A designer - retailer partnership is the key to success

A week ago we had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by the Art of Fashion and Fresh Collective – aptly titled “The Retailer’s Point of View”. Laura Bernhardson, CEO and founder of Fresh Collective gave an inspiring and passion-packed presentation that armed designers with great information about the business of retail, and the importance of building strong relationships.

Fresh Collective has an interesting model that has been fine-tuned over the years. Truly built in the spirit of growth and collaboration, the retailer has expanded to multiple locations, and all with a consignment model. Typically ‘consignment’ does not elicit a positive reaction from either retailers or suppliers, but Fresh Collection makes it work.



“The bottom line is it allows us to work with emerging designers.”

-Laura Bernhardson

Fresh Collective has a customer who appreciates and wants to support unique, local artists and designers. But any retailer (and designer) will tell you that an emerging designer business is never easy. Despite high-levels of design training, it can take years for a designer to perfect the fit, fabric selection, assortments, marketing, and even sourcing. Most retailers will wait until a brand is more established before jumping into business together – for all of the reasons above and more.

Through a consignment partnership, Fresh Collective is able to protect its profit, and provide their customers with the new, saleable, local designs they desire. The designers walk away with customer and retailer feedback and guidance, continuous cash flow, and the opportunity to develop their business.


Maintaining assortment integrity and merchandising can be difficult for a retailer with a consignment supplier. Often the supplier considers the space in-store to be ‘rented’ instead of part of the retailer’s own. Many large retailers, like Hudson’s Bay prefer this type of agreement. However, in a smaller store, the retailer will still want to maintain control over their environment and product selection.


Ms Bernhardson does this extremely well – not a single product reaches the hanger or shelves in-store without first being chosen. Fresh Collective’s mission really guides each product choice, “to inspire joyful living and self-expression, one relationship at a time”. Colour and print with the practical aspects required (the customer must be able to ride her bike in each day piece, and it must cover her bra straps) are all evident on the sales floor.


Working closely with designers by providing feedback on the design, and clearly articulating what her customer is looking for ensures success for both Ms Bernhardson and the designer.




Consignment has the effect of putting a higher level of ownership back on the designer to ensure sales plan are met. After all, they will only be paid for what they sell. The feedback from the buying team early on in the development process is the first way in which the retailer is able to ensure a high quality product which meets the customers’ wants.


Even more important is the direct interaction with the customer Fresh Collective affords its designers. Events, and even in-store communication is invaluable and often something designers receive primarily post-season, after the next collection is already designed and produced.


Smaller runs and in-season repeats are a lean and effective way to learn what resonates with customers – without huge financial mistakes in inventory buying. And the direct sales feedback means the designer can make quick changes, swapping out merchandise that isn’t selling and correcting any mistakes. This fast action keeps the retailer’s sales floor fresh, and gives the opportunity for the designer to increase his/her sales.




Whereas a retailer like Holt Renfrew will require a cohesive, high quality line with perfected fit and capacity to create monthly collections, an emerging designer with Fresh Collective has a bit of time to work with the retailer to perfect all aspects of their brand. Because their customer is looking for novel ideas, the designer can test and try new things.


The experience, with a growing customer and sales base is ideal for a new designer. And a stable yet unique brand matrix is perfect for Fresh Collective. It’s a model that works for the retailer, their collection, and supplier base – an ideal retailing scenario. 


This event with Fresh Collective was the official launch of the Art of Fashion's Ultimate Holiday Dress competition - applications closing August 1. 

When organizational benefits outweigh the personal costs

Giver's wanted 

It is widely accepted that corporate culture determines a business success, or at the very least, employee turnover. There are a bevy of management and organizational leadership books that highlight a variety of telling factors, and qualities organizations should strive for. 

Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, has a simpler way to determine a businesses success within the corporate culture framework: do you have a culture of 'givers'?


Organizations benefit when employees freely contribute their skills and knowledge to others. These companies operate as high-performing intelligence units do: helping others, sharing knowledge, and making connections without expecting anything in return. 

Takers operate on the opposite end, offering as little as possible to get what they want. Takers will help when the personal benefits exceed the cost. Does this sound like anyone you know? 

Matchers are somewhere in the middle - as are most organizations. These are collaborative companies. Matchers tend to seek out people they trust, regardless of expertise. Givers will often count on help from the most qualified person. It is the level of expertise sought which is the differentiating factor in Matchers and Givers. . 

The simplicity of the research and theory is attractive. Although work behaviour, relationships, and culture are much more complicated, the culture of givers does provide an easy check on who your teams are made of - and a fairly simple plan: 

  • Hire givers
  • Reward givers
  • Foster giving and help-seeking

A word of warning: the expression 'one bad apple spoils the bunch' seems appropriate based on Grant's notes. "Over time, employees anticipate taking-behavior and protect themselves by operating like takers or by becoming matchers". Having an idea stolen, or being taken advantage of can make even the most generous team member a bit weary. The emphasis on givers is perhaps for good reason in Grant's plan. 



The leadership lesson here is a tried and true one: "if you want it, go and give it". 

In 1985, a film company facing financial pressure hired a new president. In an effort to cut costs, the president asked the two leaders of a division, Ed and Alvy, to conduct layoffs. Ed and Alvy resisted—eliminating employees would dilute the company’s value. The president issued an ultimatum: a list of names was due to him at nine o’clock the next morning.

When the president received the list, it contained two names: Ed and Alvy.
No layoffs were conducted, and a few months later Steve Jobs bought the division from Lucasfilm and started Pixar with Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith.
Employees were grateful that “managers would put their own jobs on the line for the good of their teams,” marvels Stanford’s Robert Sutton, noting that even a quarter century later, this “still drives and inspires people at Pixar.”