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It's not a stretch to say Samantha, Caillianne and Chloe Beckerman live for fashion. Their Manhattan apartment is crammed with garment racks and the coffee table is littered with sketches and fabric swatches. This is where they eat (crepes from a shop downstairs), sleep (when they can) and design the women's wear, handbags and accessories for Beckerman, their promising fashion start-up. The sisters--Sam and Cailli, 26, are twins; Chloe's 23--have forgone vacations, salaries and a nightlife to make the company succeed, but they say it's worth it. "We were going to get this pink trailer and travel the world and own our own business and live in this mansion together," Sam says. Cailli adds: "The mansion never happened. Living in New York did."
For new designers, the $298 billion U.S. fashion industry is unrelenting. Businesses are so mercurial that venture capitalists rarely invest in start-ups, leaving new designers like the Beckermans to fund their innovations out-of-pocket. Aspiring style-makers not only have to master sales and marketing, but they have to pass a buzz test each season. And for the past two, the Beckermans have: from the industry's point of view, success is defined by the fact that they're still in operation. "There are many start-up designers that you and I have heard of that six months to a year from now will go bankrupt," says Deborah Goodwin, director of fashion sourcing at New York's Garment Industry Development Corporation.
The Beckermans design for playful twentysomethings who want standout pieces with bold colors, funky knitwear and custom-made prints. Dresses retail for $350 to $500, pants for as much as $225 and, for now, the Beckermans say they're pulling in more from sales than their current costs. The sisters won't detail company finances, but one big expenditure is about $25,000 a year on publicity and marketing, including a showroom where buyers can make appointments to view the Beckerman collection. (Pieces are available at Canadian department store Holt Renfrew and Mick Margo boutique in Greenwich Village; accessories are available on beckermans.com.) Like many designers, they ship samples to celebrities like Sienna Miller and Lindsay Lohan--a practice known as "gifting"--hoping the celebs will be photographed wearing their creations.
Late last month, Beckerman faced one of its biggest tests yet: Fashion Week in New York. Poor reviews and bored buyers can ruin a young designer financially and psychologically, says Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion and Design. "Buzz," he says. "It's a silly word, but it's buzz." Big names will spend more than $100,000 on a runway show to make an impression. The Beckermans only had about $15,000 to show off their spring 2007 line. So like a lot of young designers, they put on an "installation," or posed presentation of the clothes, in walking distance from the main event. The garments were sewn to the Beckermans' specifications at a local production house and drew on a palette of royal blue, space-age silver and bright purple. Which wasn't accidental: most designers rely on $100 "color cards" from Premiere Vision, a Paris-based firm that predicts the "in" colors each season.
Now it's up to fashion-magazine editors and buyers to decide which designers make the cut. They'll make appointments with showrooms and page through catalogs known as "look books" showing the garments' range of colors and styles. It's too soon to tell what impression Beckerman made, but being reviewed by Women's Wear Daily was an encouraging sign. All that's left for the Beckermans now is to wait--and pray--for orders. In the meantime, they'll continue to work the same way they did as kids, passing a drawing back and forth until it looks right. It's a lot of trial and error. "But then you make that one dress," Cailli says, "and you put it on the 'fit' model, and it's just dynamite--it's the best fit in the world." It's that passion that could take the Beckermans to the next level. Or at least further than the crepe place.