In PR, a longheld belief has been that more press is the best solution.
But as the traditional fashion PR model is forced to evolve alongside the larger industry, Chapter 2, an agency founded by Clara Jeon and Kenneth Loo in 2015, is trying to evolve that idea, offering marketing, e-commerce and consultancy services to a coterie of young designers who require more than just product placement.
In an increasingly crowded landscape, one that now warrants both an online and offline presence, brands and designers are having to fight even harder for customer attention. Onetime insurance like attending a notable design school or networking with influencers is no longer a fail-safe path to success. Mixed messaging around the state of retail — it’s dying! it’s alive and well! — adds confusion.
“We utilize marketing and PR to tell two different sides of the same story, so that the customer experiences the brand in a really seamless way,” said Jeon, whose 12 clients include the buzzy Pyer Moss, Made Gold and Cotton Citizen. In a sense, the Chapter 2 team operate as these designers’ business partners, according to Loo: “We get in pretty deep with our clients — it’s hard to develop those relationships in larger agencies.”
Chapter 2 co-founders Kevin Loo and Clara Jeon
To start, that has meant privileging the designers’ vision above all else and taking the less creative work off their hands. After handling publicity for various young designers on a freelance basis, Jeon saw firsthand how their attempts to juggle so many different facets of a business that weren’t necessarily their strong suit — from finances to wholesale — took a toll on their design output. Worn out and discouraged, said Jeon, they’d reach a point every season where they’d inevitably wonder if it could be there last.
Now, Jeon, Loo and their four-person team — which hops between New York and Los Angeles — offer those less sexy services to their clients, freeing up the designers’ time to focus on what they do best.
“The biggest challenge when working with young designers is making them feel heard — that you understand them,” said Jeon, adding that many PR teams make the mistake of thinking more money and more press is designers’ ultimate goal, when, in fact, the bulk of them value their creative vision above all else. “They’re not all trying to be Louis Vuitton.”
And it’s only those designers who would “go to war for their vision” that Jeon and Loo want to work with, a result not only of their small budget and team but, also, the success factor they feel is tied to that level of passion. “We look for designers who are really committed to their vision and really know what mark they’re trying to make,” said Jeon.
A look from Pyer Moss’ F/W 2017 show
Indeed, Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, who’s arguably their hottest designer, has made a splash in the industry with collections and shows that repeatedly address hot-button issues like racism and depression. The streetwear brand En Noir that they’ve worked with was one of the first to home in on a style many refer to now as “street goth” — a darker spin on streetwear essentials like hoodies and tees. Made Gold, for its part, trends almost exclusively in revealing, lace-up denim, while Cotton Citizen is famous for their brightly-colored monochrome sweat sets. And the list goes on.
“I felt a true personal connection with Clara,” said Adam Vanunu, the designer of Cotton Citizen. “It’s important to partner with someone who you can speak openly with and who understands your mindset.” One perk, he added, is being able to text her at all hours of the day: “The best ideas don’t happen between 9:00 and 5:00.”
“Young brands desperately need marketers, not publicists,” said Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss. “A lot of brands this size can’t afford to hire someone for each area of marketing that is required to really make a dent in the industry, so you need to have a consultancy like Chapter 2 that can handle it all.” Designers in his position need more than just sample trafficking and celebrity placements, he argued.
Not that Chapter 2 is against that. Their brands are regularly featured on hot ticket celebrities like Gigi Hadid and Kanye West, though Jeon said they’re adamantly against paying anybody to wear their clothes. Freebies are another story — they’ll send swag if a celebrity is right for the brand.
Gigi Hadid wearing Cotton Citizen
But that kind of hype doesn’t necessarily translate to sales, said Jeon.
That’s where Loo — who previously ran his own company called Kenwerks that helped larger, mainstream brands with digital commerce — comes in, helping brands decide where best to place ads and restructuring their e-commerce presence when necessary. “When you work for mainstream brands everything is about ad spend and digital marketing,” he said. “You learn a lot about what factors influence a sale.”
Though the company couldn’t provide figures, they said some clients had seen sales improve up to three times month over month since working with them.
Chapter 2, however, doesn’t always take a bigger cut simply because they’re doing more work than average. “We try to be really conscious of where our designers are in their business,” said Jeon, noting that while some are on a retainer, others can’t sustain that and pay by commission. Occasionally, the agency will work pro bono. “When we really want to work with a designer we find a way to make it happen,” she said.