How Rochambeau kept its N.Y.C. fashion street cred
April 18, 2016
New York Business Journal
By Teresa Novellino
Men’s fashion brand Rochambeau is seeing double. After doubling the orders for its apparel each season, and doubling its full-time employees, it closed out Men’s Fashion Week a month ago, and saw its orders rise by 100 percent, again.
Such metrics are important to any young fashion brand, but in this case, 5-year-old label Rochambeau has really learned to geek out on accounting, by working with a city-backed organization that aims to help emerging designers called the NYC Fashion Production Fund.
Rochambeau’s most recent collection closed New York Men’s Fashion Week.
“A one-time check is not necessarily what you need,” Rochambeau designerLaurence Chandler said in a recent phone interview. “We love producing in New York. We have a New York aesthetic [but because of costs] we were considering overseas production. This enabled us to stay here.”
He, his cofounder Joshua Cooper, and the team started working closely about two years ago with JoBeth Tananbaum, who serves as director of the NYC Fashion Production Fund and senior vice president of business development at Capital Business Credit, a factoring company that connects designers on the rise with money for manufacturing.
In 2012, her company and the New York City Economic Development Corp. put in $1 million each into a $2 million fund, a private-public partnership that started under former Michael Bloomberg‘s administration at City Hall. But it current Mayor Bill Deblasio is also “super on-board with it,” she says, as part of a drive to have companies manufacture in New York City. So far, they’ve dispensed $2.5 million in short-term loans that average about $70,000 to $150,000 each to emerging designers.
The Fund has the potential to issue as much as $32 million in financing over time, but there are strict rules on how the funding is used, including a requisite that designers have a few seasons under their belt. Initially, Rochambeau had that but still wasn’t at a stage where it was prepared to be part of fund. But Tananbaum — whose family business has worked with big,established designers for decades — sensed their potential and so helped them set the business up for growth.
“We don’t give the funds directly to designers,” Tananbaum said. “We are making sure they’re producing on time, and delivering on time. We only pay vendors, who are producing goods for confirmed orders. That’s the goal.”
Chandler says the number of wholesale accounts his company has grew from 20 to 35, since signing on with the fund, and though the accounts are with boutiques, it is also working to secure a potentially larger deal with London-based department store Harvey Nichols.
Tananbaum and the fund have encouraged his company to think not just creatively but strategically and on a strict timeline.
“She came down to our studio, and we met with some of the accounting team, and she wanted to see what we were doing with our business to move it forward.” Chandler said. “It’s really streamlined our business and forces us to hold ourselves to a greater level of accountability. It’s allowed us to take on new order inquiries, where, without that we would have had difficulty with growth.”
For designers, everything happens in a New York minute, and suddenly orders could start pouring in.
“For young brands, the biggest barrier to growth is sales,” Tananbaum said. “They don’t want to have to say, ‘I can’t fulfill those orders.’ We don’t want to say no when things come knocking.”
The Garment District manufacturers that the brands works with need that type of accountability, because they, too, are small businesses running factories with tight cash flow.
“From an early stage you have to establish trust with these factories,” Chandler said. “These are the same factories working with Rag & Bone, DKNY, some of the world’s biggest brands, and there’s a lot of people who come and go. You have to create partnership with your production.”
This too, is easier done since his company is in New York with offices in Hudson Square that allow easy access to the Garment District. The addition of Men’s Fashion Week in New York City was another boost, because before that started a year ago, the founders thought they’d have to go to Paris to get exposure.
He and Cooper, best friends who grew up riding skateboards and listening to hip-hop, started out screen-printing T-shirts to sell to skate shops. Neither one had formal fashion training, but they learned the ropes, including design, from the ground up and have gone beyond T-shirts. The retail prices for the contemporary men’s brand now range from $80 to $150 for shirts, $150 to $300 for pants and shorts, and then $400 to $700 for jackets. They’re now entering what Chandler calls the “mythical seventh season,” where a designer brand can really take off.
If that happens, it could be just enough to send the company out of the nest of the NYC Fashion Production Fund. And that’s a good thing, because it means they’ll have enough revenue flowing in to keep the factories happy and ready to roll.
“The dream ultimately is that he outgrows the fund,” Tananbaum said.