On The Up

Ornella Gallo dI Fortuna: Making it work in one of the world’s most difficult industries

Hannah Wilkinson | 4 July 2016 | 8 years ago

Ornella Gallo DI Fortuna
Gallo dI Fortuna finds managing cash flow one of the biggest business challenges
I was about ten years old when I got a pink plastic sewing machine for Christmas, and started making dresses for Barbies. I sold them for around 50p to my neighborhood friends, and spent my profits on buying ice cream, fashion designer Ornella Gallo dI Fortuna explained when asked how long she’s been an entrepreneur.

Such creativity has always played an important role in her life. When she was a child growing up in Uruguay, her mother made bespoke wedding dresses, so there were always scraps of fabric around.

By the age of 14 she was designing her own clothing collections, and after studying fashion and textile design at university in Montevideo, and working as a pattern cutter in Madrid, she started her own label in the Spanish capital in 2006.

But for all her creative talent, turning it into a viable business has proved more challenging than the designer, now based in London, imagined.

I was only 25 years-old at the time, and it was quite a mission. I knew lots of technical things, but I didnt really know anything about business Ive learned by making a lot of mistakes.

Designing bespoke clothing for clients from her studio in the Salamanca area of Madrid, in the company of big-name luxury brands and fashionable boutiques, Gallo dI Fortuna found managing cash flow, the bane of so many entrepreneur’s lives, one of the biggest challenges.

in terms of understanding the financial side of running a business, it was hard to get on track. You have to pay suppliers before you have money from customers, and, when it’s your own business, you have to be there every single day doing what you can to get more clients.”

Ornella Gallo dI Fortuna
Space constraints resulted in a shift of focus from clothing to hats
Being self-funded added a further layer of challenge, for Gallo dI Fortuna was unsuccessful in applying for government grants. And when the financial crisis hit Spain in 2008, everyday struggles became serious business problems. ‘suddenly, people werent willing to spend that amount of money on luxury items like bespoke clothing, she explained.

at first, I didnt know whether to blame myself or the economy. But around the time I made the decision to close my atelier, lots of other small businesses in the area were closing too. I wondered if I should have chosen a different location, but being in an exclusive area was a key part of my business model the trouble is, that type of luxury business model can’t be supported in a recession.

The key lesson for the designer that emerged from the difficult experience was that the economics of a creative business are more important to its survival than anything else Just ten per cent of success is about the product. The rest is business and marketing, she argued.

The crisis also spurred Gallo dI Fortuna to relocate to London, where she moved her business to a studio in her home in 2014. Space constraints resulted in a pivot from clothing to hats with the latter selling much more strongly online.

Despite boasting a stronger economy, the designer thinks that the structure of the British fashion industry means the country still provides lots of challenges for young designers.

getting into womenswear retailers is challenging, she explained. it’s not just about having a cool product stores want to sell as many as possible as make as much profit as they can, so the price has to be just right.

there are lots of companies out there who will be enthusiastic about your designs and keen to charge you a lot of money to make your whole collection but retailers have margins to protect and won’t take something that’s expensive.

ornella
Despite the glamorous facade, fashion is a challenging industry
what lots of designers might not realise is that if you don’t have your own shop, fashion retailers usually sell a product for 2.5 or 2.8 times the wholesale price. And if a buyer loves an item but think that will be too expensive, theyll either only accept it on consignment or tell you to go away and produce a cheaper collection.

The designer is also of the opinion that small brands face particularly large challenges competing with larger players in an industry where what will be a hit with consumers is so hard to predict.

all over the world, everyone is trying to emulate the business model of Zara, and part of the company’s success is because the majority of the things they produce they rotate around markets. If it doesnt sell in Croatia they try it in London, for example. But you need a lot of stock and a lot of shops to do that.

In an industry which can be so unforgiving, Gallo dI Fortuna emphasised the importance to entrepreneurs of focusing on the positives even in the face of disappointment.

I applied to the British Fashion Council to showcase by designs at London Fashion Week, and although I wasnt successful, getting to the interview stage felt like a big achievement because hundreds of brands apply and many don’t, she said.

Looking to the future, Gallo dI Fortuna is in no rush to scale her business dramatically, as she is acutely aware of the challenges that come with it. Im not trying to make it really big. I would love a showroom on Sloane Street, but getting that sort of premises requires a lot of investment, and once you’ve opened you need to get a lot of people through the door to ensure a high enough income to support it. I love that romantic idea, but it has to be done in a different way.”

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