According to industry analysts, fashion is a $1.2 trillion global industry, with more than $250 billion spent annually in the united states. Structurally diverse, fashion is comprised of large fashion houses, major international retailers and wholesalers to one-person design shops. Fashion has, undoubtedly, changed over the years and has become a part of the creative economy with millennials drawing upon their creative skills to build, brand, and grow fashion lines.
Since 2012 Milan Rouge, owner of Milano Di Rouge (a lifestyle apparel brand that focuses on providing affordable luxury pieces to fashion enthusiasts), has been steadily growing her sales and brand awareness across the country. Gaining celebrity clientele such as Lou Williams of the LA Lakers, actress and tv personality LaLa Anthony, rapper Meek Mill, personality Angela Simmons, Toya Wright, and more, Milano Di Rouge is taking over the urban apparel industry one garment at a time.
BlackEnterprise got the chance to catch up with the young designer to discuss her start in fashion, what inspires her.
BlackEnterprise: How did you get your start in the fashion and design industry?
Rouge: I have always been a lover of all things fashion-related. Growing up I became very drawn to not only dressing myself, but styling my friends as well. I had a self-made motto, ‘if you look better, you feel better.” Many do not know, but I was an extremely mediocre hairstylist, however clients would still come see me just to receive fashion and lifestyle advice, lol. My clients looked to me as sort of a therapist, and one client encouraged me to begin blogging. Within that passion I began to blog on lifestyle and fashion tips/advice, gaining over 100,000 views in 3 months. The major online impressions gave me the push to want to expand and do more for my growing brand. From that point, as my knowledge and passion for this industry grew, I knew that I had a creative design concept that had a lane of it’s own, and now a platform to sell it on. I began working vigorously on Milano Di Rouge on July of 2012 and launched onÂ November, 11 2012.
What are the biggest obstacles you have faced throughout your journey?
The biggest obstacle I have been faced with is being not only a female, but also an African American female in a predominantly male-dominated industry; as well as dealing with the competition, bad stigma that all women hold. Let me elaborate. The fashion industry alone, at least high-fashion, is not the typical AA industry. When it comes to the streetwear genre, men have created most of the popular existing brands. As a young and attractive female it’s hard to gain respect and be taken seriously as a business owner. Being African American adds an additional hurdle right from the beginning of my journey. So I find myself having to always go the ‘extra mile’ to be taken seriously in this industry. As for the 2nd obstacle, I am a firm believer and practice of ‘Girl Power.’ However, in a world where women are often seen as the underdog in business, women can’t help but feed off that energy and become natural competitors, rather than support each other. If we all supported one another’s growth we would all win.
Who inspires you within fashion/design and how do you incorporate this inspiration in your work?
I am a natural creative and visionary, so I am inspired genuinely by all things! However, menswear has always been a big inspiration for me — I have always been that annoying girlfriend who steals and wears her boyfriends clothes, lol. I took the style ideas I love in menswear and added a sexy, fun and flirty appeal to create my unisex brand.
With so many people jumping into the social media-driven fashion design arena, how are you able to differentiate yourself and your product selection?
I strongly believe that my work ethic and true LOVE, DEDICATION & PASSION for my brand is what sets Milano Di Rouge apart from other brands. I also hand design all of my garments and play a major role in the entire design, cut/sew, manufacturing, packaging and marketing of my brand. I am very hands-on. I also have a full e-commerce site, marketing and PR team, sales team and wholesale options, which removes me from being considered a social media boutique or social media designer. I definitely salute and support anyone doing what I do, through whichever platform works best for them, but I want Milano Di Rouge to have a presence on social media as well as all other avenues, such as print, online e-commerce, store-front and runway. I will be showing in Philadelphia Fashion Week for the first time on February 17, 2016, and that is another accolade that I feel will set me apart from other brands.
You have built your brand from the bottom up. What was the key ingredients involved in taking your brand from unknown to highly successful?
I have four key ingredients that are responsible for my brand’s growth and success thus far — product quality, networking, great customer service and presentation.Â For starters, I make it my goal to find the highest quality materials, best manufacturers, and my sizing is dead on. When your product is not quality-made, no matter how cute it may be, people will hate it. Secondly, networking is huge. In this world, in any industry you are in, it’s about who knows you. You need to network every day to constantly build your audience of not only consumers, but also of people who may be able to take you to the next level, which falls into presentation. If your presentation is bad, no consumer or business colleague will take your product or brand seriously, so ensure you think long and hard on branding and packaging. Lastly, the good old faithful key, which ALL sales-affiliated brands need to have is great customer service. The customer is still always right. When you give great service, reply fast and constantly engage with your customers, they will always come back to shop with you.
What are three key pieces of advice you have for emerging designers?
My main advice to emerging designers would be to identify the reason behind why you do what you do, because on tough days and times when you may not be making sales, or gaining the notoriety you are seeking, or just having a rough day, you will need to remind yourself of that ‘why.’ Also, to live in the moment of their rise, and take each and every experience as a lesson, and figure out ways to always do something better than the last time. Lastly, to never lose your positive outlook on your success path, because everyone is different. It is a marathon, not a race.