Breakfast with the Boss: Ilse Metchek, The California Fashion Association

Ilse Metchek, founder of the California Fashion Association, has been a part of the fashion industry for all of her professional career. She began her journey as a fitting model, showroom salesperson, and designer, working her way up to own the company she worked for. She then became president of White Stag Inc., a women’s clothing brand owned by Warnaco. Subsequently, she became the executive director of the California Mart (now the California Market Center) where she established the California Fashion Association as a non-profit business-to-business organization to provide information for expansion and growth to the apparel and textile industry of California. Given her extensive experience in the industry, Ilse was able to provide our scholars with an amazingly in-depth overview of the industry.   

Ilse Metchek, founder of the California Fashion Association, has been a part of the fashion industry for all of her professional career. She began her journey as a fitting model, showroom salesperson, and designer, working her way up to own the company she worked for. She then became president of White Stag Inc., a women’s clothing brand owned by Warnaco. Subsequently, she became the executive director of the California Mart (now the California Market Center) where she established the California Fashion Association as a non-profit business-to-business organization to provide information for expansion and growth to the apparel and textile industry of California. Given her extensive experience in the industry, Ilse was able to provide our scholars with an amazingly in-depth overview of the industry. 

 

“Fashion functions differently from other businesses, so you need to approach it differently,” Isle said. It is the intersection of business and creativity. It takes great creativity, but it demands analytical and administrative skills as well. Ilse began her outline of the industry by discussing distribution. “In the United States,” Ilse explained, “There is no single way to get your product into stores and homes. There are a multitude of different channels that you need to understand.” Today, purchases for retail goods can be made through television infomercials, mobile sites, pop-up shops, catalogs, and much more - all in addition to traditional brick and mortar retail stores. This multi-channel approach has a strong impact on the overall functionality of the retail industry. “Fashion doesn’t start in big department store chains,” Ilse stated,  “It starts in the mom and pop shops, and with the cool kids – where people will attempt new styles and trends without fear of failure. When trends take off in the small stores, then they will make it into the big chains and head towards mass production.” Metchek went on to say that in today’s technologically dominated world, it is clear that sales for fashion apparel in traditional department stores are in decline. The new retail cash cow, however, is off price retailing. Saks Off Fifth, Nordstrom Rack, and Macy’s Backstage are brick and mortar locations that have the potential to succeed because of the treasure-hunt experience they give consumers. With the recent surge in e-commerce, consumers need to feel a reason to come in to physical stores. Off price retailers provide them with the needed motivation.  

“Fashion functions differently from other businesses, so you need to approach it differently,” Isle said. It is the intersection of business and creativity. It takes great creativity, but it demands analytical and administrative skills as well. Ilse began her outline of the industry by discussing distribution. “In the United States,” Ilse explained, “There is no single way to get your product into stores and homes. There are a multitude of different channels that you need to understand.” Today, purchases for retail goods can be made through television infomercials, mobile sites, pop-up shops, catalogs, and much more - all in addition to traditional brick and mortar retail stores. This multi-channel approach has a strong impact on the overall functionality of the retail industry.
“Fashion doesn’t start in big department store chains,” Ilse stated,  “It starts in the mom and pop shops, and with the cool kids – where people will attempt new styles and trends without fear of failure. When trends take off in the small stores, then they will make it into the big chains and head towards mass production.” Metchek went on to say that in today’s technologically dominated world, it is clear that sales for fashion apparel in traditional department stores are in decline. The new retail cash cow, however, is off price retailing. Saks Off Fifth, Nordstrom Rack, and Macy’s Backstage are brick and mortar locations that have the potential to succeed because of the treasure-hunt experience they give consumers. With the recent surge in e-commerce, consumers need to feel a reason to come in to physical stores. Off price retailers provide them with the needed motivation.

 

 Metchek went on to discuss sourcing, another crucial part of the retail process. “Why do so many companies use global sourcing?” Ilse asked. “They do so because of the difference in production costs and regulations abroad.” She explained that while producing goods domestically provides you with higher margins, more control over the process, and a quicker turnaround, it is a much more expensive process. Polls show that while many American consumers say that they are interested in “made-in-USA” apparel, they are not willing to pay a substantially higher price for domestically produced goods. Ilse explained that for this reason, the majority of major companies choose to engage in production overseas. International production used to be predominantly concentrated in China, but over the last decade or so we’ve seen some dispersal into other countries and regions. Metchek emphasized that because of this, it is imperative that you understand geography when working in this industry. “Which country is best for manufacturing swimsuits?” Ilse said. “How much are customs and duties there? How many factories do they have available? This is all information you need.” “One of the biggest issues in retail is intellectual property,” Ilse stated.  She went on to explain some of the legalities involved with the issue. “While trademarks are necessary in this industry, patents are rare.” Trademarks refer to logos, phrases, and symbols, while patents refer to designs and technology. Copyrights are used to protect artwork, and are one of the more complicated parts of retail. Trade Dress refers to images that are recognized as associated with a certain brand, without the need for a logo or brand names. This refers to things like the blue box and white ribbon associated with Tiffany’s, and the classic red bottom of Louboutin shoes. While there are no obvious logos on these items, it is very clear that they belong to a certain company. Ilse went on to speak about the current discussion about the legality of ‘knock-offs’ and how the recent technological boom has led to a rise in counterfeiting. With regard to ‘copying’, she quoted Marc Jacobs as stating, “Nothing is truly original anymore; when you’re talking about fashion, lose the word ‘original’.” Coco Chanel is quoted as saying “Being copied is the ransom of success.’”  

 Metchek went on to discuss sourcing, another crucial part of the retail process. “Why do so many companies use global sourcing?” Ilse asked. “They do so because of the difference in production costs and regulations abroad.” She explained that while producing goods domestically provides you with higher margins, more control over the process, and a quicker turnaround, it is a much more expensive process. Polls show that while many American consumers say that they are interested in “made-in-USA” apparel, they are not willing to pay a substantially higher price for domestically produced goods. Ilse explained that for this reason, the majority of major companies choose to engage in production overseas. International production used to be predominantly concentrated in China, but over the last decade or so we’ve seen some dispersal into other countries and regions. Metchek emphasized that because of this, it is imperative that you understand geography when working in this industry. “Which country is best for manufacturing swimsuits?” Ilse said. “How much are customs and duties there? How many factories do they have available? This is all information you need.”

“One of the biggest issues in retail is intellectual property,” Ilse stated.  She went on to explain some of the legalities involved with the issue. “While trademarks are necessary in this industry, patents are rare.” Trademarks refer to logos, phrases, and symbols, while patents refer to designs and technology. Copyrights are used to protect artwork, and are one of the more complicated parts of retail. Trade Dress refers to images that are recognized as associated with a certain brand, without the need for a logo or brand names. This refers to things like the blue box and white ribbon associated with Tiffany’s, and the classic red bottom of Louboutin shoes. While there are no obvious logos on these items, it is very clear that they belong to a certain company. Ilse went on to speak about the current discussion about the legality of ‘knock-offs’ and how the recent technological boom has led to a rise in counterfeiting. With regard to ‘copying’, she quoted Marc Jacobs as stating, “Nothing is truly original anymore; when you’re talking about fashion, lose the word ‘original’.” Coco Chanel is quoted as saying “Being copied is the ransom of success.’”

 

With retail’s rapidly changing landscape, major companies are making big changes in attempts to keep up. “What do you think of Wal-Mart buying Modcloth and Bonobos?” one scholar asked. “I think Wal-Mart woke up!” Ilse responded. “But still, they are going to have to compete with Amazon and the brands that Amazon is launching. In the past when stores like Wal-Mart bought brands, they became the manufacturer and, in some cases, reduced the quality drastically. Now the trend is for the retailers to let the brands they buy continue to manufacture the product as long as they fit the correct price point. This allows for quality control.”   Environmentalism has also been a recent trend on the rise, not just in retail, but also in a large array of industries. “How do you feel about sustainability in retail?” another student inquired. “It’s hard to say,” replied Metchek honestly. “What really is sustainability? It means different things depending on the angle from which you approach it. The use of different varieties of products has an assortment of benefits and drawbacks depending on your perspective.” She explained that, on the whole, there is no one sustainable method of production for retail. We can do our best to not be wasteful, but a cure-all has yet to be found.   When it comes to succeeding in the retail world, you really need to ground yourself in a deep knowledge of the industry. One scholar asked Ilse, “Where do you look to gather research on the retail world?” She responded, “In general, look to history, celebrities, and visuals. The way fashion happens is through creativity, but the reason it happens can be traced to economics and a historical perspective.”  

With retail’s rapidly changing landscape, major companies are making big changes in attempts to keep up. “What do you think of Wal-Mart buying Modcloth and Bonobos?” one scholar asked. “I think Wal-Mart woke up!” Ilse responded. “But still, they are going to have to compete with Amazon and the brands that Amazon is launching. In the past when stores like Wal-Mart bought brands, they became the manufacturer and, in some cases, reduced the quality drastically. Now the trend is for the retailers to let the brands they buy continue to manufacture the product as long as they fit the correct price point. This allows for quality control.”
 

Environmentalism has also been a recent trend on the rise, not just in retail, but also in a large array of industries. “How do you feel about sustainability in retail?” another student inquired. “It’s hard to say,” replied Metchek honestly. “What really is sustainability? It means different things depending on the angle from which you approach it. The use of different varieties of products has an assortment of benefits and drawbacks depending on your perspective.” She explained that, on the whole, there is no one sustainable method of production for retail. We can do our best to not be wasteful, but a cure-all has yet to be found.
 

When it comes to succeeding in the retail world, you really need to ground yourself in a deep knowledge of the industry. One scholar asked Ilse, “Where do you look to gather research on the retail world?” She responded, “In general, look to history, celebrities, and visuals. The way fashion happens is through creativity, but the reason it happens can be traced to economics and a historical perspective.”

 

Ilse Metchek’s Words of Wisdom “Fashion doesn’t start in big department store chains, it starts in the mom and pop shops, and with the cool kids – where people will attempt new styles and trends without fear of failure.” “As Marc Jacobs said, ‘When you’re talking about fashion, lose the word “original” - and Coco Chanel said, “Being copied is the ransom of success.’” “Retail is where business meets creativity. We need both to succeed.” “The way fashion happened is through creativity, but the reason it happen can be traced to economics and a historical perspective.”

Ilse Metchek’s Words of Wisdom

“Fashion doesn’t start in big department store chains, it starts in the mom and pop shops, and with the cool kids – where people will attempt new styles and trends without fear of failure.”

“As Marc Jacobs said, ‘When you’re talking about fashion, lose the word “original” - and Coco Chanel said, “Being copied is the ransom of success.’”

“Retail is where business meets creativity. We need both to succeed.”

“The way fashion happened is through creativity, but the reason it happen can be traced to economics and a historical perspective.”