Independent Fashion
A Look Behind the Line – With Cabiria Clothing
Most of you only know me as “Cookie the blogger” but many of you also know that I too am an independent designer.  So like you, I have experienced the struggles and the triumphs of creating a clothing line.   And anyone who has genuinely embarked on this path knows that the road ahead of them is long and windy.  Depending on where you are on that road makes you one of the following designer types:
The Fledgling Indie Designer:

Possibly a recent graduate or maybe just an individual who loves fashion enough to start a clothing line.  You have minimal experience but the drive and determination to get your foot in the door.

The Experienced Indie Designer:

You’ve been in the game for a while; you are no stranger to the local press and you know all of the other heavyweight designers in your neck of the woods.  You may do client work or even have a few pieces in a boutique but you haven’t crossed that line into mass production.  If you’ve made it to this point, chances are you are trying to figure out how to get to the next level.

The Accomplished Indie Designer:

This is where most of us want to be and can’t quite figure out how to get there.  The Accomplished Designer finally has written purchase orders and placed orders with a factory.  Soon his/her line will be on the floors of boutiques nation wide.

Making it to that final stage is a seemingly impossible goal.  This is why I jumped at the opportunity to speak to someone who is doing it.  You may remember our blog featuring Cabiria Plus Sized Clothing.  I experienced so much joy blogging about Eden that it made me want to plunge deeper.  So I propositioned Miss Miller and I asked her if she would share some of her insight into producing a clothing line and our conversation was nothing short of enlightening…

Eden Miller of Cabiria Plus Sized Clothing
Envynde: So what is day to day life like for you now that you are in production?
Eden Miller:  The response to Kickstarter was amazing.  So ever since my days are like a whirlwind.  My days are spent running around to fabric houses buying up fabric by the bolt; making sure I have everything I need to produce my line.  People look at me like I’m crazy when I say - yes I want the entire bolt.
 
Envynde:  So how may piece did you end up having in you first line?
Eden Miller: We started out with 9 pieces and paired it down to 5 of the strongest dresses.
 
Envynde: Overseas Vs. Domestic… how did you decide?  Pakistan or India makes a quality product and usually smaller minimums than, say, China…
Eden Miller: I decided on domestic.  This way I don’t have to wait a day to communicate with the factory.  But also because everything I need is right here.  Producing locally gives me the freedom to just drop in to the factory when I need to and it also creates jobs.
 
Envynde:  I can completely understand that.  Many people opt for overseas production because producing domestically can be so expensive.
Eden Miller:  Oh it is more expensive.  That is still an issue I’m dealing with.  Especially because I am making a high end product.  And there were other factors I didn’t account for.  For example the factory would quote one price but then when they saw the dress up close suddenly it was “Oh well we didn’t realize you wanted this kind of closure and you have one finish here and another finish here…” and those things drive the cost up even more.  But I wasn’t willing to compromise.  These are the details that separate me from everyone else.

“Anyone can make a pretty looking dress but it doesn’t matter how it looks at the photo shoot; it doesn’t matter what celebrity spokesperson wear’s your line.  What matters is how the customer feels about the dress.”

Envynde: Do you have any partners or employees helping you right now?
Eden Miller: I don’t have any employees right now; I’m still a one woman act.  All of my partnerships are relationships that were built overtime.  Like my friend who owns the fabric house, or my pattern maker who introduced me to the factory owner.  These are the kinds of partnerships I’ve developed.
Envynde: How close or how far off were you when predicting how much it would cost to produce your first line?
Eden Miller: I was off on 2 points.  The first being the cost of silk.  2 years ago the cost of silk was $10.00 a yard, which is still expensive for a yard of fabric wholesale.  But in the last 2 years the cost of silk has increased 400%.  They say the silk worm isn’t producing silk as much silk… this is something I couldn’t possibly have planned for.
The other point was, when I started out I was in a relationship in Atlanta.  I ordered all my fabric and had it shipped to Atlanta.  The relationship didn’t work out so I moved back to New York and had the fabric shipped back to me in Queens.  Finally I had it shipped from Queens to the factory Manhattan.  It’s things like this that you don’t account for – life things.  At the end of all of it I spent $3000.00 to have my fabric shipped 2 blocks away…
Envynde: What has been your best marketing tool for Cabiria?
Eden Miller: Definitely social media.  When a video goes viral it’s the best form of advertisement for me.   I also meet a lot of people I wouldn’t have met under normal circumstances, such as store owners and bloggers like you!  Social media has introduced me to people that I didn’t even know were an option.  Take Envynde, I had never heard of you guys but I love what you do.  Even if you didn’t write such a flattering review I would still love what you’re doing.
Envynde: What has been the biggest waste of money?  Rather… what is one thing you did that you thought “Never doing that again!”
Eden Miller: I had a few false starts with pattern makers but really nothing too serious.  When I first started out I did my research.  I didn’t have mom and dad’s money to start a clothing line, so I had to make every penny count!  Not knocking those who do, I just wasn’t one of those people.  So I researched the hell out of everything before I made any moves.
Envynde: What advice would you give a designer who wants to be where you are?
Eden Miller: DO YOUR RESEARCH!  And make as many personal connections as you can.  And reach out to everyone:  Colleagues, store owners, factory owners, fabric houses.  Reach out to everyone and tell them what you are doing.  And don’t just talk at them, listen.  Really listen to what they have to say.
Our above conversation was paraphrased but still impactful, right?  What I cannot convey through a computer screen was the passion and ambition emanating through the phone when Eden spoke.  There was considerably more about her strict refusal to compromise quality for any reason and how she is so busy now that she feels like she has to withdraw time from a time bank.   This is a woman who not only understands what it takes to be a designer, but embraces it.  Having your own clothing line is hard and unpredictable  but if you go in with your head on straight it can be very rewarding.   I hope this was as enlightening and inspirational for you as it was for me.  A big thank you to Eden, you truly are a queen.

If any of you have questions for the Indie Design community let us know and we’ll be your voice!  That’s what we’re here for.  Until next time, Ciao!

Like this Article? Share it!

About The Author

  • Emm8Apparel

    Great interview! It’s always so interesting to hear of someone who makes it on their own bootstraps with their own money, Does she give any advice on where to research for a business? Or how to research? What factors to look for?

  • http://www.envynde.com/ Cookie

    Hey you :-)! Thanks! I will let Eden know that you enjoyed the interview and sweet what advice she has to offer.

    Thank you as always for the support. Share the page if you have friends who might be interested.

    -Cookie-

  • http://www.facebook.com/cabiriastyle Eden Miller

    Hi there! Thanks for the lovely comment. It’s hard to specifically give advice, since so much is driven by your specific market,

    First, write a business plan. A serious one, where you really analyze all the angles. Why are you doing this? What do you hope to gain? How exactly are you doing this? How much does it take to produce that garment for real, not just speculation? Spend the time to write the business plan because it will help crystalize your strategy.

    I would look online at Fashion Incubator, Kathleen Fasanella’s site, for business advice specific to fashion, or Frances Harder’s books which are really informative, though her site is pretty spammy. Go to your local business library and chamber of commerce for business advice. Talk to SCORE, through the SBA, and any other startup resources in your area (NYC has a Small Business Resource Center). Then, start looking at small production vendors and resource guides, like the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, or the DGExpo.

    Check out your parity competition, both good and bad, so you know where you fall and why you differentiate. Also, talk to the vendors you want to work with, and see what their expectations are. Don’t expect them to hold your hand, but listen to what they want – they know their customers far better than you think you do, because they are on the ground dealing with real people every day.

    Generally stick your hand out and ear into anything and everything. Don’t go in half cocked or you’ll lose your shirt. And finally, though it’s unfortunate, have a contingency budget of at least 20% of your costs set aside or planned for in your funding. Hopefully you won’t need it, but if you do and you don’t have it, you’re sunk.

    It’s wild and wooly out there, and you are judged by what you deliver to the retailers and end users. Don’t let them down and you’ll do well. Hope this is good advice and not discouraging! – Eden

  • Emm8Apparel

    So awesome! Thank you so much! I’ve been trying to start up for a while and finally opened a teensy shop on Etsy. I’m mostly flailing through it though. I’ve done a lot of studying on start-ups and business accounting. I’ve run into my share of obstacles so far but I’m still going to do it by golly!

    I am not discouraged at all by this. The best advice is honest advice, no matter how harsh.