Italian fashion designer Francesca Cremonesi has made it. And she did so without ever enduring the purgatory of The Fashion Internship. After completing three years at a Fashion Institute in Milan, the 32-year old defied convention by immediately launching her own brand. Her secrets to success? Strong ambition, iron will, the right financial support and entrepreneurial panache. The Genteel caught up with Cremonesi in Milan to retrace her path, a path that in just one year, has led to showings at both Milan and Paris fashion weeks.
When did you decide to become a fashion designer?
It may sound ordinary, but I decided when I was in primary school!
If you had always wanted to be a fashion designer, then why did you enter fashion school at almost 30 years old? At what moment did you decide to live out your real ambitions?
During high school I decided to put my ambitions in a drawer because it was clear that I would end up working for my family business. I stopped drawing for about ten years, but my desire to become a fashion designer kept getting stronger and stronger! By the time I was 26 years old, I was working for my family business but I wanted to do something completely different. I felt guilty about it because I didn't want to disappoint my parents. Then, a management consultant came to our firm and put me in a tight position by asking me what I really wanted to do with my life. He pushed me to change because it was clear that I was in the position to do whatever I wanted. After his words, I opened up my heart to my dad. He wasn't mad - on the contrary, he encouraged me to focus on my dreams.
After graduating, it would have been natural to seek an internship at a major fashion company. Why did you dismiss this idea?
To be honest with you, I never considered an internship as a real opportunity for me. I pretended that it was a possibility because it is the common path, the classic one. But I graduated at the age of 31 and wanted to start my own business with all of my heart. I was ready to take on all risks, but only for my own brand.
Blue jacket with little cupola sleeves,
A few weeks after your graduation you were involved in a completely different project: a flagship store to sell your creations with a classmate. What happened to that idea?
I was afraid to begin an adventure like this by myself, so I suggested to a classmate - who was also a friend - to open a store in the centre of Milan to sell our collections. We worked on this project for more than two months, but the real world is always far away from dreamland. Rents were outrageously high, so we gave up the flagship store idea and started to look for multi-brand showrooms. This solution meant that we had to separate and go on with each of our own plans.
What were the first steps of your start-up?
First, I kept on searching for a showroom. The results? Many doors slammed in my face. Thanks to my brothers' advice, I began to interview brand managers to find the right professional to develop my project. Prior to signing a contract with a consultancy company, I registered my own firm, hired a pattern maker and then finally started to put my first collection together. I tested fabrics, found a lab to produce my clothes and a communication agency to assist with my logo, website and corporate branding.
What are your total start-up costs so far?
My costs are surely high because my collection is 100% made in Italy. It all depends on how you want to develop your project. I chose fabrics that cost 12-14 euros per meter, for example, but there are cheaper or more expensive ones available.
Is "made in Italy" a deliberate choice on your part?
It is indeed, but I can't deny that I have been very tempted to move production to countries where everything costs a lot less than in Italy. I will keep working in Italy as long as it is sustainable.
Have you received any grants by the government as a young woman entrepreneur?
I haven't applied yet but I am evaluating different possibilities.
Would the brand "Francesca Cremonesi" have been possible without the financial support of your parents?
Lately, I have been asking myself this question and the answer is, "I don't know"! My family wholly funded my start-up costs, but I do believe that I wanted all of this so badly that I would have done everything possible to realize it. I am grateful for all of their support and I hope to be able to re-pay them one day.
Is it difficult to be taken seriously by the insiders?
Being taken seriously is just part of the problem. The real issue is to be able to get high quality raw materials without spending a fortune. Everything seems to be thought out with big companies (and big quantities) in mind, not young designers who just entered the market.
What kind of issues are you having with these suppliers?
"Minimum production quantities" is a nightmare. I have had to give up several beautiful fabrics because the smallest order was 1,500 meters! Since I cannot get either the minimum for the collection of samples nor for the production, suppliers charge me up to 50% over the price. Another challenge is that since the suppliers don't know me well, they ask me for the whole payment in advance.
|Sky-blue dress made by packets of folds
(Image courtesy of Francesca Cremonesi).
You just showed your first collection during the Milan and Paris fashion weeks. How did you accomplish this?
I presented my capsule collection at White in Milan and at Memy in Paris. An artistic committee selected my proposal and I was able to rent and set up a corner and to wait for the buyers. I spent a total of 14,000 euros to rent the space in Milan and Paris, then about 500 euros for the mounting. I tried to make everything by myself and to bring what I needed from home.
How many items did you create for your first capsule collection? Did you budget influence that number and the style of your pieces?
There are 40 pieces in my Spring/Summer 2012 collection. My budget influenced both the number of articles and their style. The less you create the more special everything must be! Having a small budget is a real creative challenge.
Are you earning money from this job already?
Absolutely not! I hope to grow collection after collection.
Have you ever felt a bit "nuts" to have started right in the middle of a global crisis? Did the recession have an effect on the launch of your brand?
The crisis we are living in nowadays doesn't help me but every entrepreneurial adventure has its own risks. Fortunately, there is global interest in the fashion industry and my target demographic includes foreign markets much more than Italy.
Which is your target market?
My clothes are for the mid- to high-end market. Women between the ages of 25 to 40.
Based on your personal experience, how much money does it take to start a new fashion brand like yours?
70,000 euros is a good start-up budget.
Did you give yourself specific goals to achieve within a certain time in order to balance the pros and cons of your business?
Sure. My goal is to produce three collections and then to study the tendency of my sales. I will face the truth, whatever it may be, and then decide what to do.
What are your future goals?
My priority right now is to find a multi-brand showroom interested in my collections. In the proximate future, I would like to implement e-commerce onto my website (I am not thinking about a flagship store anymore). My dream has always been to globalize the planet with my creations. I would love to see my brand everywhere!
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