out how and why this is becoming such a huge trend.

The reason is quite simple. We want something new. These new guys are able to drive home in-store experiences, they’re able to provide you products on a more frequent basis, and they’re more open to capsule collections and collaborations than the big brands with high minimums and more fixed open-to-buy (OTB) processes.

Finding Great Emerging Designers

Digital Platforms

Start looking at places like Instagram and smaller, more niche websites curating product. Look at places like Modalyst, for example, that are bringing together lots of smaller businesses and aggregating them for drop shipment. Also look at platforms like NOT JUST A LABEL.These kinds of platforms curate different kinds of brands with distinct points of view.

Trade Shows

Certainly trade shows are often great places to find brands trying to define exposure to much larger buyer markets, and a lot of buyers are starting to steer away from trade shows because they’re not actually able to get in front of all the right designers. However, places like Capsule, Brand Assembly, POOLTRADESHOW, Project and even Agenda are becoming amazing places to come back to and see what lots of smaller brands are doing and to see the curation.

Direct Communication

Just as much as you might be trying to find these emerging brands, they’re trying to find you as well. One of the biggest barriers to these brands getting in front of you is really sifting through the massive noise of many emails. Therefore, designers out there, make sure you’re getting aggressive about contacting retailers. Retailers, make sure you’re reading your emails from these designers.


Showrooms, at least the few really good ones in the New York, LA and Paris markets, are really great at cultivating and crafting the messaging and working with smaller emerging brands. While you’re not necessarily going to get an invitation- and maybe you’ll get thousands of invitations to lots of smaller brands, start vetting them a little bit more. If you have a smaller boutique, create a small questionnaire list, or even a webpage you can direct these brands to for sifting through them a little more thoroughly. You may want to think about opening up what that intake or assessment form can look like, because it’s tricky to find the right terms and conditions to work with these particular brands.

Favorable Terms for Emerging Designers

When you’re starting to take a look at some smaller brands, ask yourself how you can choose more favorable terms and conditions. Certainly with smaller businesses you want to make sure they can actually finance the orders. You might want to ask them, “Do you guys have a financing partnership? How can I make sure you guys are going to be able to actually…” With smaller businesses, you want to make sure they can actually finance the orders. You might want to ask them, “Do you have a financing partnership? How can I make sure that you’re actually able to ship against the orders we’re placing?” Asking these strategic questions is really valuable because as these smaller businesses want to work with you, they also need to know what it takes to have them be able to do business with you in the best capacity possible.

Remember, emerging designers will be more open to doing trunk shows and product exclusives than their larger, more established counterparts. To really work with these emerging brands, ask them how open they are to doing some exclusive promotions. How open are they to doing capsule collections? And again, be mindful of payment terms. As much as you want to bring in newness, make sure you’re working with them and not against them to better service your customers.

Other important questions to ask:

  • What is your customer demographic?
  • Who are the people you’re currently serving?
  • Does it happen to go in tandem with what you’re catering to as well?
  • What do your operations and fulfillment look like?
  • How often are you shipping out product?
  • What was your short shipment on last season?

You’re almost helping them and nurturing them as much as they’re open and eager to work with you. Working with the emerging designer market is good for business. It’s good for being able to inject capital back into the hands of tomorrow’s leading edge designers, and it’s also important because it helps to show your consumers that you have a key trend eye. There are some cool examples of this happening right now. Companies like Topshop are doing things on concession and really bringing in new and emerging market brands. They’re showcasing them and giving them space in their flagship stores. Something like this would have been totally unheard of in years past but things have certainly changed.

If you have a brick-and-mortar space, you can do some in-store shop-in-shops and trunk shows to introduce these new brands. If you’re e-commerce only, you may look to the emerging designers trending on Instagram. How can you create a cohesive presentation on your e-commerce platform that really highlights and targets these designers?

The other thing to keep in mind as you look to work with these designers and try to grow each others’ businesses is having an idea of their long-tail strategies. Ask questions like: “Well what does next season hold for you? How is your brand going to develop?” Also make sure they’re going to be in business this season, next season, and for years to come, and the ways in which you can support that is by paying them on time, working with them on the payment terms and giving them feedback and being in constant communication. They want to know just as much as you want to share with them how the market is responding to the products you have on the selling floor.

If you want to know more about how to work with emerging market brands or if you’re interested in the statistics and where these emerging brands are coming from, head over to the Scaling Retail website and download our white paper on “The Age of the Emerging Designer”. We have amazing interviews, great brands we’ve profiled, up-and-coming places and the tools and resources necessary to find these brands.

If you want support in adding emerging market brands to your roster, send us an at We’re more than happy to help you build, launch and extend that part of your business.