(Filed Under Fashion News). On the afternoon of November 24th, Seth Morris shared his knowledge and insight as president of the Carole Hochman Design Group (CDHG) with students at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). In his talk and question and answer session, Morris covered a wide range of topics, including the concerns of design students on the brink of entering the tough job market during the economic crisis, as well as how CHDG has managed to remain successful in what he called the “economic Holocaust” of the last year.
Morris opened his talk by reassuring students that, despite tough times, things are far from hopeless for the burgeoning intimate apparel designer. “We need young, new, exciting talent to energize our company and the industry as a whole.
“17 of the last 24 new employees and interns at CHDG are FIT graduates or current students. We need the talent in this room and on this campus. [Young design people] are the lifelines to our company.”
Although he described the intimate apparel industry as smaller than in the past, he called it strong and healthy, recommending it as a career choice for recent graduates. He sees growth in the plus-size and shapewear categories, adding that the Carole Hochman line of contemporary sleepwear, titled Carole Hochman Midnight, which she launched this spring, “is the single best thing Ive seen Carole Hochman do. It is an amazing collection.”
When a student asked whether sleepwear or foundation design is the wisest career choice, Morris expressed a need for new talent to emerge in both areas; however, he did point out that it is still very difficult to find skilled foundations designers, saying; “Bras have so many components that all have to fit and work together. It is a highly technical and complicated process.”
He named the designers at Betsey Johnson, OnGossamer and Chaps as responsible for creating some of the best-fitting bras in the business.
Morris chose to work for CHDG because he felt it was the best design company in the industry, adding about the company; “Today it is all about the product, the design and the creative process.” He reported that the company designs close to 500 new styles per season and over 1,500 styles per year, all of which is manufactured overseas.
He reported that the company has survived over the years, including during the recession, through its ability to respond quickly to changing times. “Strong companies must react quickly today,” he said. “We certainly took a step back from the market over the last year to let the dust settle, but we feel cautiously optimistic about 2010 and beyond at this juncture.”
Another recipe for success for CHDG is its growing licensing portfolio, as well as the possibility of acquiring small niche companies. Of the companies 11 brands, 9 are licenses in the sleepwear, loungewear, and foundation categories, including Lauren Ralph Lauren; American Living and Chaps, exclusive to JCPenney and Kohls, respectively; the classic, iconic Betsey Johnson Intimates; Stan Herman robes and loungewear, sold on QVC; Lilly Pulitzer; Oscar De La Renta; and the benchmark Carole Hochman brand. In the acquisition arena, CHDG purchased OnGossamer three years ago, and has since expanded it beyond bras and panties to include sleepwear.
“[Our opportunity lies in] the possible acquisition of small companies to add to our growing brand portfolio, [as well as] adding new licenses,” he remarked. “[These] cannot just be any licenses; we look for classic, iconic brands [because] these are the most stable and have stood the test of time with the consumer.”
But despite its expansion into licenses and acquisitions, CHDG has no plans to enter into retail, as many designers have. “Companies have to stick to what they are good at: we are not a retailer we are a design house,” Morris said.
“We stick to our core competency of trying to be the best in class in design and manufacturing.”
These days, retailers are the company’s biggest competition due to private label business, which accounts for between 25 to 65 percent of department stores inventory today, according to Morris. In the manufacturing front, Josie Natori, Komar, Miss Elaine and Wacoal are “terrific” companies that are among CHDGs branded competitors.
But instead of hindering CHDG, the competition on both the retail and manufacturing side keeps the company strong, Morris said. [It] makes us a better design company and drives us to build on our portfolio of great, iconic, exciting brands.
In conclusion, Morris brought the focus back to the young talent in the room, advising students to define what you want to do and have a passion for it. “Demand to learn all you can, put in your time, pay your dues.
“At the end of the day, knowledge is king. Find that person who can be your mentor, someone you can learn from who will take you under [his or her] wing and teach you.”
With this sound advise from an industry veteran like Morris, perhaps students can weather the economic storm as CHDG has.
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