NUMBER:Lab is a beautiful combination of tech fabrics and exquisite tailoring. Behind this brand is another outstanding duo: architect-turned-designer, Luis M. Fernandez and his business partner, Greg Lawrance. They co-founded NUMBER:Lab in 2007. To bring you up to speed, Fernandez and Lawrance have done quite a lot since 2007. They have consistently shown in New York Fashion Week, they opened their flagship store, they collaborated with other industry favorites, and they were accepted into the exclusive CFDA Fashion Incubator. The Fashion Law talks to the men behind the brand ...
THE FASHION LAW: Tell me a little bit about your brand, since business is so focused on branding nowadays. What do you think makes you and your brand different from others?
LUIS FERNANDEZ: NUMBER:Lab is about the perfect combination of tech + tailored. We are a Men’s designer-sportswear collection of ENGINEERED fashion essentials for the athletic side of the discerning man. In other words, you could say that we are specially designed for alpha males, who love attention to details, and quality with a focus on clean/ modern design and functional wear.
THE FASHION LAW: Congratulations on being selected to participate in the second CFDA Fashion Incubator! (And for joining the CFDA, Luis!) The Incubator is an amazing program! How are you preparing for the Incubator and what do you hope to gain from the experience?
LUIS FERNANDEZ: Thanks, Julie. Its been a good and exciting year for us. We are really looking forward to moving into the Incubator spaces later in the spring. We’ve already been doing some work as part of the program that involves tidyng-up and revisiting our historical data and business plan.
I think that the Incubator is going to be instrumental in taking the brand to the next level. It IS an amazing program, on so many levels, and we are so honored to be a part of it. And another cool thing is the community of designers that we’ll be a part of. The other brands and people in the program are great. So, we can’t wait to have them all as neighbors and also as colleagues.
GREG LAWRANCE: The Incubator has taken a somewhat different tack with our "class." Once we were accepted, they had us dive right in almost immediately with our NYU Stern MBA student program: fleshing out our financial plan (historical and future) and as Phase I, working to get our business plan in place. We already had our plan written, but it was good to have this worked-through by "outsiders."
So, we have had a few months "prep" leading up to it, and we are about to embark on Phase II: which starts next week. This will be mostly business plan-focused (vs. financial-focused). We will continue with the NYU Stern program through to our move in to the actual incubator in April/May 2012. So, we have quite a head start as a result. And I can't say enough positive things about the whole experience. Everyone's who is a part of it -- from the "Incubators" to the INCUBATOR mentors to the "Incubatees"-- is just fantastic.
THE FASHION LAW: That sounds absolutely amazing! Do you ever worry about others stealing or replicating your designs?
LUIS FERNANDEZ: Sometimes I can be a little paranoid about this. But really, so much of what we do is about evolving and perfecting, and responding to the changing aspect of daily modern life. So, if someone is copying something we did last season, the next season we’ve already moved on to making it better, or to refining what we did the season before. But copyright infringement is nonetheless a serious problem in our industry, and an unfortunate thing. Luckily, there is a big movement that the CFDA is driving to establish legislation against it, that would provide added protection to us designers.
THE FASHION LAW: Yes, the CFDA has been a driving force for design protection! Greg, as the business side of NUMBER:Lab, what are you most cognizant of on a daily basis and then overall, in terms of the bigger picture and the longevity of the brand, what are you focused on?
GREG LAWRANCE: The types of activities I focus on on a "daily" basis are somewhat different from the long-term. Since we're still relatively small, there's a lot of "hat wearing." So, a lot of my day is spent on operations: fundraising, overseeing sales, marketing, finance, e-com and building the website, running the store and keeping the ship sailing as smoothly as possible.
This year and moving forward I am looking forward to focusing more heavily on long-term brand-building and business development initiatives: engineering long-term brand strategy, securing collaborations and licensing deals, retail and wholesale expansion (domestic and international), recruiting brand ambassadors/securing their endorsements, building the business both vertically + horizontally, and a few other exciting in-the-works ideas i can't reveal at this point. There's also a multi-media-centric component to NUMBER:Lab that we will be building-out over the next couple of seasons, as well.
THE FASHION LAW: Luis, in an interview you said of NUMBER:Lab, “If we do something that’s tailored, we try to put a spin on it that is athletic, if it is athletic, it gets a tailored spin.” I can’t really do it justice in words, but NUMBER:Lab is essentially the most high quality fabrics, which can be cool and sporty, and amazing tailoring and craftsmanship. Do you feel like there was a void in the market for your type of designs when you started the brand?
LUIS FERNANDEZ: That’s a great way of summarizing it. Yes, there definitely was, and STILL is a void in the market for this hybrid combination of TECH + TAILORED that we are known for. There is an obsession in the marketplace with heritage and vintage still, but little by little we are starting to see more demand for brands that make a statement on technology, performance and function. It is a MODERN vanguard, catering to the smart, sophisticated and tech-savvy man.
THE FASHION LAW: For your S/S 2012 collection you collaborated with artist Joseph La Piana to create the graphic black and white prints. You also collaborated with Stubbs & Wootton for the special edition stubsider/espadrilles. What do you like about collaborations and have you ever considered a more large-scale collaboration, which is not only very popular these days but also turns younger brands into more household names.
LUIS FERNANDEZ: As you can see with my approach to design, I LOVE a hybrid. And the thing with collaborations is that it’s exactly that. Its a great way to create products that blend two points of view, or that utilize expertise from two different areas. With the Joseph La Piana collaboration, it was great to work with an artist and to use that sensibility to create pieces for the collection that were unique pieces of wearable ART. With Stubbs and Wootton, it was about bringing their expertise in making a great shoe and giving it the NUMBER:Lab ‘touch.’
My favorite part was learning, and looking at things from another angle. It was also great fun working with them. A lot of times, it comes to the dynamics of the PEOPLE! I would definitely consider a large-scale collaboration, it would be great. Always on the lookout for the right synergy and the right mix.
THE FASHION LAW: NUMBER:Lab has some very impressive stockists: Bloomingdales, Saks, Scoop, etc. Also, you opened your first retail shop in New York City last November. Congratulations! From a business standpoint and a design standpoint, what is it like having your collections sold internationally and how do you think your brand has changed as a result of opening your flagship?
GREG LAWRANCE: We've sold internationally from the very beginning. Going back to when we were just designing and producing our "basics" or, as we call them, "essentials." In fact, Japan was once our 2nd largest market. And we continue to focus on growing our wholesale segment (both international and domestic) as much as we can. It's a business we understand well and have the most experience with.
I think our brand has indeed changed since we opened our flagship. Actually, not changed so much as "evolved." I can attest to that within the first couple weeks of being open, and having had the chance to talk with customers one-on-one (which we couldn't really do at wholesale) I feel like we got years worth of education in just a handful of days. It really does underscore the importance of being connected closely with your customer, asking them questions and knowing how to best serve their needs. So far, this is one of the most valuable experiences the store has provided us: unprecedented communication and thought-sharing with our individual customers. Of course, the idea that we can convey our own visual message with our own space is vital. Again, something difficult to obtain with our wholesale customers. There's something about the visual positioning of our collection in our own space that helps clearly define our entire brand philosophy and voice.
THE FASHION LAW: With every line you seem to add more or go a bit further than you did the season before, both in terms of design and the business behind the brand (the collaborations for S/S 2012 being just one example!). You must have many exciting things in the works! What are you working on now?
LUIS FERNANDEZ: Thank you. I think that is it, its about going a little further and evolving a little more with every season. We are definitely growing a lot, and its a great place to see where we are and especially where we have come so far. The really exciting part is about looking to the future. We are just getting ready to show another season at New York Fashion Week, Fall 2012. Working on a couple of collaborations for the show, but also looking to the future for different ways of augmenting our reach.
GREG LAWRANCE: On the business side, we are thinking about really growing our retail segment and taking that to the next level (including our own stand-alone stores and our website with e-com). We're also considering expanding to more vertical offerings with our products -- which we'll be able to talk more about next season. We are also excited to be able to produce our tailored fashion items right here in NYC -- in the garment district. So, we believe that being able to produce here in the US is very important and want to produce as much domestically as possible. Of course the evolution of our merch. plan is directly tied with our business growth plan -- and we have quite a bit in the works to really see our business grow over the next few years. We've already been planting those seeds.
Shop NUMBER: LAB here ...
Special thank you to Luis & Greg!