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Alinea interview Georgina Goodman
Georgina Goodman "My philosophy has always been straightforward; Be Consistent; Be Clear; Be Who We Really Are and most importantly; Be In Love."
Georgina Goodman - artist, writer and designer, immortalised within the archives of her collaboration with Alexander Mcqueen's shares her brand story, discussing the construction of a luxury brand, and negotiating investor pitfalls. In 2002, Georgina Goodman Ltd was set up by Georgina and her husband, BJ Cunningham, founding their first boutique 'Made In Mayfair' on Shepherd Street, followed by opening a flagship store on Bond street in 2008. Georgina was one of the youngest designers to exhibit on London's most prestigious luxury shopping destination. In 2010, Georgina Goodman Ltd received $6.5million private equity investment from Core Capital LLP, swiftly followed by administration in 2011. Georgina Goodman eventually bought back the rights to trade under her own name and outlines a cautionary tale for luxury brand designers, imparting advice to appoint a CEO to act as an intermediary between the brand owner and the investment firm.
The luxury industry secures a tremendous ability to communicate with visually dynamic splendour, and access cult reputation and branding through the sheer level of skill and expertise initiated in product design and manufacture. Unlike other industries, where economies of scale ensure rapid returns on investment, a luxury object cannot be replicated without considerable time, expertise and experience in creation, hence its value and significance to both the maker and consumer.
As with art, the heart of the designer and the object are intertwined, a little of the maker’s soul and physicality is etched into the fabric of each item’s being, embuing the objet d’art with personality, individuality and lustre. I will never forget when I walked into the V & A with my Uncle Tiger, to view Alexander Mcqueen’s Savage Beauty exhibition. Lee Mcqueen had trained alongside my former director Melanie Wilson at Prangsta Costumiers, at Central St Martin’s, and a vast territory augmented with monumental beings of imagination and myth were contained within the decadent narrative designed by Joseph Bennett in celebration of the late artist. One thing that struck me were the shoes, these were fantasies embued with the sacred and the profane, balletic sculptures and mysterious ornaments which trembled as shadows on extremities, glamorous golden collages of snake and sun; the 30 cm tall Armadillo boot from Plato’s Atlantis, created by iconic shoemaker Georgina Goodman.
Image accreditation: Georgina Goodman designs for Alexander Mcqueen - Savage Beauty at the V & A
Georgina started her career as a fashion journalist, having begun her career as Fashion Editor of iD Magazine in the 1980’s. She holds a BA in Footwear Design from London’s Cordwainers College in the 1990s, followed by an MA in Womenswear and Footwear from the Royal College of Arts.
Tutored by Manolo Blahnik, the eponymous idol of footwear, who stated “I put everything I think is sexy into my shoes,” Georgina won Manolo Blahnik’s shoe design competition awarded at the Royal College of Arts. Attending an event at The Design Museum, Manolo stated: “Oh my god, step aside, don’t talk about me – this is the future of footwear: Georgina Goodman!” Georgina was nominated twice by the British Fashion Council as the Shoe Designer of the Year.
In 2003 she opened a store in Old Bond Street, followed by another in Mayfair, where her clientele includes Kate Moss, Thandie Newton, Gwyneth Paltrow and she received extensive press accolades.
Passionate about passing on her experience to a future generation of designers, in addition to her online store and myriad creative collaborations, she now lectures at Cordwainers College and the Royal College of Art. Georgina is also a member of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers and a Liveryman—an honour rarely extended to a woman.
In 2010 she received $6.5 million venture capital investment, however by 2012, due to irreconcilable differences, the investors forced the closure of her company, and she also lost the professional right to trade in her name. Due to her tenacity, and talent, the intellectual property and trademark was secured again in 2013. To gain insight and perspective into how investment in a luxury brand should be structured, Alinea London interview Georgina Goodman.
Because of the nature of the luxury industry, and the level of time and aesthetic discipline that it takes to design and craft a luxury item, return on investment can be slow. Financing a talented emerging designer requires a level of commitment and mentoring which is perhaps more suited to an angel investor than a venture capital or private equity.
The reward is also contained within the intrinsic beauty of the objet d’art, the aura with the ability to hold and increase in value as the designer’s reputation grows, and the potential of diffusion lines. Many designers will also wish to carefully monitor diffusion lines and supply chain, and outsource their work to trusted experts to ensure the vision, values and quality of their brand is maintained.
Georgina is currently making objects to keep, smelting cherished objects, re-appropriating and transforming jewellery and silverware, such as cutlery, transforming and repurposing metals into sculptures and ornate, textured jewellery. She outlined that her jewellery business started as a hobby started in a portable, nomadic, not a physical space – jewellery making takes up far less space than shoemaking. She creates museum pieces, jewellery, gifts that generate an emotive response as past treasures become exquisitely unrecognizable and reimagined.
1. How would you propose for an investor to structure investment in an emerging designer?
Receiving investment as a luxury designer can be a nightmare. The reasons why individuals choose to wish to access investment are obvious, generate growth, open shops. It is important to choose the right partner, and communicate expectations of how fast or slow the growth will be, perhaps structure £1m - £3m investment over the course of 2 years. The process of the seasonal beast is too long – take orders, get paid. Even e-tailing – ecommerce has costs of £50K+ to set up – buy stock, market the designs. The creative process –how to capitalize on creativity without quashing it is a difficult recipe to master. Either the investor isn’t happy or the creative isn’t happy. People like the word ‘brand’ but don’t realize they are not investing in a brand, they are investing in people – the designer and the designer’s team. Jimmy Choo is a ‘brand’ built up. A brand requires £10 million investment to build as a working artist. People use the word brand in a cavalier and misunderstood way, take the expertise and understand.
2. A designer’s reputation is a valuable asset, securing them with the ability to attract a public following. Private equity firms are renowned for stripping people-assets and replacing the core management team with their own leadership to enhance profitability, yet in the creative industries the core team underpins the product. How would you propose for an investor to best communicate to a designer? It is the responsibility of the investor to factor milestones, communicated by key performance indicators into the management, and the sales and marketing team of the designer?
Strict business rules and communication is key. I had spent 5 years on [building the brand] on my own, sales projections on the back of a fag packet… Going into partnership with one person, high net worth individuals, venture capital – I went into constant meetings. Look at how the company is time portioned, the best ways of handling meetings – I would suggest once a month have an operations based meeting, more contact and understanding of how communications can happen. Key things discussed on the phone have to also be put in emails, make it known to 20 or so people in the team, answers in the email. The management team make an investment in someone, then change the way they work. If there’s no CEO, ensure that an agreed CEO can represent the designer with regular contact to partner and foil – an operational partner.
3. Within the niche, boutique creative industries designers often build a reputation through collaborations with other creatives, such as your design collaboration with Alexander Mcqueen, and also from being invited to exhibit in prestigious art galleries, museums and galleries. Some of these will be paid opportunities, some will be sponsored and some will be marketing activities for the brand or artist. The visual and social impact of these events secure the brand’s reputation and attract a celebrity association and clientele in the public eye. Talent is a strange animal, with the ability to possess and solicit, to inspire awe and devotion, equally many objects and collections which have not been made to commission will take extraordinary labour and commitment to create, prior to being displayed in the public arena, and potentially purchased as high value assets. What do you consider before entering into a collaboration with another creative, or before confirming to exhibit?
Collaboration is key – consider different income streams with more potential for growth not all are visible. Noone can be used without separate negotiation or visibility, commercial activity is important and the wrong interaction could damage and have an effect on the brand. Consider visibility and the project timeframe. Commercial partnerships are vital, I have 4 people in the studio to share jobs, 3 – 4 consultancies with a good team, 1 – 17 collections and 4 shows, working with different London designers. There is a S/S pre collection then a main, and an A/W pre collection then a main, with so much work in different designs. Look at how time is allocated, consultancy is pure profit – on the other hand, manufacturing has a different cash flow model. Provided the cash flow is found upfront, manufacturing is for personal [reward.] Consider - what am I investing? This is the measure of a successful designer. Take board-level decisions to exhibit, consider the level of kudos involved, all opportunities secure marketing opportunities – other than offers of artist residencies. Consider management of time, resources and people – as a creative director you oversee and manage, bounce ideas - your team is also your brand.
4. In 2012 your company was put into administration by investors. How did you eventually secure your trademark and intellectual property, and rebuild your brand again?
It took a long, long time, a prepack administration, it is dodgy in business law how a company can be packed up. I bought the company back from the administrators – I don’t know who owned the company, I was dealing with very rich people. There is a misunderstanding around prepack administration. Story aside, I eventually brought back my IP, trademark, archive, whilst my assets and trestle table were sold and distributed.
5. Designers will often enter into apparel/textile factoring contracts, where a designer loans from a financial institution against the value of a contract against the value of a order, as the brand’s payment may not be received until goods are sold. Do you have any experience of this and suggestions of to how to minimise risk in negotiations with retail outlets?
If you are a small order - receiving 20 orders, don’t factor a £20 000, borrow and finance yourself with a loan. Factoring is fantastic if you have a massive problem; 50 or 70 orders, it depends on the margins – but then if you don’t deliver on time [your reputation is damaged]. Better to say as a small designer, “I can’t fulfill this season as no cash flow” – and ask the retailer to pay 50% upfront.
6. Investment in a luxury brand will make the investor into a shareholder, share capital is a long term source of finance. By investing in a luxury brand, a company will also gain shares in the intellectual property rights of the artistic creator, their trademark, rights of assignment and territories of a design. The economics which underpin the success of a luxury brand build on reputation, market penetration and ability to effectively communicate and create an authentic narrative. As a writer, renowned artist and lecturer, do you have a formula which you use to “imagineer”, to create a story, sell products and generate a responsive audience?
Everything is communicated on social media. Give away just about enough to create allure, but not so much that people become bored of the story. Become a vision of the brand - every envelope going out. Your job as creative director is to communicate intentionally – selling, marketing, understanding values. Then you’ve got a brand bible. Follow consistency, the visual element on the home page has to be communicated throughout. If a brand specializing in DM shoes suddenly creates high heels the audience doesn’t work. KYC – understand what you are saying and be very consistent.