MADE Redefines The Fashion Show With Its ‘Shop Small’ Market – Forbes
For decades New York Fashion Week was a business-to-business, invitation-only event for industry insiders. The clothing buyers and editors saw on the models wouldn’t make it to stores until the following season. The management company behind NYFW (which for years was the Council of Fashion Designers of America until IMG took over in 2001) curated the event. As a result, only the holiest of brands, like Givenchy and Ralph Lauren, ruled the runways.
Enter MADE Fashion Week. The event producer and fashion incubator founded in 2009 disrupted the catwalk by giving emerging and edgier designers, like Jeremy Scott and The Blonds, their own show-hub in lower Manhattan. Jenne Lombardo, Keith Baptista and Mazdack Rassi created MADE in hopes of breathing life into a frayed industry. They curated their own fashion week lineup, giving a set of new creatives the space and resources to host a runway show during NYFW.
“We felt like we needed to build a program that provided resources for young designers to survive the economic crash,” says Rassi. “We put together a roster of 24 to 25 designers and opened our doors to them and allowed them to show, free of charge.”
It all started in 2009 when the Manhattan trio combined their backgrounds in marketing, branding and event production. Rassi, specifically, owned and ran Milk Studios in the Meatpacking District, a 6,000 square-foot gallery. He and his partners realized the raw space could also host back-to-back fashion shows. They enlisted sponsors like Intel and Lexus to underwrite the costs of production, giving their designers access to lighting, staging, sound and makeup.
By showcasing young visionaries like Prabal Gurung, Cushnie et Ochs and Public School, MADE gained cachet and managed to lure the industry’s top buyers, bloggers and editors to its front rows. Milk Studios became a bona fide hotspot during the twice-yearly event, and with each season, it continued to grow with more featured designers and attendees.
“We knew in order to grow this company we needed better resources,” said Rassi. “We needed funds, we needed capital, we needed organizations and companies that we couldn’t get as a small organization. We put our feelers out there in the industry–we were looking to sell the company or partner up.”
In March 2015, WME-IMG, the entertainment and production powerhouse behind the traditional New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, purchased MADE–its downtown rival–for an undisclosed amount. Rassi and his cofounders remain creative advisors.
While MADE’s original mission was to disrupt which designers made it to the runway, its current goal is to make their fashion lines more accessible to shoppers.
As part of WME-IMG, MADE continues to host shows for its inaugural designers during NYFW, a bulk of whom have transitioned into the established realm.
MADE’s fashion incubator is also working with a new roster of about 40 independent designers whose cuts and cloths cater more to fans of urban street style. To appeal to this younger market, they’re looking beyond New York Fashion Week and beyond New York City to help the fresh talent grow their following.
In 2016, the fashion incubator debuted MADE Los Angeles, a two-day event of emerging designer shows that were open to the public. Unlike traditional fashion shows, which reserve its front and back rows for the fashion elite, MADE L.A. sold tickets to the masses for $20 to $60 each, instead of business-to-business, he says.
“It’s all consumers. We actually sell tickets so an industry that’s been closed off to consumers for so many years is now completely open for people to see for themselves.”
The second annual MADE L.A. was held earlier this summer and sold out to a crowd of 2,000 at the L.A. Live Event Deck. In addition to ticket sales, sponsors like Maybelline, Etihad Airways and American Express sponsored the two-day event.
This year’s L.A. lineup included four shows by streetwear brands like Opening Ceremony and Joyrich. Its year-round, global programming also includes MADE Berlin and MADE Sydney to help the up-and-coming designers reach a global audience.
“But fashion shows alone aren’t enough of a draw,” admits Rassi.
In this video, he explains how MADE is further disrupting the traditional fashion show, with help from rappers like Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg and RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan. MADE organizers have also discovered that promoting young designers may require a return to something as simple as an open bazaar of pop-up shops of more than 40 independent brands.
Check out the Shop Small Los Angeles recap in the video above.